Can one combine hard-hitting stories with sheer entertainment, and end up a winner? Is it possible to blend haunting music into an everyday tale and make it move hearts? It is, with director Mani Ratnam.
Born on June 2nd, 1956 in Madurai, Mani Ratnam began as a commerce graduate from Madras University, got an MBA from Jamnalal Bajaj, and finally meandered into film production.
His first movie, ‘Pallavi Anu Pallavi’ (1983) hardly made waves, but ‘Mouna Ragam’ (1986) made a tremendous splash with its sensitive yet controversial storyline. ‘Nayakan’(1987), based on the life of a true life Don, proclaimed Mani Ratnam had arrived. ‘Agni Nakshatram’ (1988), ‘Geetanjali’ (1989) and ‘Anjali’ (1990) were outstanding examples of his understanding of his audience. While the first had brilliant shots and impeccable cinematography, the second was about two terminally ill people who make use of the quality time they had left. ‘Anjali’ was a touching movie about a mentally challenged girl, in which pathos was combined with beautiful dance sequences and catchy music. However, its Oscar nomination did not come through.
Mani Ratnam tried something innovative for ‘Roja’, a love story that was torn apart by terrorists in Kashmir. A.R. Rahman burst into the scene with his exquisite music. ‘Thiruda Thiruda’ ((1993) did not do too well, but his next movie ‘Bombay’ (1995), about an intercaste love story during the Bombay riots generated much interest.
‘Iruvar’(1997) was a political tale, loosely based on the real life saga of MGR and Jayalalitha. ‘Dil Se’ (1998) captured the mind of a suicide bomber, who makes the mistake of falling in love. It was his first Hind film.
‘Alai Payuthe’ (2000) was again a simple love story about a newly married couple going through almost insurmountable marital problems. His next blockbuster, ‘Kannathil Muthamittal’ (2002), dealt with an adopted girl in search of her mother, a Sri Lankan terrorist.
His latest offering ‘Guru’ (2007), again in Hindi, has done well, with Abhishek and Aishwarya playing the lead. The film has superb cinematography, excellent performances and lilting music.
Mani Ratnam has constantly trodden the precarious path between commercial and art cinema. Is it possible to label him as a director who changed the genre of Tamil films, making them masterpieces of sensitivity and perfection? Or is he just a lucky director who strikes gold once in a while? It might be worthwhile to recall that he won the Padma Shri in 2002!