Colour of India

Colour of India

Sunday, August 7, 2011



Recently I met Shri.B.Kannan, son of Late Shri V.Balakrishnan a Great Documentary Film Producer and photographer who passed away at Chennai on 20th July 2007. He was my very dear friend for more than three decades. Shri V.Balakrishnan was a staunch devotee of Paramacharya, the sage of Kanchi for a life time.


Beginning from August 1976 at Kutralam in the then unbifurcated Tirunelveli District where I was serving as District Collector, my friendship with Balakrishnan grew steadily and ripened over the years. I can say with nostalgia and affection that I basked in the sunshine of his warm friendship. By friendship I mean the greatest love, the greatest usefulness, the most open communication, the noblest sufferings, the severest truth, the heartiest counsel of which the greatest union of minds brave men and women are capable. As a friend he was one in whose understanding and virtue I could easily confide and whose opinion I valued at once for its justness and sincerity. I have always viewed my long and true friendship with Balakrishnan as the gift of God, believing that HE —HE only and HE alone --who made hearts can unite them.

Meenakshi Subrahmanyam and K.Subrahmanyam

Balakrishnan was the eldest son of the eminent and pioneering film director K Subrahmanyam (1904-1971) and Meenakshi Subrahmanyam, both of whom hailed from Thanjavur District—a centre of great culture and civilization — from times immemorial. After graduating from the Law College in Madras, Balakrishnan started assisting his father in the film industry. He was fortunate to receive his exceptional training in film production and direction from his father who was a creative genius. It will not be too much to say that K Subrahmanyam was to film industry in South India in the first half of the 20th century, what Columbus was to the discovery of America in the 15th century. From his distinguished father, Balakrishnan inherited the conviction that, in a developing country like India, film has a very vital and responsible role to play as a powerful and constructive medium of mass communication. This working philosophy drew him into the documentary film movement which had just started in South India in the early fifties.

When I assumed charge as the First Chairman of Tuticorin Port after duly completing all the works relating to the Tuticorin harbour Project on 1st April 1979, I had invited his sister, the distinguished dancer of international repute, Dr.Padma Subrahmanyam, to give a dance performance at Tuticorin. In those days, Smt Shyamala Balakrishnan, wife of Balakrishnan, used to provide splendid musical support to Dr. Padma Subrahmanyam. Shyamala Balakrishnan was a very fine singer with a very melodious voice. Dr Padma Subrahmanyam's perfor­mance at Tuticorin was indeed outstanding. Both Dr Padma Subrahmanyam and Shyamala Balakrishnan, rose to supreme heights during the course of that performance which had been organised by me to commemorate the inauguration of Tuticorin Port Trust on 1 April, 1979.

Padma Subrahmanyam's dancing and Shyamala Balakrishnan's singing on the stage were always like warp and woof of a splendid Dacca Muslin fabric. I can still recall the tribute that Kausalya Santhanam paid to the musical versatility of Shyamala Balakrishnan when she passed away in January 1997: Achyuta   ...   Achyuta   ...'   As Shyamala Balakrishnan softly enunciated Rukmini's address to Lord Krishna, Padma Subrahmanyam's face mirrored the expressions of Bhakti, love and surren­der. Or was it the other way around - of the singer re­flecting the emotions of the dancer?

It was difficult to tell as the song and dance each appeared to flow from the other, enveloping the au­dience in a total, felt expe­rience. The syllables and the steps, the words and the gestures, the lyrics and the movements were in perfect unison. The un­derstanding between the dancer and singer was intuitive and total--a rapport that made Shyamala and Padma such a winning combination.


Just as Padma and Shyamala were made for each other for the dance stage, Shyamala and Balakrishnan were made for each other for the wider and larger Stage and Arena of Life. Both Shyamala and Balakrishnan were great devotees of Paramacharya of Kanchi. Their’s was a unique form of companionship founded on mutual trust and bound­less love for each other. They were indivisibly united in their common search for the truth, the good and the beautiful. Both Shyamala and Balakrishnan were our great friends and I can say with conviction that their’s was a beautiful association where the independence was equal, the dependence mutual and obliga­tion reciprocal.



As a splendid couple, they led a life of creative fulfilment, a life of unique service through-the medium of music and art, guided by knowledge and wisdom.

V Balakrishnan was a versatile cinematographer. He learnt the art of cinematography at the feet of his Guru T K Venkat who was an avant garde and veteran cinematographer dating back to the days of silent mov­ies. In the late forties and early fifties, Balakrishnan rendered honorary service, under his father's supervi­sion, for many projects such as Newsreel coverage of the first Inde­pendence Day Celebrations at Ma­dras and periodic tours of Prime Min­ister Jawaharlal Nehru in South In­dia; Tamil dubbing of the Hindi pro­ductions of the newly formed Children's Film Society etc; audio recordings of some great classical musicians of South India for the newly formed Tamilnadu Sangeeta Nataka Academy for their archives.

Later Balakrishnan worked as Assis­tant Director to his father in the fea­ture films Geetha Gandhi (1948-Tamil), Stree Ratna (1954-Kannada), Pandithevan (1958-Tamil) and Kotha Dhari (I960–Telegu).Under his father’s personal supervision, he directed the film, Kacha Devayani in Kannada (in 1955) which was a remake of the Tamil hit of 1942. But from 1956 his attention was only towards short and documentary films.

For over five decades, Balakrishnan photographed and directed scores of short films on a variety of subjects, including History, Architecture and Sculpture, Culture and Religion, Biography, Dance, Education, Agriculture and Forests, Family Planning, Irrigation, Industries, Power Generation, Rural development etc. involving intensive study extensive travel and getting in touch with a broad galaxy of eminent per­sonalities. Volume of or quantity in work was never his focus or attraction, nor mere monetary considerations.

It was an article of Balakrishnan's faith that a documentary film and all who participate in it are jointly ac­countable to the Indian public for re­spect for the special needs of children, for community responsibility, for the advancement of education and culture, for decency and decorum in production, and for ethical propriety in advertising.

As a documentary film producer and cinematographer, Art for Art's sake was his vital consideration and noth­ing else mattered to him. Perhaps the great poet had Balakrishnan in view when he wrote:

That man is great
And he alone,
Who serves a greatness not his own.
Neither for pelf
Nor for fame,
Content to know
And be unknown.
Single in integrity
And whole in himself.

Balakrishnan's classic documen­tary film titled 'TEMPLES OF TAMILNADU' (Colour - 60 minutes) which he produced in two parts for the Government of Tamilnadu was hailed as a landmark historic thesis on celluloid. It covered over forty five temples in Tamilnadu which are of historic, architectural, sculptural, cul­tural and festive importance. As early as late fifties, he was the peerless pioneer in introducing the dramatic element in documentary films, termed as docudrama.

Following his great father's foot steps who founded the Nrithyodaya in 1942, Balakrishnan took a special interest in the study of Bharatha Natyam. In-more senses than one I can say that his vital role in relation to the evolution, growth and devel­opment of Dr Padma Subrahmanyam as an outstanding dancer was like that of Kalki Sadasivam in relation to the flower­ing of the musical genius of M S Subhaiakshmi.

All the time-defying photographs depicting the KARANAS of Bharatha's Natyashasthra in Dr Padma Subrahmanyam's magnum opus, were creatively taken and produced by Baiakrishnan with spiritual faith and devotion that marched along­side that of his great sister Dr Padma Subrahmanyam. Later Balakrishnan also directed a Documentary film serial (13 segments) titled BHARATIYA NATYA SASTRA' (En­glish), produced by Nrithyodaya for Doordarshan's National Network, based on Dr Padma Subrahmanyam's script. Considered as a 'Magnum Opus' by large sec­tions of people in India and abroad, the core of this film is the underlying cultural unity of our Bharat dating back to the dawn of history.

The crowning moment of Balakrishnan's life was reached in 2002 when he directed the much acclaimed biographical documen­tary film, 'SAGE OF KANCHI' (70 min­utes), depicting the life of the great Centenarian Saint. Pujyasri Chandrasekharendra Saraswati Swamigal, the 68th Sankaracharya of Kanchi Kamakoti Peetam. What is poignantly significant is the fact that his wife Shyamala Balakrishnan (Singer and Research Scholar) played a very key role in writing the script for this film which made and continues to make millions of view­ers around the world go into ecstatic raptures.

Both Balakrishnan and his wife Shyamala were great devotees of Kanchi Paramacharya for a life time. They were united in their daily prayer to Paramacharya in these words:

You are the life of our life
O Paramacharya, the heart of my heart,
There is none in ail the three worlds
Whom I call my own but you
You are the peace of my mind
You are the joy of my heart
You are my beauty and my wealth
You  are  my  wisdom  and  my strength; I call you my home, my friend, my king.
My present and future are in your hands;
My scriptures and commands come from you.
Supreme teacher, fountain of wisdom,
You are the path and the goal,
Tender mother and stern father too. You are the creator and protector,
And the pilot who takes me across
The stormy ocean of life.

Shyamala joined Paramacharya in the OCEAN OF ETERNITY in 1997.
Balakrishnan joined them both on 20 July 2007. I offer my humble, affec­tionate and reverential salutations to their sacred memory.

No comments: