Kamal Haasan pays rich tribute to his Sadma director, Balu Mahendra, who passed away on February 13.
Kamal Haasan knew ace director-cinematographer Balu Mahendra quite closely, since they had worked together in quite a few films. Haasan starred in Balu's directorial debut Kokila, which also starred the director's wife Shoba.
Later, they went on to work in Moondram Pirai, which was later remade in Hindi as Sadma.
Kamal Haasan pays tribute to the filmmaker:
Balu Mahendra and I shared a very close relationship. His debut film as a cameraman was with me.
We used to sit and talk about films between shots. He used to listen to my scripts. So we had a bond.
In spite of being my senior, he was a friend. I acted in the first film Balu directed, Kokila. Shoba who Balu loved, played the lead. It was about a very unusual relationship.
For Sadma, both Balu and I made a conscious decision to keep sex out of the relationship between Sridevi and me.
Not that he or I was averse to the idea of sex on screen. We had grown up watching cinema from the world over. And I’d like to think we had imbibed a certain maturity in our outlook which showed in our work together.
However, my character in Sadma finds Sridevi in a place that epitomises sex. A brothel.
That whole contrast between her innocence and the world at large was preserved in the way I cocoon, shelter and protect her from the outside world.
My character was based on Balu Mahendra who at that time was in love with Shoba, who was much younger than him.
I had known the girl from my childhood. So I asked him what he was doing playing his creative cards so close to his chest. But he just kept quiet.
He was senior, so I couldn’t question him beyond a point.
I heard Shoba committed suicide when I was shooting the climax of Ek Duuje Ke Liye.
I played my part instinctively in Sadma. The railway platform finale was partly my idea. Balu wanted a restrained finale where she drove off quietly. He was very minimalist in his approach.
When Sridevi came on location, Balu gave her coconut to rub on her face. No make-up was allowed. The face had to be washed with soap only.
His unit was the smallest I’ve ever worked with. There were only 12 people on location in Ooty. When he saw the size of my crew Balu warned me, ‘I think you’re being had. You don’t need so many people.’
I knew something far more dramatic was needed in the climax in Sadma. My character had to show the desperation of a man who’s losing the love of his life.
How would a man react if he feels he would have to spend the rest of his life without love?
I had to act like a man gone crazy with desperation as he watches his life go away. Usually, directors are cautious about actors’ suggestions. But Balu who was very fixed in his ideas, loved the idea of my character going berserk on the railway platform.
As for my erotic dance with Silk Smitha (O babua yeh mahua), I didn’t really think it belonged in Sadma. It was a commercial concession and I had to go along with it.
We decided to put in an erotic dance, but in a way not done in any film before and without spending money. So we had just me and Silk.
And she didn’t know how to dance…at all! The dance was choreographed by Prabhu Dheva’s father, Sundaram Master. He just incorporated whatever she could do.