Balanathan Benjamin Mahendran (20 May 1939 – 13 February 2014), commonly known as Balu Mahendra, was an Indian cinematographer, director, screenwriter and film editor who worked predominantly in Tamil cinema.
Born into a Sri Lankan Tamil household, he developed a passion for photography and literature at a young age. After witnessing the shoot of David Lean’s The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957) during a school trip in Sri Lanka, he was drawn towards filmmaking. He graduated from the London University and started his career as a draughtsman with the Sri Lankan Government. In 1966, he moved to India and gained admission to the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII) to pursue a course in motion picture photography. Upon completion of his diploma, he entered Malayalam cinema as a cinematographer in the early 1970s.
After working in over 20 films as a cinematographer, Mahendra made his directorial debut in 1977 with the Kannada film Kokila. Since then, he directed over 20 films in a span of 36 years. Along with P. Bharathiraja and J. Mahendran, he is regarded as a trendsetter in Tamil cinema.
During the tail end of his career, he established a film school in Chennai, which offers courses in cinematography, direction and acting. Following a brief phase of poor health, Mahendra died of cardiac arrest in February 2014.
Widely regarded as an auteur, Mahendra usually scripted and edited his films apart from shooting them. He was the recipient of six National Film Awards (including two for Best Cinematography), five Filmfare Awards South and several state government awards.
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