Friday, December 14, 2012

"Are all World War films set in Germany shot in Germany?"

"Though a lot has changed now, people here in India had a different mentality from those in the West those days. Not many people here wanted to push themselves in order to excel at something. They were satisfied with okay stuff. So I really, really respect people like Mani Sir who had raised the bar here, in those conditions with our limited resources and technological talent." -  An excerpt from AR Rahman’s foreword in ‘Conversations with Mani Ratnam’.

Courtesy: Madras Talkies
There could have been nothing more apt for a foreword to a book on Maniratnam’s film-making than one from his greatest discovery – AR Rahman and the above words sum up briefly the zeitgeist that Mani Ratnam was for those who grew into their cinematic awareness in 80s and 90s. When mediocre stuff was being churned out as mainstream movies, it was Mani Ratnam who raised the bar and blazed a trail.

‘Conversations with Mani Ratnam’ stays with that spirit and focuses on the auteur’s craft of film-making single-mindedly. The book does not even inadvertently run into any juicy tidbits or controversies about any actor or film personality, even while discussing all of Mani Ratnam’s movies and the milieus in which they were made. No ‘Making of’ discussions, thanks to the author Rangan Baradwaj who seemed up for it and who was ‘well prepared’ for this exercise. Anyways, when the creative mind produces such wit, glimpses of which were in my previous post, who need tame tidbits?

What made me say ‘exercise’ could be what I saw a few years before on TV when Mani Ratnam was in Hyderabad promoting ‘Guru’. With the typical stupidity commonly seen on TV, the program’s lady anchor, even while expressing her awe for him and his movies, told Mani that it is ‘unbelievable’ that he, so eminent, worked with ‘someone like Mallika Sherawat’. Mani firmly shot back ‘Why?’ His seriousness and matter-of-fact voice made the anchor almost sweat while she sheepishly tried saying something about Sherawat’s image not being for his respectable movies. Mani, of course, enlightened her that what she saw on screen was Mallika playing different roles! And that he had a role in ‘Guru’ she was apt for and so she accepted and did a very good job. Rangan Baradwaj seemed to be around for quite some time as a film critic (although I never heard about him before this book), he knows all too well the non-nonsense man. So the first time he went to Mani Ratnam’s office to discuss the book project, while the filmmaker was speaking to him, he in turn spoke to the desk in front of Mani Ratnam! He admits in this book’s introduction that he confessed this experience with Gautham Menon and they instantly became friends, because Menon has had the same experience in his first encounter!

Considering this start, the author did a good job by the end as he seemed to have confidently engaged ‘Mani Sir’ on his vision behind each of his movies in 30 odd years, the style he kept evolving and the thinking that went into each of his characters. That is not to say that he didn’t have his share of moments like those faced by the lady above. Some of them are here giving a glimpse of the kind of riveting conversations the book records.

While discussing ‘Thalapathy’ -
RANGAN: Your location was Mysore (even though the story takes place in an unnamed location) and your characters are Tamilian. How important is geographical correctness to a film, especially considering the importance you gave to visuals and backgrounds?

MANI RATNAM: "..Do you think all World War films set in Germany are shot in Germany? It has to evoke Germany. It is like saying that the camera in a fight scene should be placed exactly where the punches land on the opponent…”

While discussing ‘Anjali’ -
When Rangan delving all too deep, says he thinks Anjali has ‘ghosts’, Mani quips that he hopes they are both talking about the same film! He adds ’If I had known that Baradwaj Rangan would raise this question, I would have placed that card’ referring to a card ‘A few years later’ that could have been placed to avoid Rangan’s wild assumptions.

Overenthusiastic, about ‘Dil Se’ -
RANGAN: Again, while loquaciously discussing the love between Shah Rukh’s and Manisha’s character, Rangan goes as far as to say “,,She's like a man - or rather, desexualized. So it's even more of a leap for him (Shah Rukh’s character) to fall for a girl who is pretty, but who is otherwise so 'unfeminine', so aloof. You can understand this exuberant Delhi boy falling for Preeti, who's equally exuberant."
Mani cuts him swiftly “You cannot come up with a commandment about whom a Delhi boy can fall in love with and who he cannot. Why do you think that falling in love has to be only with the stereotypical other?”

Again later Rangan puts his foot in his mouth by asking whether Mani Ratnam became ‘part of the establishment’ somewhere between ‘Roja’ and ‘Bombay’ because the latter was more political. Immediately, he retracts saying it was a ‘wrong thing to say’ after Mani Ratnam tears him down “Why should any concern for what is happening around be labeled as an ‘establishment’ way of thinking? I just don’t get it.” In context of Rangan’s comment that ‘Bombay’ has rabble rousing, Mani goes on to say Rangan seems to believe anything anti-establishment, whether true or not, relevant or not, is good and that the rest is rabble-rousing.

While the above reactions are caustic, they are but a part of the whole exercise of making the very private Mani Ratnam open up and speak about his craft. Rangan did a good job. Even while he was in awe of the filmmaker, he probed and took his chances in making Mani Ratnam react, explain, defend or evade and in the process reveal a little of the enigma he has been. Yes, only a little of what maketh the maker! More about that in my next post.


Shashi said...

Nice one kathi..

Unknown said...

Nicely put, Dude !
I was,actually, eagerly looking forward to what Mani had to say on Iruvar(since I love it so much),and I have to say I was completely overwhelmed,rightly so.I especially loved the way he used censorship to his advantage in doing Mohanlal's speech right after Nassers death - I initially thought it was a masterstroke,brilliant execution, done deliberately.But after having learned it was a stylized treatment to tackle censor problems, Respect for this maverick craftsman only grows.