Balanathan Benjamin Mahendran (20 May 1939 – 13 February 2014), commonly known as Balu Mahendra, was a cinematographer, director, screenwriter and film editor, who worked in various Indian film industries, primarily in Tamil cinema. Born into a Sri Lankan Tamil household, Mahendra developed a passion towards photography and literature at a young age. He was drawn towards film-making after witnessing the shoot of David Lean’s The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957) in Sri Lanka. A graduate of the London University, he started his career as a draughtsman before gaining an admission to the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII) to pursue a course in cinematography. Mahendra entered films as a cinematographer in the early 1970s and gradually rose to becoming a film-maker by the end of the decade.
Making his directorial debut through the Kannada film Kokila (1977), Mahendra made over 20 films in all South Indian languages and two in Hindi. He was one of the earliest film-makers in Tamil cinema to introduce realism and he helped re-vitalise the Tamil film industry. Towards the tail end of his career, in 2007, he established a film school in Chennai which offers courses in cinematography, direction and acting. Following a brief phase of poor health, Mahendra died of cardiac arrest in February 2014.
Widely regarded as an auteur, Mahendra wrote the script for his films, handled the camera and edited the film himself apart from directing. He was the recipient of six National Film Awards—including two for Best Cinematography, three Filmfare Awards South, and several state awards from the governments of Kerala, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh.