You are a musician, and yet you became the biographer of director K Balachander. How did the idea come about?
Before I turned into a performing artiste and sang film songs on stage, I had worked in the print media. In the cinema industry, we all sort of know each other. So, when Kavithalaya Krishnan convinced KB to cooperate on an official biography, KB sir said, “Ok, if Ramanan does it, it should be fine.”
How did you go about it?
He was a stickler for punctuality, but I could meet his expectations and beat him at it, since I always arrived early. If for some reason I was delayed, I would inform his assistant Mohan. KB always appreciated those who were considerate of other people’s time. Also, you had to do your homework before the meeting. He was very professional that way.
The most striking thing about him?
His table. He loved stationery and his table was a delight to watch. He kept everything meticulously organised. He always used a fountain pen. He loved it.
Did he interfere in your writing?
He was a little too meticulous, but again having been in the media, I was used to it. Many journalists I knew used to be very particular about the finer details and KB too was like that. He paid attention to minor details. Nothing escaped his sharp eyes. He was an amazing proof reader — a skill that is sadly going down due to the fact that we depend on technology and spell checks. He would have made an amazing publisher or news editor. For correcting errors, or to highlight points of discussion, he always used a sharp pencil, circled the sentences. But when he wrote a letter on his stationery, he used fountain pens.
People used to say he was very stand-offish because of his stature. On the contrary, he was involved fully in the work of people like me. Once, I was making an AV presentation of Kannadasan’s lyrics in films, KB went out of his way to help me and the AV was a huge hit.
Was it a structured interview or a casual one?
In the eight months that I spent with him writing the book, he was particular about the time, but he was also a genial host. And I got to see a side of him that not many stars would have seen. It was he who introduced me to Kotha’s coffee. When I appreciated the filter coffee I was served, he went into his kitchen and came back with a packet of the filter coffee powder — we still use that brand at home. He also loved to eat out. Halfway through his dictation of his movie life, he would say, “Let’s go out and eat some tiffin Sir.” He addressed me as Ramanan Sir only. He always paid the bill, and once when I beat him to it, he got so angry — it was a wonderful moment.
What was he like as a person, so late in life, when you met him for those months?
There was poetry in his movements and his dialogue delivery was amazing. He could still act and show you some moves. I am a lucky man to have had the opportunity to pen his memoir.