Thursday, December 15, 2016

A Hysterical Woman


Director Balachandran Menon talks about his experiences in the films, 'Uthrada Rathri', 'Kuruppinte Kanakku Pustakom', and 'Ithiri Neram Othiri Karyam'

By Shevlin Sebastian

In June, 1977, the pooja shot of Balachandran Menon's first directorial effort, 'Uthrada Rathri' was about to be shot. As cameraman Hemachandran was about to shoot the scene, of an image of Lord Vinayaka, he looked at Balachandran and says, “Sir, why don't you look into the camera and say, 'Start'?”

So Balachandran stepped up and looked through the lens. Amazingly, it was the first time he did so. After he peered in, Hemachandran said, “How did you feel?”

Balachandran said, “I have realised that in this rectangular frame I have to fit in all my ideas. Verbosity will not work at all. It became one of the most important lessons of my career.”

At another location, Balachandran learned a lesson in improvisation. For the film, 'Kuruppinte Kanakku Pustakom', the shoot was at Tiruvalla. There was a character who plays a villager. Unusually, he wore a long type of underwear that could be seen through the mundu.

This character was important for that particular scene,” says Balachandran. “I have always said that cinema is an art where the director plans everything in detail, but at the same time, there is a unseen force which is always trying to upset the shooting.”

And this was what happened. When everybody was ready, the production controller approached Balachandran, with a sheepish smile, and said that he could not get this specific type of underwear stitched. It was a crisis. Following this shoot, at 7 a.m., the actor Ravi (name changed) was supposed to go to Kochi and catch a flight to Chennai to go and act in another film.

As Balachandran pondered over what to do, he noticed a tall man who was standing at a nearby house. Suddenly, he got an idea. He went across and befriended the man. “He turned out to be a fan,” says Balachandran.

After a short conversation, Balachandran asked whether he could borrow a banian. The man readily gave one. This was worn by Ravi, under his shirt, and since it was a long banian, it reached below the waist. “When the shot was taken, it looked like an underwear,” says Balachandran. “A bit of luck and quick thinking saved the situation.”

But sometimes, situations can go out of control. In the film, 'Ithiri Neram Othiri Karyam' (1982), Balachandran plays the role of a handsome, well-built, but mentally-challenged character.

In a scene, shot at a house, in Kochi, he was supposed to come down a flight of steps and walk past an aged couple who were sitting on a sofa. The production controller had located an elderly woman, Annamma (name changed) who liked to do small roles. The husband was a member of the crew. Annamma had not been told about the story, since there were no dialogues. So, she did not know what to expect.

Meanwhile, to show that he was not normal, Balachandran had to stick out his tongue at the couple. But when Balachandran did so, Annamma became hysterical. She said, “I cannot bear this any longer. This is a punishment for me. What a cursed woman I am.”

Balachandran told her he was just acting.

Annamma nodded and slowly collected herself. Then she said, “I have a son like this at home. I came to this shoot to forget my sorrow. And then I see you in a role which reminded me of my son. And that was too painful an experience.”

At a hotel in Kochi, a sombre Balachandran says, “I will never forget this lady.” 

(The New Indian Express, Kochi, Kozhikode and Thiruvananthapuram) 

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