The inside-out of ManiRatnam: Interview with the Legendary Director

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The man is like the movies he directs. Doesn’t talk much but has a clear sense and control of what he is saying. In a rare instance of an interview with Mani Ratnam, the British filmmaker Peter Webber has brought out some introspective glances in his interview with the Indian auteur for the BFI (British Film Institute) and has shed new light on the filmmaker’s beliefs, experiences and other trivia stuff.

Coming from Mani Ratnam, the man behind some of the most critically acclaimed movies of India, the answers he puts forward to the well thought-out questions are a delight to hear and a relish to ponder upon. Here’s a quick rundown high lightening some key takeouts from the exuberating conversation.

  • Mani Ratnam has a strong belief in the brilliance of choreographed songs within films and is confident of how they could provide the right emotional and conceptual transitions between two monumental scenes in a script. He emphasizes that the song sequence would always be an excellent cinematic tool to narrate stories within stories especially in India, where music had always been intertwined with prose and poetry.
  • Re-imagining and renewing mythology has been a constant template in Mani Ratnam’s works. He had grown a fascination for spotting how the same stories we find in mythology gets resurrected and reflected in contemporary social landscape. He has also revealed that in the case of ‘Roja’, it was the ongoing political problems that triggered the association to the mythology of Satyavaan and Savitri , whereas in ‘Thalapthi’ , It was his creative imagination that aided him to adopt the story of a conflict between two characters in Mahabharata to a modern scenario.
  • When asked about the western influence in his works apparent from his ‘Godfather’ inspired ‘Nayagan’ , the filmmaker retorts by saying how his influences are many and diversified which includes the legendary Asian filmmaker Akira Kurosawa (Not just predominantly western as the question seemed to suggest)
  • While working with exceptionally great actors, Mani Ratnam has chosen sometimes to widen the space he provides for actor’s individualistic performance by merely being observant in handling camera work. – “ When you have an actor who can deliver , you just have to be the eye”

  • Mani Ratnam discloses how he limits his rehearsals to dialogue readings and corrections in addition to checking and cross-examining character consistencies throughout the screenplay.
  • Mani Ratnam is probably the only director in India who could be truly called a Pan-Indian Director. Even though he is not well versed in Hindi he shares with us how he manages to get the dialogues right by collaborating with writers and working with Hindi actors in a more intimate manner and trust their creative inputs more than he would normally do in a Tamil Film.
  • ‘Bombay’- One of Mani Ratnam’s most important films which revolves around Muslim-Hindu riots was shot entirely in Chennai with an exception of Just 3 days in Bombay!
  • Mani Ratnam has confessed how it is always a struggle in filmmaking to entertain the audience without blurring the line of sensibility. On similar lines, he has also opened up that he also tries to strike a balance between the independent artistic expressions within him and the conventional audience within him (that also mirrors the expectations of the outward audience.)
  • Quite contrary to outward perceptions, Mani Ratnam has disclosed that he doesn’t stick too much to the script but leaves ambient space for spontaneous improvisation and adjustments. (Zero storyboarding, He says!)
  • On maintaining and mastering all the elements in the craftsmanship of filmmaking, he notes how incremental it is to have an efficient team that lessens the tiring work of the director.
  • On using natural elements like Rain water he cites how such natural elements could add captivating drama to the mood and setting.
  • According to the director, Casting is half work done in filmmaking. He has two diverging approaches in casting. He explains how it would be beneficial to cast actors with a well established on-screen personality in the right kind of rules that would suit them and casting new and fresh faces in building unique characters with organic originality.
  • He Concedes on how Dubbing would always be an issue in Filmmaking.(He has often used live-sound recording in his films instead of opting for the Indian conventional technique of dubbing)

In one of the final statements, the exceptional director acknowledges that Indian film Industry is in the ‘Verge of a transition’ and assures that breakthroughs are imminent. The time seems right for the next auteur to arrive in India. The world awaits to applaud.

One additional trivia

He has rarely shot in foreign locales. Most movies of his has been made within India. This, at a time when Directors need the lamest excuse to fly to USA, Europe or Australia to shoot just a song or two. Only Guru was shot in Turkey and Istanbul.


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