Balan K Nair, to yours truly, once upon a time, lived onscreen as the arch nemesis of Jayan‘s machismo. Everytime you watched him gnash his teeth, cock his head, and sneer, you said to yourself, “Soon, you are going to wipe that smile off your face, buddy, I swear to God. Jayan is going to do that for me. I don’t like you, not even a tiny bit. No Sir.” Balan K Nair was an effortless and graceful actor, much alike in the mould of his peers who came in from the Malabar Theater circuit. But he was unique, in the sense, his gravely voice and his equally complementing ‘earthy’ looks gave him an onscreen personality that made him an extremely ‘natural’ actor. He also had an amazing grasp of the possibilities of vocal modulation and tonal delivery onscreen, (I would say he was blessed) that enabled to slip into any accent/dialect with consummate ease. There was a ‘neutrality’ to his physical appearance, that made it the perfect wireframe to give life to any character. That, along with his arresting screen presence were enough to make him that perfect chameleon on celluloid. Like his peers ( Kuthiravattam Pappu, Kunjandi, P Santha Devi et al) he carried with him that indescribable gift of ‘fluid effortlessness’ onscreen. Though most of the present generation choose to identify him with the loud, over-the-top villains of the mainstream popular ‘industrial blockbusters’ of the 90’s, it was just one aspect of Balan K Nair’s vast and varied repertoire.This, as usual, is a rough guide map through the terrains that he traversed on celluloid, with the confidence, vitality and fortitude that comes natural to ‘Natural Born Actors.’
It is mentioned that Balan K Nair has been a stunt double for Dev Anand for movies like Sarhad (1960), though I have my doubts. The Dev Anand starrer Sarhad (1960) was such a tame movie, and the only scene where I could imagine him using a stunt double was in the closing of the movie, in the showdown in the mines. You could watch it here and figure out for yourselves !
The finale of Sarhad (1960)
His debut was in PN Menon‘s Nizhalattam (1970), scripted by MT Vasudevan Nair, and seem to have done quite a number of ‘blink-and-you-miss-roles’ in the ensuing years till Thacholi Ambu came around in 1978. One role I clearly remember is the nameless mob leader in Kuttyedathi(1971), which displayed his capacity to convey menace without uttering a word. I have reposted his character sketch from my earlier article on Kuttyedathi which I felt was relevant in this context too. You can read the earlier article here.
It was again, a delight to watch Balan K Nair, in what I should say, his second movie appearance, though sadly he hardly had any words to say. The script that only mentions the ‘collective face’ of the village that seeks vengeance (and wants to restore the ‘social order’) on the defiant Appunni (Sathyan), and the ‘collective beast’ has a ‘head’ in the screen adaptation, and it is Balan K Nair. He is the one who literally takes justice in his own hands to restore social sanity in the village, shaken by this ‘wayward, unorthodox love-affair. His ease and absolute confidence is evident even in this short ‘nameless role’ and a sign of brilliant roles to come. Thank God, we got to see it in around 300-odd movies and the one in Oppol remains my all-time favorite.
I would say Thacholi Ambu ‘made’ Balan K Nair. Also Mayankutty was lucky enough to be part of India’s first indigenous Cinemascope production, and that too in the company of Prem Nazir and Sivaji Ganesan. the upright, daring, yet an eternal pacifist who tries to stay away from the feudal conflict but gets involuntarily sucked into the revenge saga, Balan K Nair’s Maayinkutty was a precursor of the roles on a similar template that would come his way in his fruitful career. This blueprint of the honest, upright, swimming-against-the-current role was, in a way, the under current of most of his supporting roles in the later years. The role also brought him his second State Award, the Second Best Actor in Kerala Film Awards. ( His first State Award as also as the Second Best Actor, in 1974, for KP Kumaran‘s Athidhi ). In vivid contrast came the “Baass” roles, as he took over the mantle from Jose Prakash in his later years, but thankfully didn’t kill us with an overdose.
A clipping from Thacholi Ambu
Angadi, Oppol and Lorry (1980)
1980 was a fantastic year for Balan K Nair, with his 3 releases – Angadi, Oppol and Lorry – as different and extreme as chalk and cheese, and each one of them a landmark film for Malayalam cinema.Looking back, this fact seems to repeat itself with amazing regularity. Balan K Nair was lucky enough to be a part of many productions in Malayalam cinema that went on to became milestones in the evolutionary journey of our films. In Oppol, he was Govindan, an ex- NCO pushing 50’s, who agrees to take Malu, the young, ostracized mother of Appu as his bride. In the hands of director Sethumadhavan, MT Vasudevan Nair‘s short story attained a new life of its own, and who else to power it than its main lead, Balan K Nair.
Balan K Nair on winning the National Award for Oppol.
As Ouseph, the brother-in-arms-turned-vengeful-foe in Bharathan‘s Lorry, it was a treat to watch two delightfully diverse schools of acting interplaying with each other (the other being Achankunju‘s Velan ), in one of the quirkiest road movies ever made in Malayalam cinema. Angadi was an entirely different ball game altogether.One of the biggest box-office successes in Malayalam cinema, and a multi-starrer screenplay, Angadi was also significant for reinforcing the star value of another popular actor in mainstream movies, Kuthiravattam Pappu. Balan K Nair played the estranged, dysfunctional parasite father who even pimps his daughter to furthur his selfish causes and gets his comeuppance in the form of multiple stab-wounds.
A video clipping from Oppol (1980)
Who cares whether it was a ripoff from Yash Chopra’s Waqt (1965). Balan K Nair had by now ‘celluloidly’ become Jayan’s arch nemesis, and the starry-eyed young, adoring fans even let the animosity spill into real life ! For them (including yours truly) Balan K Nair stood for everything that bode ill for Jayan. And so it was even for the quakes of Kolilakkam’s sad aftermath , a main conspiracy theory that floated around was that it has Balan K Nair who pushed him off the malfunctioning helicopter ! IT all goes on to prove his acting prowess that somehow seemed to bridge the famed real and the reel, making in an incredulous whole.It was also another of Providence’s gift that he became a part of the movie that effectively immortalised Jayan, who literally went off in a blaze of glory, also effectively cementing his place and part in the historical scheme of things. Kolilakkam was an event in Malayalam popular cinema. Period.
The famous ‘knife scene’ from Kolilakkam
Balan K Nair, also, luckily became a part of the first 70 mm movie, indigenously produced in India with Jijo’s Padayottam, a fantastic adaptation of The Count of Monte Cristo ( if you are ready to forgive the gaudy jewelry, the kitschy costumes, bad hamming and the over-the-top toupees). I guess this was also the last time he and Achenkunju appeared together in a movie, after their eponymous Lorry (1980). Balan K Nair played Mootha Marakkar, a rich sea trader who gets double crossed and sea jacked by the Perumana Kurup ( N Govindankutty), and though he escapes a bid on his life, succumbs to the treachery after a valiant stand-off on his personal, ‘luxury’ dhow. It was a role tailor-made for him, and one of the most memorable roles for me, personally.
A clipping from the movie.
Ee Nadu (1982)
As the morally upright, daring, ex-naxalite Comrade Krishna Pillai in Ee Naadu, Balan K Nair was at home playing a personality onscreen that came natural to him. I think Most of IV Sasi‘s productions that he got had the shades of this composite role till Aalkoottathil Thaniye happened. After that things again slid back to his typecast ones till 1921 in 1988. Ee Naadu was the first political thriller on wide canvas in Malayalam cinema according to me, and was also the precursor to the ones that would follow in the same format from T Damodaran – IV Sasi in the coming years, though none could reach the same level of popularity is this pioneering classic.
The classic Paavada venam from Ee Nadu.
Aalkoottathil Thaniye (1984)
Along with Oppol, I consider this to be one of his brilliant portrayals ever, as Madhavan Nair, the terminally-ill school master, at the threshold of Death, as an important chapter of his children’s lives unfurl around his bedside. MT Vasudevan Nair‘s intepretation of Death as the Mighty Rearranger was as fabulous as Parapurath‘s Aranaazhikaneram (1970). It is a movie that will be relevant as long as parents and children are around in this world as we know it. The movie also gave gave another peer of his from the Kozhikode theater circuit one of the defining roles of his career, Kuthiravattam Pappu. This is one of the movies that I can watch over and over and never feel tired.
A clipping from the movie.
This mention is more of the trivia kind. I think this was the only movie that Balan K Nair and his son Meghanadan came together for the first and last time, though they never met together onscreen at any point. The lanky Meghanadan plays the nagging, brash younger sibling to Rahman’s character, pestering him to organise money to get his ‘Dubai visa’, so that he can escape from their hellhole of poverty. Balan K Nair played the investigating officer, one of the tree ‘faces’ of the law that MT presents in brief, but vivid brush strokes.
Nineteen Twenty One (1988)
Beeran was another version of the staple creations for him, from the IV Sasi-T Damodaran screenplays in this part-fiction, part-real, part T Damodaran epic that was based on the Mappilah Uprising of Malabar and the associated events around it. Beeran was the servile chief of the feudal manor, bonded for life and with his life to his squire, and even threatens his own son, who leads the Muslim insurgents baying for the Squire’s blood that he will get ti him over his dead body. It was, as usual, a tailor-made one for Balan K Nair, but, he made it memorable, in his own inimitable style.
Oru Vadakkan Veeragatha (1989)
Kannappan Chekavar is very much a part of Malayalam Cinema’s most celebrated epic as Chandhu. His amazing control on dialogue delivery, tonal range, and the accent is down pat. Enough said.
A clipping from the movie.
One of those memorable movies that just seems out of reach. I remember watching this in the good old Doordarshan and has been wishing ever since to get hold of a copy of the movie. Balan K Nair played the aging ferryman, eking out his lone life by the solitary, crumbling dock in a shack, the conscience-keeper to the bunch of characters that cross the river in their everyday struggle for survival and back, and to whom the young protagonist lands up, ending being his understudy. A heartwarming and poignant tale, directed and produced by MT Vasudevan Nair, which also won the Kerala Film Awards for the Best Film and the Best Screenplay, and the National Awards for the Best Screenplay and the Best Feature Film in Malayalam. This was also, I guess, sadly his last movie.
A video clipping I stumbled upon on Youtube that gives one a fair idea of his amazing capability of dialogue delivery.
Any idea which movie is this from?
A clipping from from Aryan. ( Thanks Sasbeeskhan)