The Mani Ratnam formula: ‘Be entertaining, but remain honest to your original thought’

Mani Ratnam. Photo: Film Companion  

On the eve of the release of Kaatru Veliyidai, Film Companion South editor Baradwaj Rangan quizzes Director Mani Ratnam on the intricacies of his craft and writing process, and on how he remains at the top of his game for over three decades.

Excerpts from the interview:

When you are making a movie or writing a script, do you take into account the fact that different kinds of audiences exist and that your script has to talk to all of them, like A, B and C centres, NRIs?

I am in mainstream filmmaking. I want to make a film that can reach as many as possible so I want to talk in a language which I can easily communicate with. But also, I want to say what I want to say and not what they necessarily want to hear so it is this combination, this intersection you are constantly attempting, trying to tell what you have to say in a language that is easily reachable.

When you say language, what do you mean?

Everything, the format with which it comes, the songs with which it comes – so that it doesn’t, like you put it, alienate them and look like you are talking to them in Sanskrit.

Even though you have the markets in mind, you basically say, ‘I find it interesting, I’m going to work on this’?

As the soul of the film it has to work for you otherwise you don’t take it up at all. It takes two years of your life, you better be interested in it. When you know it’s something you can do well, that’s when you take it up. Tell it in a fashion which is entertaining, but still honest to your original thought so it’s a balance that you hit.


Click here for the full video of the interview by Film Companion

In this book [Conversations with Mani Ratnam], you’ve said that Agni Natchathiram was the film you were trying to do after Mouna Ragam. You said that ‘I was trying to reach the markets I couldn’t with Mouna Ragam by making a film that was younger and more commercial’. So when a film like Kadal doesn’t work and it’s what you call a ‘grown up’ film, do you try to say ‘let me just do an equivalent of Agni Natchathiram in terms of O Kadhal Kanmani’? Does that influence you?

[The] thought was there, but honestly, no. Kadal  has been called several names, for the first time I’m hearing it being called a grown up film (laughs). But for O Kadhal Kanmani, the script idea was (sic) before Kadal, it’s an idea that lies with you for a while and then you flesh it out.

But even that movie, when compared to Agni Natchathiram times, is pushing certain boundaries in terms of live-ins. Do you think you’ve stopped worrying about whether the market will accept a certain thing?

No, honestly you are constantly worried about it and that is what makes you decide whether to do a film or not. One thing within both the films to me is to be very honest. If you take Agni Natchathiram, it is about two half-brothers and their emotions and those are genuine, which can be made into a very hard-hitting film just that it can be presented in an entertaining fashion. Similarly with OK Kanmani, it is a genuine film; it is not a flippant film just for commercial purposes.


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Printable version | Jun 10, 2021 5:55:54 PM |

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