The stills NLB took for Bharathan’s Thakara (1979) were also well acclaimed; Bharathan himself said once that the film was sold to the distributors not by showing the movie but the still photographs from the album. NLB recognises this as the greatest reward of his professional career.
The major development during the late 70s was the growth of another stream of Malayalam cinema, the ‘Middle Cinema’, which fused the artistic qualities of ‘Parallel Cinema’ and the popular form of the commercial Malayalam cinema. This resulted in the birth of a number of films with down-to-earth stories, but with most of them becoming commercial successes. NLB, being a part of the creative group behind this change, roamed freely in the shooting sets of these directors, and got the freedom to shoot the way he wanted rather than from the exact angle and position the director wanted. NLB was the first to take still pictures while the film was being shot. The practice till then was to pose after the scenes were shot by the movie camera. Photographer R Gopalakrishnan says, “He, Balakrishnan, was also the first one to take a picture without using the flash, and that made his stills natural. He also showed that better pictures could be taken using the 35mm camera, instead of the 120mm, which had been in vogue earlier.”
From 1986, he started his acting career too. As an actor, NLB has around 180 films to his credit. He worked and remained in the film industry till his last days. His views on cinema and still photography got moulded and remoulded over the years. As he writes in his autobiography, “One must know the film in its depth. And the stills are important aspects to release a film to the masses. The photographer should not stay exposed, the stills must sink into the inner melody and weave into its general fabric. The still photographs are not static, they are messengers, the message carriers, demonstrators and invitations.”
As he writes more regarding his life as a friend, photographer, and an alcoholic, at times, he explains his thoughts about photography.
More excerpts from his autobiography: “Does a photo carry a meaning? Like a memory which has a meaning, photo doesn’t in itself have a meaning. Stills don’t speak but they are not dead as such. They evoke memories and memory evokes the meaning behind the image.”