He started his film career as an assistant director to National Film Award–winning director and cinematographer Balu Mahendra. Bala is known for his later success. He made his directorial debut with Sethu in 1999, that gave a break to Vikram, the film's lead actor, who was also struggling in the Tamil film industry for almost a decade without a hit and recognition. More than 60 distributors saw the film and hesistated to screen it because of its tragic ending. But after multiple preview shows, the film was released on a low profile without any advertisement. But after the first days the film started running to packed houses just through 'word of mouth'. The film was said to have initiated a 'new wave' as it received raving reviews and became a huge hit. Its stupendous success led to remakes in Kannada (Huchcha), Telugu (Seshu) and Hindi (Tere Naam) languages.
Bala's next film was Nandha which gave a career boost to Suriya. His third film Pithamagan broke all the sentiments which were prevailing in Tamil cinema and fetched actor Vikram a National Award for a powerful performance with hardly few verbal dialogues. In 2009 he released Naan Kadavul in Tamil featuring Arya and Pooja Umashankar for which he won his first National Film Award for Best Direction; he was the third film-maker from Tamil to do so. Malayalam film-maker Shaji N. Karun who headed the jury of the 56th National Film Awards noted "Bala is unique in many ways. The way he changed Tamil cinema's character was commendable ... There were many who tried for a change. Among the new generation of filmmakers, Bala leads the pack in bringing a change in Tamil cinema's outlook and approach". In 2011, his fifth directorial Avan Ivan, considered his first comedy film, released, starring Vishal Krishna and Arya. While the film opened to mixed reviews by critics but liked by regular moviegoers, helped the lead actors gain critical acclaim for their performances, particularly Vishal.