Thursday, March 03, 2005

How Mani? - An evening with Mani Ratnam

Normally, when noted film director Mani Ratnam attends an event in the city, people descend to the venue in droves to see, listen and hopefully, speak to him. And in an event that included a retrospective of his films, coupled with the DVD release of some of his movies, there was a near stampede. On Saturday, 26th February, even thirty minutes before the event, there was a dearth of chairs for the audience at Landmark’s Nungambakkam bookstore. 

Navin Jayakumar, Master of Ceremonies and Quiz Master-extraordinaire, enthralled the audience with his questions to ‘Mani’, his questions to the audience, and humourous repartees to the mike-grabbers in the audience. The big man himself, was no less – his sense of humour was in fine form, as he deftly handled many a bouncer from a room (should that be bookstore?) full of fans, friends and well-wishers.

The evening’s proceedings were based on thematic perspectives from Mani Ratnam’s movies – those of subtlety in the projection of relationships, sensitivity to current issues, the picturisation of songs and the choice of cast & crew. Each perspective was introduced with appropriate clippings from his movies, followed by relevant questions from Navin to Mr. Ratnam.

Some sound bytes from the man himself:

“For the first schedule of my first film, I had put together flow charts, budgets and cashflows for the project. At the end of the week, I tore it all up.”

“While ‘Roja’, ‘Bombay’ and ‘Dil Se’ were about issues that are very personal to us, ‘Kannathil Muthamittal’ had to have an outsider’s perspective. Hence, the Lankan situation worked better as a backdrop to the main story of the little girl.”

“I am very much a commercial film-maker. While I have been trying to move towards making movies without songs, if you take away songs, my movies just won’t be the same. Songs play many roles – they depict emotion, reach a peak or simply, give a pause in the story. However, if the script is worked well, one can make movies without songs. ‘Kurudhip Punal’ is one such example.”

“Both Ilayaraja and A.R.Rahman are brilliant composers, and I’m lucky to have worked with both of them. They are opposites in terms of style and the way they operate, notwithstanding the fact that one works in the day and the other works at night!”

“An actor is the most important person – he/she takes the character, hitherto envisaged on paper, forward, adding that little extra in the process.”

“Giving a title for a film, is like naming a child. It stays through the process of the development of the script, sometimes, even defining the look of the film.”

“Converting a novel to a screenplay is as difficult as, if not more difficult than writing a fresh script. As film writing is not taken seriously, there is a dearth of writers who can do this in the industry.”

“I depend a lot on my cinematographers. The relationship between a director and a cinematographer, is like a marriage.”

It was the audience’s turn to ask the questions, and they ranged from ‘Are you a communist?’ to ‘When is your next movie with Kamal Hassan?’ to ‘When do you incorporate songs – during or after writing the script?’ to ‘Will you make a songless film?’.

Actors Surya, Madhavan, Cinematographer/Filmmaker P.C. Sriram, and Keerthana of ‘Kannathil Muthamittal’ fame, all turned up to say a few words about the experience of working in a ‘Mani Ratnam Film’.

Surya: “The heroes in a Mani Ratnam film are always shown as intelligent. I’ve always been an average student right though school and college, and I’m glad I was depicted as one of his intelligent heroes. In fact, for the scene in Aydha Ezhuthu, where I’m supposed to take a class for my classmates in a jail cell, I had to mug up the equations for half a day!”

Madhavan: “I got a message on my answering machine when I was told to come for a screen test for ‘Alaipayudhe’. I still have that message and will play it to my grandkids!”

P.C. Shriram: “Working in Mani’s films, one can go berserk. We both push ourselves to see the unknown film after film, and are yet to see it. He’s open to trying new things, and he’ll get the best out of you.”

Keerthana : “I was given the script for ‘Kannathil Muthamittal’ in the beginning itself, but I didn’t go through it in detail, as I wanted it to be a surprise before every shot. In fact, till I saw the movie, I didn’t know what it was about!”

The films released on DVD were those directed by Mani Ratnam, as well as some produced by him. They were, ‘Roja’, ‘Bombay’, ‘Thiruda Thiruda’, ‘Iruvar’, ‘Uyire’, ‘Alaipayudhey’, ‘Kannathil Muthamittal’, ‘Aasai’, ‘Nerukku Ner’, ‘Dum Dum Dum’ and ‘5 Star’.

· The first ever film directed by Mani Ratnam was ‘Pallavi Anupallavi’ (1983). The film was made in Kannada and starred Anil Kapoor.
· Mani Ratnam’s second film, ‘Unuru’ was in Malayalam.
· The first Tamil film directed by Mani Ratnam, was ‘Pagal Nilavu’.
· The first Mani Ratnam movie that actor Madhavan auditioned for, was ‘Iruvar’.
· Mani Ratnam narrated the theme of ‘Roja’ to his wife, Suhasini, on a flight and asked if she’d make it. She asked him to make it himself.
· In ‘Kannathil Muthamittal’, the sequence with a suicide bomber that takes place in a park, near the venue in Sri Lanka where Madhavan’s character is giving a speech, was actually shot in Pondicherry

· The song ‘Chandralekha…’ from the movie, ‘Thiruda Thiruda’ was shot at the Art Gallery in the Government Museum Complex in Egmore.

(edited version published on March 3, 2005 in Madras Plus, the city features supplement of The Economic Times, Chennai)

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