Legendary filmmaker J. Mahendran who gave path-breaking films in Tamil and wrote 22 films in Tamil and Telugu passed away in Chennai at the age of 79 on Tuesday at 6.15 am, after a brief illness. He was admitted to hospital recently after he took ill due to dialysis sessions. He was discharged on Monday and returned home. His son and director John Mahendran confirmed the news of his dad’s death on his social media handle. Wife Jasmine, son John and daughters Dimple and Anurita survive him.
Born in 1939 in Ilayankudi, Mahendran did his intermediate at American College in Madurai and completed BA Economics from Alagappa College in Karaikudi. Active in stage plays in college, one of his speeches criticising the commercial aspects of cinema then at the college annual day function impressed the iconic MGR, who was the chief guest at the event. MGR had then presented on stage a handwritten letter praising Mahendran.
Mahendran moved to Chennai to study law and did part time job at a magazine where he wrote reviews of Tamil films. Meanwhile, MGR had orgainsed for a press meet to announce his coming back to films after recouping from an accident that occurred while he was performing in a play. Mahendran was present at the meet. MGR recoginsed him and asked him to come to meet him at his Lloyds Road residence the next day. MGR gave him volumes of the novel ‘Ponniyin Selvan’ and asked him to write a screenplay for it. That was the starting point of Mahendran’s journey as a screenwriter.
However, the ‘Ponniyin Selvan’ project got delayed and a few other projects got shelved, and finally MGR gave him the chance to assist director Kasilingam who was making the film KanchiThalaivan with him.
In 1966 he wrote the story for the film Naam Moovar, directed by Jambulingam, which became a hit thus giving Mahendran a strong foothold in Tamil cinema. His other notable stories include SabashThambi and female-centric Panakkara Pillai starring Jayalalithaa in the lead and Sivaji’s Nirai Kudam and acclaimed Thanga Padhakkam. He worked in Cho’s Thuglaq magazine also as a film reviewer for a while.
Mahendran made his directorial debut in 1978 with Mullam Malarum, a film based on brother-sister bonding with Rajinikanth and Shobha playing the roles. It had Ilayaraja’s music and BaluMahendra’s cinematography. The film not only brought out the unknown side of the Superstar, but also was a sleeper hit that made Mahendran overnight a sensation in Tamil cinema.
This was followed by yet another cult film UthiriPookkal, a blockbuster, which ran for 6 months. After Poottatha Poottukkal, an average grosser, he did Nenjatthai Killadhe with Suhasini making her debut and Mohan in the lead, which won three national awards. NK ran continuously for a year.
Some of his other notable films with Rajini include Johny, Kai Kodukkum Kai Kaali(screenplay) and Aadu Puli Aaattam (writer). Having been given milestone films in his career, Rajini, in an interview, hds said that Mahendran was his favourite filmmaker.
Mahendran’s last directorial was Saasanam released in 2006. He also wrote books namely ‘Nandu’, ‘Metti’ and ‘EnakuNaaneEzhudhikondathu.’
The director, who turned an actor with a Vijay film Theri, was recently seen in a complex role in Rajini’s Petta. His other movies as an actor include Kamaraj, Nimir, Seethakathi, Mr Chandramouli, Boomerang and Pawan Kalyan’s Telugu film Katamarayudu.
The filmmaker known for his close-to-reality films was quoted as saying, “I want to surrender myself to good cinema which is realistic and I made films for personal satisfaction and not for commercial success”....