Conversations With Mani Ratnam – Book Review

Conversations With Mani Ratnam - Book Cover

Conversations With Mani Ratnam – Book Cover

For anyone born in the later part of 1980s and 1990s, in a proper Tamil household, Mani Ratnam films would have been part of staple diet of entertainment along with Ilayaraaja’s music.

My very first memory of a Mani Ratnam film is ‘Nayakan‘. I don’t recollect anything about the film during my first viewing but only vaguely remember going to the movie with my parents – it was a matinee show if my memory serves me right. Ditto with ‘Agni Natchathiram‘ and ‘Ithayathai Thirudathe‘ (The Tamil dubbed version of ‘Geetanjali‘).

I watched ‘Pallavi Anupallavi‘, ‘Pagal Nilavu‘ and ‘Mouna Raagam‘ years after they were made. I am yet to watch ‘Unaru‘ and ‘Ithaya Kovil‘.

Anjali‘ was big news those days. My father had watched the movie once with his friends from office and decided to take us the next day. The film was being shown at the Central Takies in Sheshadripuram, Bangalore (It was demolished long ago to make way for some shopping complex). The memory of watching that movie is fresh and I can even recollect my father telling me how some of the sequences of the movie was inspired from Spielberg’s E.T. (Extra Terrestrial).

Thalapathy‘ was a celebration. Personally it was the only time when the complete family from my paternal side had been to a movie. It was in Albert (or Baby Albert) in Chennai. The day was also special – they distributed sweets, played the Raakamma song twice (once before the actually movie screening and during interval). It was December 12th, Rajnikanth’s birthday, I think. The mood was jubilant. The crowd was frenzied. What remains fresh to me even after all those years is the shot where Rajnikanth picks up a jasmine flower bud that falls from the head of Srividhya, puts it in his palm and folds it.

Roja‘ took the nation by storm. We had bought our first car in the house and the first day’s itinerary included the evening show of Roja in Pallavi Theatre, Bangalore. The movie also gave our generation a new icon in A R Rahman (I personally had not come to like Ilayaraaja’s music at that point of time). ‘Thiruda Thiruda‘ was a fun caper movie but performed poorly at the box office. The music was a big hit and it played in continuous loop during our first road trip to Hyderabad. The controversial ‘Bombay‘ was a mixed package. It was the first time that I watched a movie with fear in a Cinema hall (the other time was very recent – Vishwaroopam). Controversy and a disastrous opening at the box office made sure that ‘Iruvar‘ was missed by most of us on the big screen. It was years later that I could watch the movie through a DVD. ‘Dil Se‘ is another movie that I watched years later of its release on Home Video.

After the beautifully shot ‘Alaipayuthey‘, ‘Kannathil Mutthamittal‘ took us onto a different terrain with a tight script. I was in college when ‘Yuva‘/’Aaytha Ezhuthu‘ caught the mood of rebellious youth. I bunked my classes and watched the Hindi version in the morning with my friend Ashok and the Tamil version in the evening with family. ‘Guru‘ was an OK movie by Mani Ratnam standards, but the disappointment started with ‘Raavanan‘/’Raavan‘.

Kadal‘ is unforgivable.

If K Balachander was the genius of Tamil cinema for the generation before us, it was Mani Ratnam for the ones who were raised in 1980s-1990s.

Having been an ardent fan of the film maker since childhood it was indeed exciting to read ‘Conversations with Mani Ratnam’. The decision to split the book into chapters, with each chapter dealing with one film of the master film maker, is fantastic. To make the books as a real ‘conversation’ between the author and the film maker is also a great thought. As the author, Baradwaj Rangan, mentions in the introduction, the book is not about throwing juicy tit-bits about the films; the book is an effort to engage with the film maker and understand the thought process that went into making these films.

The author has done his homework, by watching each and every film of Mani Ratnam and has tried to pose interesting and thoughtful questions. I even felt at times that the author dwells on a particular set of questions or themes (like the repeating probing about the ‘Nallavana-Kettavana’ theme). The author definitely is a big fan of Mani Ratnam and that shows in some of the questions posed at the film maker.

The answers given by Mani Ratnam are well thought of, detailed and at times philosophical. He does not evade any of the questions, but does get defensive at times. The film makers also gives credit to those involved in the making of these wonderful films – right from his technicians (like Thotta Tharani, P C Sreeram, Ilaiyaraaja, ARR) to his actors. Some of his answers clearly indicate how these classics were possible only because of the efforts of the team involved. He also indulges in some introspection and accepts that there are times when things didn’t come out well (like in case of ‘Kadal’). The answers to some controversial questions like the one regarding the decision to move away from Ilayaraaja to ARR are also handled deftly by the film maker. Occasionally he also retorts back humourously to the author. Without being dramatic, the conversation also slowly reveals the long struggle behind the successful acclaimed craftsman. Its also pleasant to note that the conversation rarely gets into the ‘personal space’.

I really enjoyed reading this book. I read the book one chapter at a time, and watched the movie after reading the chapter. It was such a wonderful “retrospective” feeling going through each of the film maker’s movies after reading about it. If you are a fan of Mani Ratnam, this is one book that should not be missed.

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~ by Jayanthan Ravi on November 18, 2014.

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