Mani Ratnam and I started on the wrong note. I had just seen my friend Madhavan in Mani’s Alai Payuthe and I asked Maddy to introduce me to Mani.Mani responded with a terse, “I am happy to know you. But I don’t like a third party telling me to connect with someone” I am not too sure what other way there is for two people to be introduced to one another except through a third party. But I humbly owned up to my mistake and we have remained connected since then, Mani and I. Though of late, none of his films have matched the power and glory of his earlier works, I still think Mani Ratnam is among the most influential filmmakers of modern times.
As Mani turns 65, Madhavan shares his thoughts with me: “He’s always been all-inspiring and a kind of director that nobody can surpass. The reason being he mastered so many genres of films and story telling that it’s a bit incredible. How can a man have such in-depth knowledge about so many subjects and relationships? I have the most respect for him and have learnt so very much from him.”
He realized he was losing his grip over the medium some time ago. In an interview with me he said, “The struggle has increased because you don't have excuses to fall back on. You can't claim it is your first film and therefore errors and omissions are expected. You can't hide behind your own cliches that you have exhausted by now. And world cinema is growing at such a speed that you've got to keep changing to stay within a reasonable distance. It is not so much the film or the logistics but your own creativity you battle against.”
Heart problems have plagued Mani Ratman The concerns about the condition of Mani Ratnam’s heart date back to 2009 ever since he checked himself into a hospital after a suspected heart attack.This was while he was shooting for Raavan with two of his most favourite actors Aishwarya and Abhishek Bachchan. Mani had felt uneasy. He quietly finished his work for the day and checked into the Apollo hospital in Chennai all by himself.
Again in 2015 there was a health scare when reports of a heart attack surfaced all over in print and on the net. These periodical alarmist reports about Mani’s health really pisses him off. In fact he has started seeing the humour of it and wanted to know after the latest health scare if every time he is going to be seen near a hospital people will presume he’s checking himself in for a heart attack.“That would amount to more attacks than the heart can take,” chuckled.
How does a taste of one’s mortality affect art and life? Mani had replied jocularly. “Well it is a romantic idea to think that when you go into an ICU and come out with a changed perspective on everything. Not true. Though what it did for me was to make Raavan meaner and fitter. What I did not do to myself I did to my script. Cut the flab and get it leaner.”
Mani’s favourite Bollywood actors are Abhishek Bahchan and Aishwarya Rai Bachchan. Speaking to me about Abhishek, Mani said, “With AB, I could do diverse films only because we were tackling very different characters each time. Lalan in Yuva was a far cry from Gurukanth in Guru and Beera in Raavan was way away from Gurukanth Desai. Which means the actor and I are back to square one. Square one is a good place at the start of the shoot.”
As for Aishwarya, “Ash was good right from her first film with me Irruvar. She was doing a language she did not know, was doing two different characters and she was doing a film that was being shot in lengthy – and in a slightly complicated style. It did not have the comfort of a launch film. She was pushed into the water. Like we have done with her several times in Raavan. And she had to shout in Tamil for help. Ash just swam. In Raavan, her character Ragini was the key. She was the one who drove the film. She is the one who treads the path that is unwritten. Beera (Abhishek) and Dev (Vikram) are roles that are set - and the actors stand tall in them. Ash had to make Ragini her own. She had to find a Pitch, a Sur that would make you connect with her and the film. She really carries the audience's perspective in the story telling.”
Mani’s hunger for innovation has not ended. When I had questioned the caliber of his More recent works he replied, “I think it is me.My narration went wrong. I failed to communicate lucidly, and failed to convey my story in an interesting and simple fashion.We put in a lot of hard work on a new film because we're conscious of our audiences' expectations.There is always room to try something new. Be it in content or form or look. And when you try something new there is always a chance that it may not connect fully with the audience. That is a risk that a filmmaker has to take.If you take the credit when it works, you have to take the blame when a film flops.”
Mani’s other favourite is music composer A R Rahman, Earlier it was the genius Ilaiyaraja (with whom Mani shares his birthday). But after Roja it has been Rahman all the way. Speaking appreciatively Mani said, “Working with AR is always special.He amazes me every time with not just his music, but the way he pushes himself to come up with a soundscape that is so unique to each film.” Keep those masterclasses in dramatic storytelling coming. And when do we see you team up with Kamal Haasan again after Naayakan?
Image source: Wikipedia/spotboyE archive