Thursday, 23 April 2009


It was the talk of the town – a new play by K. Balachandar, after a gap of more than 40 years. And I was quite excited at the prospect of attending it. After all, I have been a faithful follower of his movies from the late 1960s.

In the intervening gap of those 40 years, Balachandar had given up his job in the Accountant General’s office and graduated from being a part time dramatist, penning his delightful plays, to cinema direction, and later when television appeared to making serials. Balachandar’s earliest pictures were productions of his plays like ‘Server Sundaram’ (though this was directed by Krishnan Panju), ‘Navagraham’ and ‘Major Chandrakant’.

In the 60s and 70s, we used to look forward to every K. Balachandar (KB) movie – and were never let down. All that we expected from him would be there - a good story, excellent characterisation, suspense and liberal doses of humour. With Nagesh in the cast, there was no dearth of that.

They made a sound team, Nagesh and Balachandar.

And so at the first show of the play ‘Pournami’, (a first for us, too!) which KB had penned and directed after 40 years, it was most touching to see, after the lights dimmed, a picture of Nagesh highlighted before the curtain went up, and the signature dialogue “Maadhu Vandhirukken” from ‘Edhirneechal’. It was followed by KB’s voice in the background chiding Nagesh for going away, leaving him behind. A poignant moment, and it seemed fitting when KB dedicated the play to him.

KB also mentioned the partners of Kalakendra, who had produced all his earlier pictures.
It was good to hear him talk about his early days, and his decision to come back to his first love the stage. “I am reborn again.”, he said.

‘Pournami’ is a topical story. It narrates the upheaval created in a family when a member is arrested by Pakistan authorities as a spy, when he goes there on work, and is held in exchange for the release of a terrorist. Naturally, there is a lot of scope for political pontifications – which I found boring - and some punch lines which raised some laughs. Pournami is the wife of the abducted Navneet, (who a la the Irumal thatha of ‘Ethirneechal’, never appears on stage). How, with the help of a relative who is a retired major in the army and is called - guess what? Major Chandrakant - she works to bring about his release forms the story. Shades of the movie 'Roja' here.

The performances were good - they would be, with KB at the helm. When his old production office had borrowed our ground floor premises for the shooting of one of his movies in the early 70s, we were able to see how he extracted perfect performances from his actors (including Rajnikant, then a newcomer).

Renuka as Pournami was good and looked pretty, but somehow she was not able to cast off the mantle of Renuka totally. Fathima Babu of news reading fame, on the other hand, gave a terrific laughter-generating performance as the ‘almost got Padmasri’ lady, who is a bit of a nosy parker too. As her to-be-daughter-in-law, Kavya sends her parents (and some of us, too) up the wall with her ear constantly glued to the cell phone, when her fingers are not texting/smsing. This is a nice dig at today’s youngsters and their dependence on the mobile phone for survival. Kavya’s constant prostrating in front of Fathima to get into her good books also raised a few laughs.

The characters and situations create the humour, and the strong story keeps the play from being a mere hook on which to suspend jokes.

The actor playing Navneet’s brother*, and Poovilangu Mohan as Chandrakant also impressed, though the latter’s ‘Maon hoon na’ got on my nerves after a while.

The story moved on a single set, very pleasing to the eye, and the lighting effects were well handled, especially in the scene where Navneet is allowed to speak to his wife from jail. I wondered why Renuka did not change her costume more often, while the others did, to show the movement of time.

The play was staged under the aegis of Kartik Fine Arts, one of the leading Sabhas in Chennai, at Narada Gana Sabha Hall. And the 1500 capacity hall was full. I looked around and found no one under 30! The sabha regulars were the usual middle-aged and retired group, and ticket holders seemed to belong to that group, too. Not surprising, since KB is himself over 70, and his fans, would be in the same age group.

I was not in Chennai when his earlier plays were staged under the banner of Ragini Recreations, but seen the movies that developed from them like ‘Major Chandrakant’ and ‘Edirneechal’ - so it was good to see KB ‘live’

I went with a lot of expectations, and enjoyed myself.

But I learnt something too - you can never turn the clock back.

*I have since learnt that the actor Karthik is part of Evam, a group that has made a name for itself in producing and staging plays in English in the city.

P. S. The photos did not turn out very well, and I am disappointed a bit.




Viji said...

That's true Raji , about not being able to turn the clock back but one can go back and savour its delights again and again. KB's films were indeed somehting else and yessss I remember meeting Rajanikanth the young new actor who was doing the villain's role in the scene being shot "downstairs" . Thanks for this really personalised review . It was very moving to read about KB's tribute to Nagesh. How enriched our cultural lives have been thanks to talents like his.

Blogeswari said...

Lovely review .

My dad used to be (and still is) one major KB fan.. used to travel with the troupe when they used to stage plays.

Meera's World said...

KB is over 70!!!the story seemed like roja ,to me too.i havnt seen much of his movies,but the ones i have seen,i,thanner thanner or achamillai etc.

Dhivya Dharsanam said...

Wonderful review!

I too smelt the Roja flavour while reading first few lines of the story in your post.

But i think it would have got that KB's touch.

Its so nice of KB to dedicate the play to Nagesh and hats off to you for having mentioned that along with the pic.

Hope KB comes out with much more treasures like this.

kallu said...

Thanks for the review Raji. Appreciate it as a fan of KB and Nagesh

Anil P said...

This is new territory for me. Growing up on the West Coast I never came across the films you mention.

Enjoyed your account of the play. Happened to see one myself a few days ago. "Miss Beautiful" by Makarand Deshpande.

Devika Jyothi said...

I have only seen Thanneer Thanner and remember Saritha's performance all too well...and then so many reviews on that movie! :)

Nice reading this, Raji :)
Madras is so happening for art-lovers :)



Too right, Viji. Go back and savour the delights, but we have also moved on a bit. Can the magic be recreated!

Blogeswari - KB fans will always be KB fans, and if he does not come up to scratch, feel possessive enough to scold him, too.

meerasworld - his movies have a timeless appeal. I could do a full post on them.

Saravanan, Kallu - thanks.

Anil P - plays have a sense of immediacy about them that movies can never have.

Devika - Thanks, Devika for writing that. It is true that Madras is a very 'happening' place for all kinds of art lovers.

Rinkly Rimes said...

I wanted to take a look at your blog after having read your helpful comments on Twitter. I'm still struggling with Twitter and I don't know that it's going to help me much as mine is not a money-making blog. But blogging/twittering etc etc are wonderful devices for getting to know new peoples and cultures. I already correspond frequently with 'chumma-kat' so I'm beginning to get quite interested in Indian culture. We're watching a superb series on TV here called 'The Story of India'. What colours! What crowds!

Anonymous said...

Why did you neglect to mention your personal connection with Kalakendra?

Rajesh said...

Great review.

KB is Grand Master of this field.

Unknown said...

My mom used to act in these plays way back in 1970s. Your post reminded me of those plays that I attended when I was a child.

Kat said...

A nice review of a genius. His movies used to keep everyone guessing and carried a stamp of its own.

harimohan said...

I too have enjoyed K B movies when in Madras.
I remember once in Rasika ranjini sabha mylapore after seeing a drama ( was in school at that time ) Nagesh and A.P Nagarajan the director went out walking into the road ,as all the crowd had left, me and my friend followed them amused by Nageshs antics
true to form he stopped at Kalathy store and ordered rose milk and paid for it even though the shop keeper refused payment then he whistled for a cyclerickshaw and went off in it !!


Rinkly Rimes - welcome to my blog.

Anonymous - at the right time and place, I hope to.

Rajesh - thanks.

T and S - That is interesting.

Kat - You are right

Harimohan- Really, he did that? Andwent off in a cycle rickshaw, too!