Better known as T N Balakrishna or Balanna, Tirumakudalu Narasipura Balakrishna was a popular actor known for his comic as well as villainous roles in Kannada films. Featuring in more than 500 films over the course of his career, he appeared in over 100 films starring Dr Rajkumar as hero. Among his popular films are School Master (1958), Veera Kesari (1963), Muriyada Mane (1964), Naandi (1964), Bangaarada Manushya (1972), Gandhada Gudi (1973), and Kaamana Billu (1983). Having a hearing disability—some say that he was completely deaf—he was able to discern the lip movements of his co-artists, and narrate his dialogues effortlessly. A versatile actor, he was considered one of the best comedians of the time, and featured in nearly all the Kannada films during his heyday. A natural, he delivered his lines packed with extraordinary punch.
Born on 2 November, 1891 in Arasikere, kingdom of Mysore, his early life story reads like something out of a novel. He lost his hearing after being slapped as a child. At age 4, he was sold by his mother to a couple for Rs.8, in order to provide treatment to her ailing husband. Treated badly by his adoptive parents, he fled and joined a drama company. The first play he acted in was Shri Rama Paduka Pattabhishekha in 1929. Working as a painter of the stage backdrops for a drama company, he went on to become a professional sign painter. Later, he became a ticket collector in a drama company at a meagre salary. He went back to act in Lakshmasana Drama Company followed by the Gowrishankar Nataka Mandali, and later the drama company of Gubbi Veeranna, a well-known theatre director of the time. As luck would have it, one day film director B R Panthulu happened to visit the drama company, and witnessed Balakrishna acting on stage. Impressed, Panthulu offered him a film role, thus marking his debut as a film actor. He went on to appear in scores of Kannada films playing largely comic roles. He also carved a niche for himself in professional theatre with his performances in plays such as Bedara Kannappa, Bharata Lakshmi, and Ramayana. During this period, he befriended Rajkumar, Narasimharaju, and G V Iyer among others, going on to feature in numerous films with them. He formed a fantastic comedy duo with Narasimharaju, assimilating the folk form of Yakshagana in his performances.
Post the success of the film Dallali (1953) produced by D Shankar Singh, Balakrishna was offered an array of substantial roles, which saw him essay various characters of anti-hero, negative portrayals and comedian. Not long after, Balanna, as he was fondly known, became a household name for his versatile character performances. It is said that during the 60s and 70s, he was among the busiest actors in the Kannada film industry; filmmakers would first approach Balanna and Narasimharaju for their dates, even before checking with the hero and heroine! When no Kannada films were being made, Balakrishna even got together with actors like Rajkumar and G V Iyer to produce the film Ranadheera Kanteerava (1960). His last film appearance was Yama Kinkara (1995). In recognition of his contribution to the Kannada film industry, he was awarded the Puttanna Kanagal award; he also has various other awards to his credit.
Known to be passionate about the film industry, Balanna yearned to set up a studio for Kannada films; at the time, Kannada film producers would travel to Madras or Bombay to make their films. In time, he invested all his money and property into setting up a studio, in his bid to make the Kannada film industry self-reliant and save the producers’ resources. Reportedly, he even raised money from the public at Re.1 per person that went into creating the studio. He finally built Abhiman Studio in Kengeri, Bangalore on a 20-acre plot in 1963. However, it was plagued by difficulties. Though Balakrishna did not get the expected support from the film industry, some sympathetic producers did shoot their films in Abhiman Studio regardless of the lack of required infrastructure there. Eventually, the studio failed to take off, leaving Balakrishna in penury. Currently, television serials are shot at the studio, which is managed by Balakrishna's son, B Ganesh and grandson Karthik.
On the personal front, he was married to Sathyavathi Balakrishna and Sarojamma Balakrishna. Actress Sudha Chandran is his former daughter in law.
Suffering from lung cancer, T N Balakrishna passed away on 18 July, 1995 at the age of 83. Besides his many comic roles, he is remembered for the variety of characters he essayed, from a good Samaritan, to a loving father, to a lunatic.