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Image: This totally cool image comes via Twitter, credit to Vikatan Publications.

I met Balu Mahendra once. Long ago, at a far off place. And spent two long hours with him. He spoke cinema, I listened, and then we discussed cinema, particularly whether it was possible to be sensitive and realistic while making films. I had heard tales, like the rest of us, on his infamous temper, his strong points of view and his ability to be dismissive, not to mention the rumours of his relationship with actor Shoba, and naturally,  I was a little wary. But Balu Mahendra was nothing of the sort with me. He seemed as eager to speak to me, as I was with him; you could say the circumstances had thrown us together in an age when smart phones did not provide company, but beyond that, he was eager. He did not treat me like the kid I was then, certainly green behind the ears. He seemed older then, older than his screen presence, and his trademark cap seemed squashed on his head, his face gaunt, his beard fuller.

But none of that mattered when he spoke, and when I disagreed with what he said, he was amused at my youthful anger, saying he was pleased by it. “This is how the young should be,” he said, pleased as punch, “or what’s youth for.” He did not ask the usual questions people used to ask those days of young women journalists: what does your dad do, don’t your folks mind you going home late, isn’t this job risky for a woman? He din’t care, and he had accepted that if I wanted to be a journalist, then that was what I had to be. He was concerned that I thought Rettai Vaal Kuruvi was not his style; he chuckled when I said Chockalinga Bhagavathar was cute; but not when I, in my pubescent naivete, said I hated him for the way Veedu ended; and he was surprised at me for thinking Azhiyatha Kolangal was a bold story. I even asked cheekily if he went for the dusky, sultry women, he just winked.

That was the only time I met him. I love some of his films, but I think I will remember him more for those couple of hours, when we sat in a bright, airy room, sipping on endless cups of sweetened tea, discussing stuff like we were old pals, equals. As if nothing else mattered.

Rest in peace, sir.

 

 

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