# RMIM Archives..
# Newsgroup: rec.music.indian.misc
# Article: Interview with Mani Ratnam (in four parts)
# Posted by: an36002@anon.penet.fi (Private Eye)  
# Source: Filmfare 1994 Jan.

Subject: Interview with Mani Ratnam (1/4)

I'm posting Khalid Mohammed's interview with Mani Ratnam. Khalid Mohammed is a regular film critic and reviewer for The Times of India publications (newspaper and magazines). Thought this might be of interest since there have been quite a few queries spawned by Mani Ratnam's latest hit Roja. Note though that Mani Ratnam himself doesn't care for the Hindi version of the movie as indicated in the interview.

This post is in several parts due to the length of the interview. KM refers to Khalid Mohammed and MR to Mani Ratnam.
Source: Filmfare (a Times of India publication), January 1994




	Peacocks, deer and wild boar roam in a Maharana's
hunting-lodge-turned-hotel in Udaipur. Mani Ratnam has checked in but
you're a mite hesitant to call him on the houes phone.  His wife,
actress-director Suhasini, has said that he's snoozing.
	Summoning up enough nerve, you call anyway. And he agrees to
join you. Ah, you're finally getting somewhere, for the 38-year-old
director is legendary for his sangfroid; you have to chip away at his
reserve. However today, he's in a convivial mood, he seems to be as
relaxed as a construction worker after a hard day's toil. After all,
he has just released his labour of love, Thiruda Thiruda, back home in
	En route to Udaipur, Mani Ratnam had stopped in Bombay for an
evening, to pick up the best director's award given by the Shantaram
trust. There was yet another cause to feel buoyant: the dubbed Hindi
version of Roja was running to packed houses at the Metro in Bombay.
	With time, the release of every new Mani Ratnam film has
become an event. In Bombay, too, he commands a cult following.
Ratnamites don't mind travelling miles to catch up with his films
which are mainly released at a suburban theatre that caters to
Tamil-speaking audiences. Movie-loving sons of veteran film-makers as
well as cinephiles who care for that crucial touch of class in
mainstream cinema, haven't been stymied by the lingo barrier. And have
come out of his movies exulting, "How does he do it? Where did he learn
his style?...Do you think he'll make a Hindi movie some day ?"
	The all-time favourites from the Ratnam oeuvre of 12 films
have been Nayakan, Gitanjali, Anjali and Roja. So, now you ask:                          

KM: I believe the tradefolk in Madras always try to pull you down. Now
they're saying Thiruda Thiruda isn't doing too well at the box office.

MR: Suprisingly for a very disorganized industry, the trade is very
organzied about its box-office reports. Even before the first day's
shows are over, they have the statistics at their fingertips. From the
day I've started making films, I've been told that my films won't
click in the interiors or the B and C centres. I'm tagged as a 'city
director',whatever that means. So they'd like it if I pulled myself
down to appeal to the B and C centres. According to me, that's not
film-making, that's crass commercial circulation. I keep the mass
audience very much in mind, but I can't be tyrannised by such
	The trade pundits don't always try to pull me down. But
there's an initial resistance, it's easier for them to accept a film
made in the convential pattern. If you go even a little off the beaten
track, you're not considered commercial enough. Earlier, when I was,
say, making Mouna Ragam or Nayakan, they were quite encouraging, they
were eager to accept me. But ever since I became established... so to
speak...there have been constant digs. Even Roja was accepted as a hit
after it had run for several months. I suppose now I'm worthy of the
potshots. This isn't unusual, one has to face the initial brunt.
Trade people may think I'm established though I don't see myself as
part of the Establishment.                   

KM: Don't you get flak for breaking conventions - like using
A.R.Rahman, a new music director, instead of banking on the tried and
tested names?

MR: The reaction to Rahman has been extremely positive. To start with
there were the usual remarks, it was said that his music is far too
computerized to last long. They went at him till he did the music for
Gentleman which became such a big hit that all his detractors have
been silenced... I'd heard some of Rahman's ad jingles, he played me
some of his old tracks and I liked his arrangements very much. Of all
the new composers I've heard, he was influenced by Illaiyaraja the

KM: Isn't he being called a threat to Illaiyraja ?

MR: Oh, that's because people need to talk about competition, rivalry
and all that stuff. Illaiyaraja has his style and Rahman has his. Right
away, I liked Rahman's attitude - he wants to give his best to each
song, he works out the background score with painstaking detail. His
music is very young and modern without losing its Indianness. For
Thiruda Thiruda, he composed a peppy and stylish score to suit its
mood of intrigue and adventure.
	Chinna Chinna was the first song composed for Roja. I told him
the outline of the story, the situation and found that he was quite
different from what I was used to. It was a difficult song to work
out, in the sense that I'd been used to Illaiyaraja and his harmonica.
After several sittings we worked out every note for Chinna chinna; the
same kind of precision went into Nagamani Nagamani (Rukmani Rukmani)
which we thought would be simple enough to compose; but since its
sound including the voices of the old women, was different, it took us
quite a while before we were completely satisfied.                      

KM: Do you know the Nagamani(Rukmani) tune has been "borrowed" in
Meherbaan ?

MR: Yes? I'm not surprised. Earlier, Illaiyaraja's composition was
borrowed as well... for that number in Bol Radha Bol.

KM: Tu tu tara
MR: Yes...(Laughs) But what can be done about that ? I think we'll
continue to do our jobs and let the Bombay music directors do
theirs... Rahman worked on shifting rhythms for some of the Thiruda
songs, because that was necessary to tell different stories. One
doesn't always have to change the beat though: for instance Chinna
chinna was geared towards conveying the dreams and desires of Roja.

KM: That song had so many quick shots that it almost gave an MTV

MR: That wasn't intentional. The song has over 60 different shots, but
I wasn't completely satisfied with it. The cutting of each shot was
decided by the lyrics; I wanted the number to look somewhat
unconventional. Just picturising a song for the heck of it is not my
idea of film-making. That's why the holi song in Nayakan was shot in
the rain. I wanted to capture the sense of joy and celebration instead
of just assembling 20-30 junior artistes and shooting a group dance.
Right till the alst minute, I didn't know how I'd go about it. I envy
those directors who can divide their shots in their mind; for me
everything depends on the location, the natural light and the
movements that the artistes will be most comfortable with. All I knew
was that the Holi song shouldn't look like it had come out of a 100
other films.

KM: Have you heard the hindi version of the Roja songs?

MR: I heard the tape once, it really bothered me, so I switched it off
fast. Baba Sehgal's version of the Nagamani (Rukmani) song, it was sung in a
flat tone when his vocalising should have had some variations. Besides
the music, I'm so afraid of seeing Roja in Hindi that I've kept far
away from it. Frankly after I finish a film, it's out of my system.
It's a waste of time to keep worrying about who's doing what to it in
which language.                      

KM: Do you know you have a cult following in Bombay ?  

MR: (Laughs uproariously) Ha! Maybe I'm a cult in Bombay because I'm
not there.  Neither do I want to be, I can't start fretting about the
collection figures of my film in CPCI and Punjab. I'm not ready to do
a Hindi film because I'm not srue if I could strike a rapport with the
audience. Moreover I can't see falling into line or directing a
vendetta movie just because the last hit has been about a
revenge-seeking police officer; I'd probably go against the current
and make a love story.
	I always aim at variety, because that allows me to be
inventive. I want to make films which I like, work with actors who can
give 60 days at a stretch. I can't depend on any star's whims, I
wouldn't be able to tolerate a star who wants to pack up shooting and
ruin the whole schedule. In Madras all the stars have been
cooperative, whether it's Kamal (Hasan) or Rajnikant.

KM: You like working with stars?

MR: Essentially, I want to use stars as actors. Stars are a burden,
the bigger their image the bigger your responsibility of not going
against what the audience expects of them. And, of course, a star just
wouldn't be credible in a certain kind of film, like I couldn't
possibly have cast Rajnikant in Roja.                     

KM: Why haven't you worked with Kamalhasan after Nayakan ?

MR: I would definitely like to if I found an exciting enough script
for Kamal. There's a mental block of sorts about working with him
again - we have to better Nayakan if we team up again.
	Kamal is bound to become a good director some day. He did the
script of Thevar Magan which was very cohesive. In fact, I was
pleasantly surprised that it held together so well...because Kamal is
thinking in nine directions at the same time.

KM: Your Roja hero, Arvind Swamy, has become quite a star now, hasn't
he ?

MR: I'm not interested in making stars, it just happens. Earlier,
Arvind was in Dalapathy. I'd taken a screen test like I always do,
often it's not even necessary to see the results since you can make
out what the newcomer is like when he or she faces the camera. Arvind
had plans of going to study business management in the U.S., I'd told
him that he would be wasting his time. He didn't leave subsequently
because of personal tragedies, his parents passed away.                

KM: You frequently cast actors from Bombay in significant supporting
roles. How come ?

MR: Because then I have a wider choice. But it's not as if I make it a
point to have an actor or two from Bombay. It's just that I needed
someone from the north who'd be accepted as a Kashmiri in Roja. So
Pankaj Kapur was cast and he was excellant. I needed a somewhat
mysterious woman for Thiruda, and since audiences in the south weren't
familiar with her, I cast Anu Agarwal. Initially, I was thinking of
Dimple Kapadia but she had already acted in Kamal's Vikram.

KM: Bombay heroines often give statements that they are dying to work
with Mani Ratnam. Flattered ?

MR: (Smiles) Come on , they're just statments. Let them learn Tamil
first. I'd met Karishma Kapoor for the role of the Kashmiri girl in
Roja, but she was far too expensive for a Tamil film. I'd rather spend
money on the film-on the camerawork, music and the sets -than on a
star. Roja cost under a crore while Thiruda turned out to be Rs.
2-crore project. I don't overshoot, you won't find too many out-takes
of my films. Roja was a little short of the normal length while
Thiruda, because it has a lot of action is a little longer.

KM: Incidentally what was the germinating point for Thiruda Thiruda ?

MR: I was thinking of making a fun film for several years-a fas paced
adventure played out against a realistic, rural backdrop. I
intentionally kept the plot thin, I wanted to play around with the
situations. I was told that Kamal's Vikram and Ram Gopal Varma's
Kshana Kshanam hadn't succeeded because they didn't have strong
storylines. I didn't agree with that, there could have been some other
problems, I don't think its compulsory to have a thick plot to grip
the audience.                                

KM: Weren't you afraid that you were walking on a tightrope while
dealing with the subject of terrorism in Roja ? You could have
offended a section of the audience.

MR: I was aware of the problem while making the film. But I was making
it from the Indian point of view, I wasn't raking up the Hindu-Muslim
issue at all. I was worried a bit about how the censors would react
because at times, they follow rules blindly - like you can't show the
Indian flag. Fortunately no objections were raised to the flag scene.
But a couple of objections were raised by the army - I had to cut the
scene showing the army officer (Nasser) lighting a cigarette while
carrying out a search of the terrorists' hide-out. I was told that I
couldn't show an armyman smoking on duty. The second objection was to
the scene where Nasser comes to Roja's room to tell her about the
orders issued form Delhi and he says, "I'm sorry I've had a few
drinks." The cuts came in the way of the narrative's flow, it was as
if I was being told that armymen don't smoke or drink.

KM:In your action scenes, you seem to plunge your actors in danger.
Like Arvind Swamy appeared to nearly go up in flames in Roja.

MR: Ha! But then Arvind was keen on action, he wanted to come out of
his clean-cut appearance. After that scene in the snow , he had to be
rushed to the hospital. But when he saw the results he agreed that it
was worth flirting with danger.
KM: You're said to be very tough with your acting crew. Don't they
want a bit of pampering as well. 

MR: Where's the time for pampering ? There are nearly 120 poeple in
a film unit, and each one is treated like an equal. I tell the artiste
what I have in mind, then he or she adds his or her inputs. If an
artiste is thinking more about his or her performance and not the
overall film, then I'm firm - I don't let them get carried away. I
think that's fair enough.

KM: Some feel that you lay undue emphasis on technique. Is that fair
    criticism ?

MR: It's most unfair and I'm still hounded by this charge. The most
ter riblething you can say to a filmmaker is that you have smart
technique and terrific locations. Honestly, for me technique is
secondary. The script and performance are the two most important
factors. In any case, I just don't understand why a film should look
shabby and udnernourished. I frame every shot the way I'd like to see
it on screen. Being excessively polished and glossy is like speaking
in English, it comes in the way of the narrative. I have always
attempted to strike a balance between story and style. ANd yet I'm
informed that I'm not "massy" enough. Fortunately, I haven't let
myself be swayed by such cliched remarks.

KM: Whom do you finally depend on for feedback ?

MR: I muster up enough courage to stand in three or four theatres
while my film is showing for the first week. A rumour spread that I'd
cut some scenes from Thiruda after the firsts few days .. not true. I
haven't touched a single frame, the only time I did make some changes
was in the case of Mouna Ragam, I trimmed the climax. Otherwise I'm
pretty confident of myself, I see my film many times before its
release to ensure that the story flows smoothly.                           

KM: Among your peers whom would you rate highly ?

MR: Mukul ANand, Shekhar Kapur, Vinod Chopra are good though I may not
always agree with their films fully. In Madras, there are Uday Kumar,
Selvamani and now Shankar who directed Gentleman.

KM: Do you keep in touch with international film ?

MR: Not very much, one's approach to cinema develops from the kind of
films one has seen before joining the industry. I do try and keep with
Hollywood films on video; lately I was especially impressed by JFK,
Bram Staker's Dracula and Lorenzo's Oil. Such films are a humbling
experience. I tell myself, "Hey, these guys are leagues and leagues
ahead of me."

KM: You don't have a taste for artistic cinema ?

MR: I'm afraid I have no patience for art films. After all I've grown
up on entertainers like Hatari. Quite often mediocre, pretentious and
technically shoddy stuff is passed off as art. On the other hand, take
Satayajit Ray's Pathar Panchali, here was art that was accessible and
emotionally stirring.

KM: Do you evolve as a filmmaker by keeping in touch with books ?

MR: I don't touch books any more. Unfortunately, film-making kills
your reading habit. I still buy books but don't end up reading beyond
15 pages.  I tend to keep thinking about my next script, once you're
into film-making it devours you completely.Earlier of coruse, there
have been books like Catcher in the Rye, Fountainhead, Zen and the Art
of Motorcycle Maintainance which have left a lasting impact...they
were a part of growing up.

KM: And which actors and actresses do you hold in high esteem ?

MR: I like some of the performances of Naseeruddin Shah. ANd there's
Nana Patekar. In the south, Mohanlal is tremendously talented. In
Tamil cinema, I thought that Radhika and Kamal were excellant in
Swathi Muthyam. Revathi ws good in Thevar Magan... Recently I caught
up on Mother India. I was stunned by the outstanding performance by
Nargis. Smita Patil also gave some tremendous performances.

KM: No comment on Sridevi ?

MR: I liked Sridevi better in Tamil films, she was acting then.

KM: What's your next project ?

MR: I like to concentrate on one project a year. Let's see which way I
can go now - whether I can afford whatever I fancy or play safe. I've
always told myself that I should decide on my next film before
finishing one. But somehow I can never do that...one of my dream
projects is to adopt Ponniyin Selvan, a historical novel written by
Kalki in the '50s. Kamal had bought the rights. we'd worked out a
rough draft, but there's no way we could do it, to recover its costs
we'd have to think of a much wider market.

KM: So why not think of a national audience via Hindi films ?

MR: Not again! I just can't see myself in Bombay right now. I did my
MBA there at the Bajaj institue, but all I know of the city is the
Churchgate area. I truly don't know how I'd fit in. My first film was
in Kannada - Pallavi Anu Pallavi, and Anil Kapoor was in it. But do you
know he'd feel embarrassed to tell people he'd done a film with me.
Since my cameraman was more well-known than I was, Anil would go
around saying that he'd done a film with Balu Mahendra.

KM: Didn't Boney Kapoor offer you a film to direct ? Weren't
you approached for Prem at one point ?

MR: It's funny but I'm offered a film for which the script, locations
and music have already been decided. So I asked, "Why do you want me?"
They were probably looking for a yes-man instead of a director.                                                          

*** That's it! ***


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