Waiting for a good script

"I don't think good films influence one as much as bad films do"  

The maker of "Dil Se'' and "Bombay'' says he loves making films with song and dance. Mani Ratnam tells LAKSHMI BALAKRISHNAN that he is more comfortable in making films in Tamil.

MANI RATNAM likes to keep things straight. To the extent that when a Delhi scribe made the mistake of asking him the name of his first film recently, he rather sternly but softly told him: "I do my job well. But don't expect me to do your part of it as well.''

For a film-maker who has come to enjoy cult status in the mainstream section of the world's largest film industry, Mani Ratnam may seem to be rather humble. But then, he obviously hasn't forgotten the marketing lessons that he took before taking a plunge into a career in cinema.

Nearly 20 years after he made his first film "Pallavi Anupallavi'', Ratnam may surprise one when he insists that he likes being complimented on his work, but then that's the way Ratnam likes it in personal as well as professional life - "As honest as it gets''.

Which probably explains the reason for Ratnam being unruffled when people ask him why he hasn't moved away from making masala films. "I have no pretensions. I am a commercial film- maker. I love making films with song and dance. I make films the way they are made in India,'' he says.

It has been a long journey and Ratnam accepts that he had to face the creative and economic pressures as much as any other director. But as of now, it is "the journey that is important'' he asserts.

``Audience expectation does remain at the back of one's mind. Specially since one does not want to get slotted as a particular type. But then I guess that is what inspires you to do better,'' he says.

In the Capital for the International Film Festival of India, the man behind "Anjali'', "Dil Se'', "Bombay'' and "Nayakan'' accepts that he regrets missing out on many good films thanks to his schedule. "Festivals are my only chance to catch up with good cinema. The best part, I guess is the fact that I can see films of people like Adoor Gopalakrishnan whose work I admire,'' he says.

But good films are not what inspires this film-maker. "I don't think good films influence one as much as bad films do. At least you know what not to do when you watch a bad one,'' he points out.

The industry may be facing a slump but Ratnam believes that the time is good to market Indian films abroad. With his `Roja'' all set for an international release, the director is obviously anxious.

``This is just an effort. Indian films are doing well abroad and have a potential market. So why not exploit it,'' he asks. His film "Kannathil Mutthamittal'' has been one of the few packed shows at the festival so far, and Ratnam handles questions on the reason for choosing to portray the problem of adoption in the backdrop of the Sri Lankan `crisis'.

``I had always believed that the best war films are told through the people involved in it. It has to have a human face to it,'' he insists.

As for the Southern film-makers shifting to making films on issues of North and beyond, Ratnam says, "When you live in India, you cannot think in those terms. Living in the South does not mean alienating oneself from the rest of the country. I am an Indian and all its problems whether in north or south concern me.''

As of now, Bollywood may have to wait for a while before getting to see his next film. The maker of "Dil Se'' and "Bombay'' insists he is yet to stumble on an interesting enough subject. "It is not because of any language barrier, but I guess I am much more comfortable making films in Tamil. Language is not really stopping me, but I would rather wait till I get a good script,'' he says.

By Lakshmi Balakrishnan

Photo: Anu Pushkarna

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