Mani Ratnam blazes a trail in Tamil cinema
CINEMA: For several decades the Tamil cinema in India which in volume
is second only to the Hindi cinema, has faithfully followed a formula
where family life dominates the screen. The villains and heroes with
others in type-cast roles are performed to attract the audience.
K. Balachandran and B. Mahendran of the Tamil cinema took the first
steps to deviate from the formula film format in the Tamil cinema. Mani
Ratnam coming next in line, stretched it to embrace a form which
everyone in cinema appreciated as an art that reached an unusual
freshness and maturity.
Mani attained a soothing blend of popular cinema and art cinema which
he from production to production refined to reach perfection to realise
both commercial and artistic success. His films evolving a new path
developed a form which encompassed subtle political themes with sharp
cinematic treatment which pleased both pictorial and spiritual sense of
Mani Ratnam, a son of a co-producer of films and a graduate in
commerce, initially had no intention of committing himself to cinema.
However, later he showed a keen interest in cinema and had two
objectives in mind, one is to make Tamil cinema commercially viable and
the other is to create an impact as an art.
Determined to venture into experimentation to realize these
objectives with a new depth and an approach, his first test was to draw
from the popular 'star' concept a principal feature in Indian cinema and
decided to present his vision through the giant image of a 'star'.
Consequently, his maiden cinematic creation Pallavi Anupallavi cast
Anil Kapoor in the main star role. As the first attempt this film was a
success, but he noticed that Kapoor's thespian presence was a flop and
it hardly met his ambition.
That pushed Mani into disillusionment that the star status of an
actor had nothing to do with his play of a particular role for the
success of a film. Lapses in casting, scripting, vision and in the use
of the grammar of cinema, he noticed in his very first attempt,
compelled him to study the medium deeper and further to realise his
ambition of a realistic cinema that he had in mind for several years.
His resolve to make low-cost good films kept on growing within him.
Being sensitive to human feelings and sentiments he found that the
content of a film should elevate such feelings to a height that the
audience will be moved along with it.
That made him to realize that the screen-play is the hub of a film
without which one should not embark on a production of a film. Then he
was convinced that the artists and technicians should be made to take
grip of the entire script upon which the film could transform itself
into a visual art.
Thus he rejected the star concept and embraced the idea that the
technicians should be clever, efficient and innovative more than the
actors and actresses who give visual expression to what the technicians
behind them perfected.
His first Tamil film Pagal Nalavu was a tremendous success at the
box-office but, failed to attract, what he desired most, critics'
attention and assessment. However, it marked the arrival of a good
filmmaker in the existing type-cast scenario of Tamil cinema.
He possessed a sound all-round knowledge of the medium and was a well
planned organizer with a sound understanding of business acumen too. His
next film Idaya Kovil saw him combining with his long-standing friend
and fellow-technician Ilayarajah the famous musician who enlivened
Mani's films with compositions of depth, vision and expression of
nuances both in sonic and poetic inventive assertions.
With the release of Idaya Kovil, Mani Ratnam, for the first time was
recognized with both popular and critic accolades as a filmmaker.
However, it was Mawuna Ragam (1986) which made him the renowned
filmmaker what he is today.
It was both a tremendous commercial and cinematic success making his
long standing dream of merger of these two vital aspects of cinema come
true. He proved that a really artistic film is a simple, delicate
production with hardly any elaboration or expensive sets being used. His
eminence as a film-director was re-written with this film.
The story here is one full of emotion with the girl refusing to live
together with her husband after she experienced the shock of her former
lover being shot-dead in her presence.
Mavunu Ragam finally earned him both national and international
recognition as an outstanding filmmaker and he was rewarded with the
award for the best regional film of the year.
Furthermore, through this striking creation, he conveyed to film
producers that not only love and romance but also subtle political
issues could be a subject that could be moulded into a superb cinematic
presentation. His next film Idayatthika Thirudade was not a success
either commercially or cinematically.
Nayakan is considered his best and the most memorable film. Kamal
Hassan who did the lead role in this film won the first ever Oscar
nomination for the best actor award in the Asian region.
The film itself was a reflection of the iniquitous activities of the
underworld involving aspects of social, political and villainous life in
India. Realising the technical, financial and thespian success of this
film, many other filmmakers in South India emulated him and focused on
portrayal of the Indian underworld with innuendoes and aspersions cast
on corrupt politics, police and business.
Mani's clever and intelligent direction and Kamal's vigorous and neat
performance elevated by live musical score, this film is a landmark in
South Indian cinema. It introduced the method of using violence and
action to defeat, frustrate and eradicate nepotism, corruption and
favouritism prevalent in political and social life.
That was the first time Mani engaged a superstar which proved to be
an excellent idea, and Kamal who responded readily sustained a visual
impact and a narrative balance which earned him applause of the audience
as well as that of the critics.
Anjali, Thalapathi and Roja are three films which reflected his
inclination and alacrity to effectively adopt some features of the
Western cinema within the thematic treatment receptive in harmony with
the social and cultural traits in Indian life.
In a way, it is a step forward with his natural flexibility to change
with time and to learn and use them appropriately and intelligently. It
was to be effectively incorporated in Indian cinema which maintains its
own separate identity and maturity in world cinema.
Roja carries his views on the Kashmir issue. It draws the rare critic
and viewer attention leaving a considerable intellectual impact on them.
It introduced a fresh thinking on an issue which is a thorn in the
sub-continental politics for several decades.
Mani has shown excellent craftsmanship in combining its storyline
with the national sentiments with such intensity that the visual flow
glues the viewer to the film to the very end. He reaches complex and
intriguing perspective with a pleasant simplicity. This film re-affirmed
his unique identity as leading filmmaker in the Indian film scene.
He once again employed the thespian talent of two superstars of the
day. Mammuthi from Kerala cinema and Rajini Kant from Thamil Nadu cinema
starred in his movie Thalapathi.
The talent latent in slow-moving Mammuthi and fast-moving Rajini Kant
was competently summoned to portray violence and romanticism two most
fascinating features with great appeal to the Indian film audience.
Essentially a non-conformist, while remaining close to the sentiments
of the filmgoers, Mani found the open visual presentation less
imaginative and least effective, and therefore, relied much on shade,
semi-darkness and smudge appearance for penetrative expression.
He thought that what he invented would open the viewer from the
status of a spectator to that of a reader to lead him to understand what
it tries to transmit in his communication with them in the visual
His prime concern is to bring out a comprehensive screenplay without
which he would never embark on a production. Once it is complete to his
satisfaction in every aspect, he moves with total trust and
self-confidence on his work.
Not only is he faithful to his script, but also gets his artists and
technicians to be familiar with the script in every detail and even
patiently listens to their comments and observations on it and does not
fail to consider and accommodate any sensible suggestion coming from
them when he commences production.
Guru which is his latest offer to Indian cinema this year in Hindi
and Tamil, is an unorthodox production especially within the present
context of South Indian cinema which is aimed at bashing the corrupt
Indian politics and big business which is in league with the politician.
The helpless Police is a pawn in the hands of political jigsaw.
Guru is woven to portray and praise the rise of a man from nowhere to
the pinnacle of business world with foul as well as good means of
operation in the process.