Mani Ratnam is finding it difficult to regain his mojo in last few years. His recent movies have failed to please the audience and critics alike. All you can see today is the faint shadow of the former genius. Despite that, Mani Ratnam might still get the best technicians in the business for his next projects ,it will remain the dream of most actors to be part of a Mani Ratnam movie and his upcoming movies will be continued to be eagerly awaited by all his fans .
All that’s because the impact Mani Ratnam created in Tamil Cinema from 1986’s Mounaragam to 2002’s Kannathil Muthamittal is just incomparable .Its not only hard to find any flaws in his movies between this time frame (only exceptions might be Dil Se and Thiruda Thiruda), each and every scene of these movies had the trademark Mani Ratnam style embedded all over them and most of these movies were additions to the All-Time best films produced in Tamil Cinema.
Mani Ratnam once mentioned that the reason he entered movies was that he was fed up of watching the substandard movies during the seventies and he decided to push the bar himself. Well didn’t he just revolutionize the Tamil Cinema from then ! Mani Ratnam debuted as director in 1983 in Kannada movie – Pallavi Anu Pallavi .It was around 4 movies later, in 1986 Tamil Nadu took notice of the rise of a promising film maker through ‘Mounaragam’ , which defied the norms of romantic films and told a beautiful story of a husband who won back his wife ,after getting married reluctantly. Then came Mani Ratnam’s arguably best work till date, the epic ‘Nayagan’.
One among the only 3 Indian movies to feature in the Time Magazine’s “All-Time 100 Best Films” from all over the world, Nayagan still continues to inspire and influence the gangster movies made across the country.In 1989, Mani Ratnam made his first Telugu movie ‘Geethanjali’ which told the story of a couple who are both suffering from terminal diseases and won the year’s national award for the best popular film. In 1990, Mani Ratnam narrated a poignant tale of an autistic child in ‘Anjali’ which also won three National awards.
1991 saw perhaps Mani Ratnam’s most commercial film, the grandiose multi-starrer ‘Thalapathi’ .Loosely based on the epic ‘Mahabharata’, Thalapathi was a stylish action thriller exploiting Rajnikanth and Mammooty’s superstar images to the maximum. Then Mani Ratnam went on to produce his Terrorism Trilogy – Roja, Bombay and Dil Se. Roja is especially a landmark movie in Tamil Cinema and its dubbed version in Hindi marked the successful foray of the director to Bollywood too. There was a time when there would be a mandatory telecast of Roja n television during all republic and independence days.
Between this trilogy, he also made ‘Iruvar’, a class take on the lives of MGR and Karunanidhi. In 2000, Mani Ratnam showed us that he could make movies relevant to times ,exploring the tensions of married life through the beautiful ‘Alaipayuthey’, which was a big hit even in the ‘B’ and ‘C’ centers unlike other Mani Ratnam movies. In 2002’s Kannathil Muthamittal , the director once again showed his expertise in romance in Madhavan-Simran’s flashback scenes and the climax where Simran asks Nanditha to atleast hold or hug her daugther once saw the genius in work once again.
From there ,started the slide. It remains that the director has not been able to create a typical complete ‘Mani Ratnam’ movie since Kannathil Muthamittal. There might be flashes of brilliance in ‘Guru’ but still its too far from when the film maker used to be at his best. ‘Ayutha Ezhuthu’ was a disappointment and ‘Raavanan’ and ‘Kadal’ disasters. So what really went wrong for Mani Ratnam .
The health problems where the director suffered three heart attacks between Ayutha Ezhuthu and Raavanan might have played a part. The separate attention required to make Hindi and Tamil versions for some of his recent movies looks like clearly affected the outcome of both the products in large measures.
One other aspect that was different from the Maniratnam of old days was how he regularly persisted with actors like Madhavan and Abhishek Bachchan in all his recent movies. The result was that we missed out on the finely perfect casting Mani Ratnam used to employ in his movies previously. Prior to his decline, Mani Ratnam’s cast of actors and actresses used to be always special and he was always known to extract the best from them. Mounaragam , Roja and Alaipayuthey saw Karthik, Arvind Swamy and Madhavan becoming instant heartthrobs among girls. Not many will argue that Kamal Haasan’s best ever work is Nayagan’s Velu Naikkar.
You might not have seen Rajnikanth emote better in his entire career than he did in Thalapathi. In Anjali, Mani Ratnam decided to not have a big star as the hero to divert more focus to the child actors and the outcome was National award for all three of them. When he decided to pick the two greats from Kerala for his movies, it was for very apt roles. Thalapathy’s Devarajan and Iruvar’s Anandan definitely rank among the best performances by Mammooty and Mohanlal. Also the scenes where Mammootty gets to know that the collector is Rajnikanth’s brother and where Mohanlal breaks down in front of the producer after his first movie is shelved are among both the actors’ finest moments of acting.
Its also tough to find the once famous trademark Mani Ratnam stamp in the scenes of his recent movies while his old classics had plenty of such brilliantly executed moments. In Mounaragam where Revathi reveals to Mohan that she had a lover in the past or when Mohan shows back to Revathi how she had hurt him with her harsh comments or Karthik’s famous ‘ChandraMouli’ antics. In Nayagan where Kamal Hassan meets the family of the police officer he killed or where he has a clash with his daughter or when he finally sees his daughter after years. In Alaipayuthey where the conversation between Madhavan’s dad and Shalini’s turns to a serious fight. In Thalapathy where Rajnikanth reveals to Mammooty that the collector is his brother… These are not only the moments that distinguish Mani Ratnam from other directors but also find places in the greatest ever written and directed scenes in Tamil Cinema.
There are art house movies, there are commercial entertainers and then there are Mani Ratnam movies. Mani Ratnam is one director who entertained and enthralled us with his movies but still never compromised on the quality refraining from too many masala ingredients He would just use silence for minutes in many scenes to increase our tension and strengthen the impact but he would also come back and make us laugh with comedy ,amuse us with stunning visuals and enliven us with songs, dances and stunts.
We need that old Maniratnam back .We need classics like Mounaragam , Nayagan, Thalapathi, Roja again. His new movie OK Kanmani‘s trailer released today. It has a young vibrant lead pair, the trailer promises stunning visuals and a rocking score by A.R Rahman. Though it does remind of his own Alaipayuthe, let us hope Mani Ratnam would have a novel story and strong screenplay to back him up this time. Like any other ardent Mani Ratnam fan, I would look forward to it with big expectations and with the hope the director will return to that great old form again.