An assertive film maker always stamps his individuality, not only by his choice of themes,story line,weight of script and pattern of narration, but also by his ability to give a U turn to a typecast hero, in a totally different portrayal of looks and role play. Today's superstar Rajinikanth who literally owes his career to his mentor K.Balachander,and had his initial years branding him as a rugged villain or an actor in double hero films, with a captivating image,mannerism and style,was transformed into a bulldozing hero of rugged charm, by a director with a distinct perception of an actor's flair for performance. It was of course K.Balachander who identified the over all potential of Rajinikanth But he was caught in a major dilemma of choosing the right focus and thrust required for the evolution of the next generation's two top most heroes, Rajinikanth and Kamalahasan,who happened to succeed MGR and Sivaji Ganesan, as the two mega stars of Tamil Cinema.
As Balachander had to simultaneously engage both these talented men, with the scope and space they independently deserved and needed,he could not explore and bring out the best in Rajinikanth through a hero making film.His initial offers to Rajinikanth were for negative roles which this special actor sumptuously enjoyed in films like Moonru Mudichu and Avargal. It was C.V Sridhar who first gave him a positive role in his Ilamai Oonjalaadugiradhu,but that too was a double hero film with more scope for Kamal.There were other low profile Rajini films like Mangudi Minor,Vanakthirkuriya Kadhaliye,Adupuli Attam and Aaru Pushpangal. Two other earlier films of Rajini, made a mark and they were Bhairavi directed by M.Baskar and Ayiram Jenmangal made by Durai.
But the first Rajini film that took him to new heights as an independent,well carved hero, was J.Mahendran's historic film Mullum Malarum. Apart from Rajinikanth, who appeared as a rough shod man, with a soft inner self, made of unrelenting love for his younger sister,the cast of the film included Sarath Babu as a police officer and two women, namely,the most talented Shobha and Fadafat Jeyalakshmi [ both committed suicide later].With its vigorous narration and melody of music from the musical prophet Ilayaraja,Mullum Malarum became a specially noticeable and gloriously trend setting Rajini film.In all fairness, it can be said that though K.Balachander was Rajini's mentor,it was J.Mahendran who made him rightly and firmly step on the ladder to super stardom.
J.Mahendran seems to have drawn the attention of MGR,as a new creative talent, during his student days.Later he happened to gain a little space, in the making of MGR film Kanchi Thalaivan, This happened after a few MGR films like Ponniyin Selvan and Vaazhve Vaa in which Mahendran was to play a vital role,could not take shape or pass the production stage for various, less known reasons. But slowly, J.Mahendran set his foot into Tamil Cinema, as a story,screen play and dialogue writer for many films, of which Vaazndhu Kaattukiren, Vaazhvu En Pakkam and Sivaji Ganesan's grand show Thanga Padhakkam, find a memorable place.But Mullum Malarum was the first film, he directed and it was the first film for Rajini, to fix his growth trajectory as a hero, commanding a hysteric fan base. J.Mahendran's first film itself was a major hit, receiving accolades from the movie critics and reviewers.
J.Mahendran went on to make award winning films like, Udhiri Pookkal and Nenjathai Killaadhe, He made excellent use of the talent of actors like Mohan,Vijayan,Suhasini and Aswini, in these two films.It was a period of the musical reign of Ilayaraja and he played wonders with his magical wand of making music.Starting from Mullum Malarum, it was the expertise of Mahendran's delicate handling of intricate themes, that evoked the emergence of new aesthetics in film making.The two other Rajini films Johnny and Kai Kodukkum Kai,directed by Mahendran,would definitely remain as the two specially memorable films, for Rajini himself.Unlike S.P.Muthuraman, who made the maximum number of Rajini films,Mahendran made only three films with the Superstar.But each film was different from the other, in the hero's character delineation.While robust masculine verve dominated in Mullum Malarum,Kai Kodukkum Kai showed the man of the film, as one endowed with utmost empathy and humaneness. Johnny in which Rajini played dual roles, projected the conflicting attributes of male waywardness and helplessness, in falling a victim of negative circumstances.
In presenting womanhood,Mahendran was always at his best, in showcasing the traditional profiles of feminine glory, through his women protagonists, in films like Mullum Malarum,Udhiri Pookkal,and Kai Kodukkum Kai.Even as a story writer he did not fail to top up, the dignity of submissive womanhood, in Thanga Padhakkam and the feminist in his women characters,in films like Vaazhvu En Pakkam and Vaazhndhu Kaattugiren. His film Johnny, put in contrast the power of considerate womanhood, as reflected in the character of Sridevi, with that of opportunism and betrayal, reflected in the character formation of Deepa.
Mahendran's themes and story lines were also known for variety.While Nenjathai Killaadhe was an elegant love story,Johnny came out as a tale of love with its vagaries and waywardness.Love born of respect for womanhood formed the base for his Kai Kodukkum Kai. Betrayal of men and women formed part of his narration of the process of love in Johnny.His family dramas were like calm streams with occasional ripples,causing a kind of destabilizing note.He had the guts to portray nasty, mean minded and crude villainy, as the negative face of humanity, that was beautifully reflected in the characterization of Vijayan in Udhiri Pookkal. His villains were perverts [imagine Cinni Jeyanth performing the role of a pervert in Kai Kodukkum Kai} of the vulgar kind, disturbing the mind of the audience in films like, Udhiri Pookkal, Kai Kodukkum Kai and Poottaadha Poottukal. Mahendran's other notable films were Nandu,Metti,Azhagiya Kanne,Kannukku Mai Ezhudhu and Oor Panchayathu The last film made by him was Saagasam. Recently we would have been surprised to see him as an actor, donning the role of a bloody, inhuman villain, committing brutalities of an unacceptable kind, in the Vijay mega hit movie, Theri.
J.Mahendran's creative ingredients are self made.His reach with the audience, has been significant as powerful waterfalls, reaching the ground from a mountainous range.He could entertain with sense and sensibility.His aesthetic norms of film making, were always of the higher order.Films like Nenjaththai Killaadhe, Mullum Malarum,Udhiri Pookkal and Johnny, would substantially vindicate Mahendran's capacity for capturing a world, of differently beautiful composition.Particularly when it comes to the three Rajini films he made,it could be categorically stated that it is Mahendran who,of all Tamil film makers, has discovered the varied dimensions of the same hero and qualitatively stuffed them, in celluloid form, to pave the way for the extraordinary march of an uncommon hero,to reach the top most slot in Tamil cinema.It is really unfortunate that J. Mahendran did not get the recognition that has always been due to him.But he continues to strike a mark as a special maker of Rajini films,of course with the exception of movies like Aarilurndhu Arubadhuvarai, Bhuvana Oru Kelvikuri and Nallavanukku Nallavan, directed by S.P.Muthuraman.