With 29 films in which he has acted, directed and been the scriptwriter, Balachandra Menon has been recognised by the Limca Book of Records

Sometime in 1975, a 22-year-old was looking to cut his teeth as a reporter, writing about Malayalam cinema. He had graduated from journalism school and had the drive to chase the stars. Chasing one of his stories, he called Malayalam movie star Prem Nazir to seek some time from him. He got 20 minutes with ‘Nazir Sir,’ as he addressed him, to talk about an upcoming film.

After they completed their conversation, Nazir Sir had a question, aimed at the reporter. “Why are you here? Is there a special reason?” he asked.

“I am here as a reporter,” Menon said, fumbling a little as he completed his sentence.

“No. No. No. There is something more than that,” pat came the reply. Menon managed to avoid giving a direct answer to the pointed question. But Nazir Sir had noticed the glint in the eye and got the sense that he was looking for more. “Nearly eight years after that incident, I cast him as a hero in my film,” Balachandra Menon reminisces the anecdote.

When Nazir Sir arrived for the first shot of the movie in 1982 and met Menon there, he recalled the incident and said “I could see that very day that this is what you had in your mind.” As it turned out, the doyen of Malayalam cinema, Nazir was awarded the Padma Bhushan in 1983 while the movie was being shot. After several years of his contribution to cinema, Menon earned the Padma Shri in 2007.

Menon has a unique record for which he was recognised by the Limca Book of Records. It mentions that Menon has been an actor, director and written the script for 29 films, a record that surpasses Hollywood’s Woody Allen, who has 26 such films to his credit. Tamil star K Bhagyaraj has 23 films where he has been the scriptwriter and acted and directed.

Childhood passion for drama

The heavens perhaps had scripted for Menon to work for the entertainment industry!

When he was about 10, Menon was taking part in a play at the Kottarakkara Government UP School. He was playing the role of the mythical character Bhishma. Along with a few friends, all he wanted was to act in the play since it was a passion that he had been nursing as a kid. During the rehearsals, he had several questions for the teacher, which were seen as pesky for a child of his age. Finally, with the last turn of the knife, the teacher who was directing play had a terse message – ‘Listen,’ he admonished the kids, ‘I am the director and you are just the actors. You have to listen to what I say.’

Menon did not quite like the tone of the message but it told him one thing – it is the director who calls the shots. If that was the case, he had to become a film director. As far as he can remember, it was the first time that the realisation dawned on him.

Becoming a director was easier said than done. His father was a railway station master and no one in his family had anything to do with the entertainment industry. But, in his dreams, he was already on way to becoming a director. When he joined Fatima College in grade 11, he wrote a short story in the college magazine, titled, ‘Did you go for a film, Menon?’ The story was a dream of him meeting a few friends of his class at the location of a shoot!

One day, finding him not attentive in the class, the teacher remarked, “Did you go for a movie yesterday night that you are so sleepy?”

He was a bright student in school and college and, later, chose not to study medicine. Menon enrolled himself for an undergraduate course in Geology only to get a degree so that he could qualify to join a film institute.

“I was desperate to become a film director. If I had not become that, I would have become a psychic!” he says, four decades after playing his part in the entertainment industry.

As he passed out of journalism school, he earned a gold medal in the class but chose not to work for any of the national dailies. Instead, Menon chose to work for a newspaper at Kodambakkam – the hotbed of Malayalam cinema, writing about films.

For a lot of youngsters, it could have been a dream job. For Menon, it was a stepping stone for the bigger stage. As part of work, he would often meet some of the stars of the local film industry. In fact, the reigning stars would sometimes make sure that they found time to meet him. In the days when there was hardly any television and no online or social media, opening up to reporters from newspapers and magazines was the only way for stars to reach their fans.

Within one year of reporting on the film industry, he rubbed shoulders with Sivaji Ganeshan, Rajanikanth, Kamal Hassan, Prem Nazir, Madhu, Sridevi, Mrinal Sen and several others. “I got a seat opposite them with respect. That was totally unexpected for me. That was enough for me to understand how the industry works,” Menon recalls. He soon mustered up the courage to launch his own production company and his first film, Uthradarathri, was released in 1978.

Menon has been living a dream for the last 40 years. As he steps into the lab to carry on the work for his latest film, Ennaalum Sarath, he says, “I had never hoped to be featured in the Limca Book of Records for what I have done. I just wanted to do a few films every year. But God has been kind.”