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Of Illustrious Masters and Students!

would like to share a few words on the masters who have worked magic on celluloid for long and their illustrious students who have done their masters proud, and at times have also gone to the extent of overshadowing their masters. Talking of masters of Indian Cinema, the first…

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I would like to share a few words on the masters who have worked magic on celluloid for long and their illustrious students who have done their masters proud, and at times have also gone to the extent of overshadowing their masters. Talking of masters of Indian Cinema, the first names that flash across our minds are of the likes of Satyajit Ray, Dadasaheb Phalke, Adoor Gopalakrishnan, Shyam Benegal and the likes followed by many filmmakers from our south Indian industries. However, taking into consideration our country’s vast demography and the various cinema industries across our country, we would not be doing enough justice to all the masters if we set out to talk about them. So, at this instance, let us take a look at those masters and their pupils who have been the guiding lights of our own Tamil cinema industry – Kollywood. With respect to K-town, it is oft quoted that there are only three schools of filmmaking – the K. Balachander school, the Bharathiraja school and the Balu Mahendra school. Each of these great legends has left an indelible mark on the cinema of yore and their students are carrying on their work. Of course there have been many filmmakers before and after these three, who have given us classics on the big screen – but the three B’s are considered by almost everybody to be ‘THE’ masters.

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K. Balachander – Iyakkunar Sigaram

The senior-most of the three B’s, K. Balachander, started out as a playwright and his stage drama’s caught the fancy of many. Having directed his first movie (Neerkumizhi) in 1965, he went on to direct over another 100 movies (not an easy task by any means), with his last being the 2006 movie Poi. However, his association with cinema doesn’t end with direction – he has been a part of over another 100 movies as a writer, producer and at many other capacities. Though many of his works will remain forever dear to Kollywood fans, I am sure that his being instrumental in bringing to the big screen stars like Kamal Haasan, Rajinikanth, Sridevi, Prakashraj, Ramesh Aravind, Vivek and many many others will be one of his biggest contributions to tinsel town. Known for his unconventional and futuristic themes and stories with a hard-hitting impact, Balachander was a true trendsetter of his times. Many of his movies like Bama Vijayam, Ethirneechal, Arangetram, Naan Avanillai, Aval Oru Thodarkadhai, Apoorva Ragangal, Moondru Mudichu, Varumayin Niram Sivappu, Sindhu Bhairavi, Unnal Mudiyum Thambi, Azhagan, Vaanamey Ellai, Duet, Kalki, etc… were on subjects considered way too modern and out of times. Many of his movies also came under fire for tackling inter-generational relationships, or a relationship after divorce and such… But, being the master that he is, he just brushed them all aside and went on with doing what he did best! It would not be too much praise to talk of K. Balachander as a school; as he has mentored and introduced not just actors but also able filmmakers of the current generation.

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Graduates of the K. Balachander School of filmmaking:

The most notable of Iyakkunar Sigaram K. Balachander’s pupils are Vasanth, Suresh Krishna, Saran, Selvaraghavan, Cheran, Hari and others. These directors themselves have quite a lot of impressive titles to their credit and have ensured that their films have taken the centre-stage in people’s minds and the box office, quite often.

P. Bharathiraja

“En Iniya Tamizh Makkale… Ungal Pasathirkuriya Bharathiraja… “ (My dear Tamil people… This is your’s affectionately Bharathiraja…)! How many times have we got goose-bumps on listening to these words in theatres or on TV? Starting off as an assistant to the legendary Kannada filmmaker Puttana Kanagal, Bharathiraja marked his entry into Tamil cinema with the 1977 movie 16 Vayathinaley. What became a resounding debut movie for the filmmaker became the starting point of successful journeys in Kollywood for many others too. We just cannot separate Bharathiraja and the nativity he brings to his movies… the smell of the earth and the sounds and visuals of our rural regions come to life in his big screen presentations. A master storyteller, he had to face accusations that he could only make movies with a village backdrop – but he answered his critics with some amazing city based flicks like Sigappu Rojakkal, Bommalaattam and also with some unique experimental movies like Nizhalgal and Tik Tik Tik… With over 40 movies as a director in languages including Tamil, Telugu, Kannada and Hindi, Bharathiraja is a legend in his own right, and has been the mentor for many a contemporary filmmaker.

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Graduates of the Bharathiraja School of
filmmaking:

One of the most and best-known directors and actors from Bharathiraja’s fold is the late Manivannan, who himself has been the mentor for a number of talented actors like Vikraman, R. K. Selvamani, Sundar C., Seeman, K. Selva Bharathy, Rasu Madhuravan and many others. Other filmmakers to have learnt or fine-tuned their craft from Bharathiraja are K. Bhagyaraj (who in turn was the mentor of Pandiarajan and Parthiban), Livingston, Vikraman, KS Ravikumar (Cheran’s mentor) and many others.

Balu Mahendra

This Sri Lankan born filmmaker started out as a cinematographer, and not just an ordinary one – but a National Award winning stalwart. Not content with just wielding the camera, he also began wielding the megaphone and subsequently carved a niche for himself in Kollywood as a game-changer. Balu Mahendra is considered to have a firm control over his projects as he not only directed them, but also wrote, controlled the camera and also handled the editing for most of his movies. He has collaborated with many of his contemporaries and lent his abilities as a cinematographer to making their projects visual marvels. With some unique movies like Moodu Pani, Moondram Pirai, Veedu, Marupadiyum, Sathi Leelavathi, Julie Ganapathi and many others, Balu Mahendra made a bold statement that it was not only commercial entertainers but also parallel movies like his that could strike a chord with the movie-goers.
Graduates of the Balu Mahendra School of filmmaking:

Though the numbers from Balu Mahendra’s school of filmmaking don’t match up to the numbers of the other two masters, the few who have come from here have created waves to match up with any other filmmaker of their times. The most notable filmmakers to have been tutored by Balu Mahendra are Vetri Maaran (though he has just 2 movies and 1 National Award to his credit – 4 of his assistants are already directors themselves) and Bala (already a legend to many, and mentor to other stalwart directors like Ameer and M. Sasikumar).

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Though the 3 B’s are said to be the founding stones of Kollywood, there have been a number of other directors who have played their part in the shaping of this industry. Some noteworthy names are Mahendran (considered by many to be the fourth school of filmmaking in Kollywood), SA Chandrashekar, Mani Ratnam (a filmmaker said to have taken Tamil cinema to the rest of India, and Indian cinema to the world), and a number of others. Of all the directors to have learnt their trade from SA Chandrashekar, Shankar is his most famous protégé. With projects that have gained acclaim across the world, Shankar himself has the privilege of seeing his assistants like Balaji Sakthivel, Vasanthabalan and Atlee (among many others) become renowned filmmakers. Azhagam Perumal and Susi Ganesan are a few among the many to have learnt their trade from Mani Ratnam. Some other directors who have made us sit back and take notice of their work are Thangar Bachan, Sasi and Radha Mohan – who have given unique and thought provoking movies.

Tamil cinema is indeed proud to have produced so many outstanding filmmakers whom the rest of India and the world have looked up to.

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