Remembering K Balachander: Khushbu reminisces about the gutsy visionary
In this series dedicated to veteran filmmaker K Balachander to celebrate his 90th birthday anniversary, it is the turn of actor Khushbu Sundar to talk about her Jathi Malli director
"Any artist coming into the South dreams of working with the likes of Bharathiraja sir, Mani Ratnam sir and K Balachander sir. I was no different. Even before Jathi Malli, I had worked in Annamalai, a Kavithalaya production, but he was barely on the sets. So, when KB sir attended the pooja of Captain Magal, my film with Bharathiraja sir, I approached the Iyakkunar Sigaram and said I'd love to work under his direction. He asked me to come to his office the next day and narrated Jathi Malli to me.
I was in a trance when KB sir narrated the script. I couldn't actually believe he was going to direct me. Interestingly, I was simultaneously shooting for Captain Magal and Jathi Malli, 15 days in Ooty for Bharathiraja sir's film and 15 days in Coonoor for KB sir. It was a dream come true.
My first shot in Jathi Malli was at the Suicide Point. It was a zoom shot. He wanted me to shed a tear, without glycerine, when the camera came to a close-up. I was petrified. I thought KB sir would ask me to pack up and leave the shoot (laughs). But nalla vela, it was okayed in a single take. He held my hand, hugged me tight and said, "Brilliant brilliant... so happy, very happy."
During the shooting, we bonded over games of rummy and forged a beautiful friendship. It used to drizzle a lot in Ooty/Coonoor, and while the shots were being readied, KB sir and I used to go on long walks under an umbrella. We used to speak about his filming techniques, what he planned for the day's shoot, etc... He was an observant filmmaker. There is a mannerism I adopt in Jathi Malli. It was something that I used to subconsciously do even in real life. KB sir noticed it and wanted to incorporate that in my character.
KB sir was a different filmmaker and he had the guts to be different. That was his trademark. He was way ahead of his times. You can't even imagine doing a film like Aboorva Ragangal or Kalki even now. Every film and every character of his reached cult status. That is the power of his writing. Even then, and even now, there is no one like KB sir."
(as told to Avinash Ramachandran)