Balanathan "Balu" Mahendran (Tamil: பாலநாதன் மகேந்திரா)is an Indian filmmaker, screenwriter, and cinematographer widely regarded as part of the first in a wave of directors and screenwriters from the Chennai film industry who revitalised Tamil cinema. He initially developed an early interest in photography.
A cinematography graduate and a gold medalist from the FTII in Pune. He started his film career as a cameraman for the Malayalam film Nellu in 1974, which earned him the best cinematographer award from the Government of India. He has been chosen as the best cinematographer for as many as ten films. He pioneered innovative camera style for colour in South India.
Being a Tamilian, his first film as a director was Kokila, a Kannada film, which earned him a National Film Award. Azhiyatha Kolanagl (1979) was his first directorial venture in Tamil. He is considered as one of the few film makers in Tamil who can tell a story visually. He writes the script for his films, handles the camera and edits the film himself, thus retaining a firm control over his creative output.
He worked mainly in Malayalam for directors like K. S. Sethumadhavan and P. N. Menon, before making his first film in Kannada, and then moving on to direct films in Tamil and Malayalam languages.
He made his first Hindi Film Sadma,which is a remake of his own Tamil film Moondram Pirai with Kamal Hasan and Sridevi. This film is supposed to be one of the finest films made by him. The film superbly captures the emotions involved in the relationship between the two main characters. He made another Hindi film, Aur Ek Prem Kahani which was about the love affair between a young man and his maid told in a realistic and simple manner. The have directed a malayalam movie Yatra which was remade in Tamil.
Mahendra is said to have witnessed the shooting of David Lean's The Bridge on the River Kwai and was so impressed that he decided to become a filmmaker.
The film director Mani Ratnam approached Mahendra to work on the cinematography of his first Kannada film, Pallavi Anu Pallavi. It has been reported that he almost refused to work with Ratnam whom he perceived as a novice at that time. He has since been quoted as admiring Ratnam for his 'infectious enthusiasm'.He never hesitated to work with Ratnam when Ratnam approached him. Instead he agreed to do the film enthusiastically when Ratnam met him and narrated the story to him.
Mahendra's strength as a cinematographer has helped him use visuals as an effective vehicle to carry the story forward.he has revolutionized cinematography in Tamil cinema, He has handled social issues like red tapism, corruption and old age in films like Sandhya Raagam. The women in his films come out strongly as can be seen in Veedu (Tamilzh).
His last movie Sasikumar's Thalaimuraigal.
Balu Mahendra passed away on 13th, Feb 2014 at Chennai Vijaya Hospital.