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Kaadhal vaanoli seidhi solludhae
Maega mootangal manadhai thodumaa?

Are these lines familiar to you?

It would be if you are a fan of either Harish Raghavendra, Sujatha, music director Karthik Raja, lyricist Naa.Muthukumar or director Vasanthabalan!

This song is from the debut directorial venture of Vasanthabalan’s Album in 2002.

Let me do a slight rewind to Balan as a kid.

Born and brought up in Virudhunagar, he remembers sitting on his grandpa’s lap, as a 5 year old,  listening to him chanting paasurams (collection of sacred verses in Thamizh). So his brain cells absorbed these lines by rote.  He can even today recite them offhand.

His father was very keen that his son should participate in all the cultural activities in school. In his 1st grade his mother dressed him up as Lord Muruga. When he was in his 3rd grade his father coached the famous Veerapandiya Kattabomman dialog to Vasanthabalan. That was his fancy-dress disguise that year. And he stole the hearts of teachers and parents gathered there with what must have been the ultimate tongue twister for an eight year old! “Vaanam pozhigiradhu…bhoomi viLaigiradhu…” that was essayed with such style and élan by none other than our beloved legend Dr Sivaji Ganesan. The beauty was after this, every year, for the next 7 years he got the 1st prize delivering the same dialog, as Veerapandiya Kattabomman! It was a given.

His holidays were always spent in his maternal grandmother’s place in Srivilliputhur, where he literally haunted the 135 year old Pennington library daily without fail from 8:30 A.M to 11:30 A.M and again 4:00P.M to 7:30 P.M. He was always first to enter and the last to leave. He read books like a boy possessed!

I think God just sprinkled opposite natures and rolled them into one human being, Vasantha balan. There exists within him a completely reticent introvert as well as the exuberant extrovert! Loneliness is a world Balan was (and is) so much at home with.

During his college days, Balan and his best friend Murugan (who is now in USA and I’m hoping he gets to read this, how fondly his friend recollected their ‘malarum ninaivugaL’) decided to start a hand-written magazine called ‘ilakiya chOlai’. So they put up posters everywhere asking for like-minded people to volunteer. It struck Balan out of the blue that if he signed as a girl instead, it would fetch them a better response!

Soon after many boys came knocking at his door step asking for ‘Kausalya Balan’!  He looked at me, smiled and said, “many of them retreated in haste when I showed up as Kausalya”!!

In his last year of college, he was (un)fortunate enough to suffer from typhoid! His family who by then had given up on him for his rebellious attitude and Communist ideologies refused to spend 68 rupees daily on a tablet to cure him of typhoid. They thought he was better off being treated in General Hospital nearby. He gladly admitted himself in the hospital. This brief stay cleared is mind of all cobwebs. To all the patients there, he was their shoulder to lean on and the proverbial Good Samaritan’.

With his newborn clarity of thought he decided to run away to Chennai and try his luck in cinema. His neighbor Murugesh introduced him to editor Lenin. 10 months of learning to ‘cut and paste’ and meeting several directors and assistant directors, his calling became clearer in his mind.

To Lenin goes his earnest thanks for introducing him to director Shankar who was starting Gentleman. This was 1993. Kadhalan, Indian, Jeans widened his mind, honed his skills and instilled confidence and conviction within him. Shankar he says is the best guru he has been blessed with, who molded him to what he is today. His gratitude is beyond words or expressions of any kind.

His first film ‘Album’ was produced by Kavithalaya starring Aryan Rajesh and Shruthika. It was a collection of sweet memories, a huge slice of his life, close to his heart, which turned out a flop. But whether Shreya Ghoshal remembers or not, it was Vasantha Balan and Karthik Raja who heard her songs in Devdas and decided to introduce her to the Thamizh music world. “If I were to direct Album again today, I’m 100% sure I can make it a box-office hit. I was too inexperienced then!” was his afterthought on his maiden venture.

Is it serendipity I wonder (as I always do) that his heroine was called Viji in Album(2002) and his parents fixed his marriage to his real-life heroine, Viji in 2006! 

Being in a profession where day in and day out he was seeing thousands of snaps of ‘actresses-to-be’, he vowed the first snap his parents sent him, he would say  ‘yes’! And that is what he did. After Veyyil was released (December 8th 2006) he tied the knot with Viji in early 2007. 4 years of waiting for the right producer, his patience paid off. Veyyil gave him the awards, accolades and applause denied by ‘Album’ right up to the prestigious Cannes screening! So the national award was no surprise to him though it sent a warm glow in his heart and soul.

Balan happily reminisced how he used to eat in a pav-bhaji shop that also sold yummy jilebis in Rameswaram road, perpendicular to Ranganathan street, often late at night, after finishing an edit-session. He was curious why so many uniformed youngsters were getting home from work so late. Thus emerged his next block buster ‘Angaadi theru’ which released on March 26th 2010. Maybe 08 is his lucky number?!

We are all aware of his latest endeavor, Aravaan. I think it was an acclamation of his literary knowledge stored in his memory cells. An ode to his Pennington library days, maybe? The library that nurtured his thought process.

Though busy penning his next script, now is the ideal time for the doting dad in him to surface to watch his 2 boys Guruprajan (5) and Rishinandhan (1 plus) grow and take pride in their pranks!

But before I sign off I must share this experience with all of you. My partner Rukhs and I designed the costumes for Aravaan photo shoot.

Aadhi and Dhansika were lying close to one another on the floor, on some huge leaves. I was so concerned that Aadhi’s hands were too clenched on Dhansika and did not show the ease they were supposed to convey, them being lovers or a couple. Like the proverbial mother hen I was clucking all over Dhansika to ensure her sari was in place and the leaves were not creased. In that total involved state I started loudly issuing orders to them, while the camera clicked. I must say all the asst. directors were zapped and I was still in oblivion!

Vasanthabalan, cool, calm and collected, said with a smile on his face, “get rekhs ma’am a cup of hot coffee, she must be tired giving out orders” and clapped his hands. It was then I realized I had shoved both my feet and hands into my mouth!

What I learnt from him that day was, for the benefit of his film even his ego he will pack up! While shooting, he never waits for his assistants to carry out a specific task, no airs no graces, he just goes about carrying / shifting whatever needed, be it a rock, a chair or a stray dog!    

So whether radio-love announces if nimbus clouds will caress the heart or not, as per Na.Muthukumar’s lyrics, I do know for sure Vasantha Balan’s films will leave a deep impact in the minds of all genuine cinema-holics! Let us all wait with bated breath for more to come from this simple man who believes in immortalizing Thamizh cinema.

Tata till June springs us with fresh hopes, new academic years, less heat-wave and the first prequel Indian film…from Sollywood!


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