Mani Ratnam, the name represents an era of cinema which has created history in the present. There is no single genre that his movies belong to. The movies are an amalgamation of romance, action, drama and adventure. He brought the entire country together with bilingual movies and created international sensations with A R Rahman and the memorable albums they co-created. The man is a magician who looked at something very mundane in the most exploratory angle and presented a visual extravaganza on screen.
At a time when people questioned patriotism, the director brought a beautiful trilogy of three romances in the midst of a chaotic national milieu. With ‘Roja’, he showed how a normal citizen values his nation, even more than his own life. The story stays relevant till date for the issue it dealt with and the values it stood by. ‘Bombay’ was an attempt to unite the nation at times of extreme communal clashes in the country. An interesting thing about the casting was how Nasser played the role of a staunch Hindu while Kitty played the role of the conservative Muslim. The idea of communal harmony was not just part of the script but was a virtue shared by every member of the crew. ‘Dil Se..’ was the last movie of the trilogy and it explored terrorism caused by deprivation. At times, it is the injustice done by your own people that turns you against them. The story revolved around Amar but it was truly incomplete without Moina. This trilogy is a treat because of the goosebump-inducing background score by A R Rahman, the charming presence of Aravind Swamy(dubbed for Shah Rukh Khan in Dil Se..) and stunning visuals by Santosh Sivan and Rajiv Menon. The movies were also screened at the 2015 London Indian Film Festival, in the retrospective series Politics as Spectacle: The Films of Mani Ratnam.
Adaptations of Mythology:
The epics of India ‘Ramayanam’ and ‘Mahabharatam’ have always been a structure and many stories have been built over this. Mani Ratnam adapted these epics in a contemporary setting with light references thrown here and there. ‘Thalapathi’, an adaptation of the ‘Mahabharatam’ , was depicted through the eyes of Karna(Rajinikanth). His friendship with Duryodhana(Mammootty) was the highlight of the film. The most beautiful addition to the narrative was the visual storytelling by placing the sun’s glisten in every scene which had Rajini. ‘Raavanan’ was another beautiful masterpiece which made us think if it was actually wrong of a brother to avenge the harassment of his sister. It made us think if we were right in any way to think low of the ones who live one with nature, is it right to call them barbarians. The major twist to the tale was the Stockholm syndrome which the abducted goes through and it was interesting to see how with time one can really see where true evil lies. The movies made us empathize with the character who is often portrayed as the antagonist and showed us that good and bad is just a point of view.
Real Life On Screen:
While many characters on screen are seen to have a lot of superhero capabilities, it often becomes difficult to make characters who we are familiar with. It becomes difficult to show reality on screen. Mani Ratnam’s hack would probably be his silences. We would still remember the moment Chitra(Revathy) saw Anjali(Shamili) walk towards her. A colony with children who play every evening, the small rivalry between gangs, the reality of autism and how difficult it is for a parent…all these small details made ‘Anjali’ a very relatable watch experience. Amutha, the catalyst, helped weave a tale that told us the struggles of Eelam Tamils. ‘Kannathil Muthamittal’ also opened conversations about adoption and the psychology of a small child. Many small little sensitive things put together. Can a gangster movie be enjoyable by all? ‘Nayakan’ proves this with the gripping storyline, impeccable acting, immense research into character development and the lilting background score. Politics has shades…we witnessed this in the larger-than-life ‘Iruvar’. Though based on real incidents, the story was packed with powerful monologues and visual narratives which made the movie stay etched in our memories. When politics became rotten with the grey hair making decisions, he brought ‘Aayutha Ezhuthu’ to empower the youth in the country. It surely was a journey from black and white in ‘Iruvar’ to red, blue and green in ‘Aayutha Ezhuthu’. How can a real human’s life be brought on screen? ‘Guru’ was a path-breaking effort to show the struggle of Dhirubhai Ambani and not only did it do justice to the life story but it also allowed people to think and rethink. It inspired people to dream with ‘Ore Kanaa’ beaming in A R Rahman’s voice during the credit role.
What sets him apart from all the other directors is his attention to detail. Every movie is well-researched and packaged with many elements that make watching these an experience of a lifetime. Each and every technician working on his movie becomes a magician. We all await the magnum-opus ‘Ponniyin Selvan’ to see yet another facet of this director, recreating literature on the silver screen. He is truly a man who believes in art over numbers and that is what keeps him on top of the list forever!