In the demise of S Balasubramanian, more popularly known in the media circles as S.S. Balan, the Chairman of the Vikatan Group of Publications on Friday, Tamil Nadu has lost one of the greatest champions of Press freedom and a doyen of Tamil journalism. Unfortunately, I never had the privilege or fortune to work under him in Ananda Vikatan Group. But I have always been admiring him for close to five decades from a distance.
We have heard of men selling their holdings and assets to produce films. But , S.S.Balan thought it best to forgo even the prestigious Gemini Studios established by his father late S.S.Vasan to consolidate and develop Ananda Vikatan as a powerful publishing Group.
Balan’s uniqueness was his indomitable spirit in facing challenges and retain his composure when faced with obstacles. He proved time and again that silence was more powerful a weapon against those in power than argumentative retorts. His arrest following his refusal to comply with the Tamil Nadu Assembly speaker P.H.Pandian’s summons to him to appear in person in the Assembly and seek pardon for having published a cartoon was a classic example of how he handled such a situation. He refused to appear before the Assembly, got himself arrested by the police and refused to seek bail. The entire nation was on the boil and he instantaneously became the icon of Press freedom. Governemnt was forced to set him free without any pre-conditions.
Memorable moment in his career was when he got a historical judgement in his favour with a token cheque for Rs.1000/= from the tamil Nadu government as compensation for arresting him and putting him to hardship. He did not encash the cheque but cherished it all his life. Probably that was the only occasion when a journalist could take on the Privilege Committee and the Legislature of a State and win.
The golden era of Tamil journalism was in the sixties when Savi, Manian, Thamarai Manalan, Sevarkkodiyon alias S.S.Balan were steering the Ananda Vikatan along with artists Gopulu and Sridhar in it’s editorial board. Balan had a natural succession to the editorship of Ananda Vikatan after his father S.S.Vasan’s death. As an editor, he was unmatched. He remains a role model for my generation of journalists for crisp editing.
What sets Ananda Vikatan and Gemini Films apart are the idealism and societal commitment they uphold. Gemini Films was the first film production company in India to declare that all their payments be made only through banking transactions to ensure transparency. Ananda Vikatan was the first publication to declare that it would not accept tobacco related advertisements , which is now being followed by all. Credit for both these path breaking decisions should go to S.S.Balan.
Balan’s career in films was equally spectacular. He had worked with all the leading stars of the Indian screen in those days like MGR, NTR, Shivaji Ganesan, Muthuraman, Raj Kumar, Rajendra Kumar, Prithviraj Kapoor, Mehmood, Amitabh Bacchan and Rajesh Khanna . He had directed both MGR ( Sirithu Vazha Vendum ) and Jayalalithaa ( Motor Sundaram Pillai) . In the mid-1970s, the colossal failure of his magnum opus in four languages (Hindi, Tamil and Telugu) titled Ellorum Nallavare ( All are Good ! ) brought an end to his dabbling in films. But the title song “ Pagaikonda nenjam…” continues to remain one of the popular songs of FM listeners’ choice !
An avid animal, fish and bird enthusiast, Balan is an expert breeder consistently breaking records and is one of the eminent aviculturists and bird breeders in the world. He maintains one of the largest bird farms in South Asia, Gemini Bird Farm, set in the Padappai region with a vast variety of exotic birds and parrots.
A multi facetted personality who wanted to be known as a journalist than anything else, an extraordinary human being who was humane to the core, a champion of freedom of speech has left us behind to mourn . Allphonse de Lamartine’s comment , “ Sometimes, when one person is absent, the whole world seems depopulated” seems true at this juncture. Tamil journalism is the greatest loser !
- The author is K Vaidiyanathan, Editor, Dinamani Tamil Daily.