Mirrors, trains, buses, crisp and cryptic dialogues, cinematography, lighting, songs that are always earworms - these are some of the “Mani” signatures that you would find in his films. Often endearingly called the ‘Master of Romance’, he has always been a youth icon - and continues to be so. If you haven’t already, just watch O Kadhal Kanmani and you’ll know what I mean. There is youthful zeal and energy that breezes throughout the film that immediately caught the hearts of the youth of today and made it a super hit. Add to it the high-on-adrenaline music by AR Rahman and what you get is a film that will easily go to the already overcrowding list of classics by Maniratnam. One day, a friend of mine and I were talking about the versatility of some of the greatest Hollywood directors and we found ourselves going gaga over the legendary Steven Spielberg’s versatility. The kind of genres he handled is just phenomenal. Come to think of it, if there is any director from Tamil Cinema that reaches that level of versatility, it is Mani Ratnam. He has given us romantic films, dramas, thrillers, action films, biopics, retold epics and so on! More importantly, all of his films have been commercial entertainers at the same time pushing the boundaries of the commercial movie template. Maniratnam has consistently reinvented himself with every film of his. And this reinvention happened from the script and story level to the cinematography and music as well. Some of the best songs of Ilaiyaraja (another legend who shares his birthday with Maniratnam) have come with his films. I don’t have to talk about the music of ARR in Maniratnam’s films. It’s a 25+-year-old bond that has always been ahead of the learning curve in the industry. It would be an understatement to say that I’m excited about his magnum opus Ponniyin Selvan! To one of the prolific directors of all time, I wish you a happy birthday with many more to come so that we learn from the ocean of work that you have created for us! “Mani” more happy returns, Maniratnam!
Whenever I hear this name, I remember one of the iconic films based on national integration - Roja. It is not merely a love story, it is a wife’s struggle set against the backdrop of Azadi. A clean and honest computer engineer is kidnapped by terrorists to find out classified information. This whole film revolves around rescue and shows how inherent patriotism wins against evil and anti-social elements. Maniratnam always thrives to portray a message and real inspiration that his audience can takeaway. He is one of the finest ace filmmakers and is famous for socio-political theme backdrops. One of the USP that makes his films distinct is his extensive choices of stories. The next notable feature is music in his films, he always couples with AR Rahman to produce fantastic melodies. Maniratnam is one of his inspiration which made him explore the artistic side of storytelling through music is what the music maestro proclaims. I wish him a very happy birthday!!
I did not start watching non-Telugu movies until I came to college. Telugu movies are what I grew up with and never even thought of going beyond that because there was a never discussion. It was always Telugu with our friends and family, even though we had some Hindi movies screening in the theatres, those would be our last option.
A new world of Cinema opened up for me as I started watching movies of other languages like Tamil, Malayalam, and Kannada. The more I got interested in Cinema the more I wanted to watch the movies that were heavy star vehicles. Finally, the film-making bug bit me and I started learning about film-making through books, videos, and other resources. It was during this time that the Legend Maniratnam's name got introduced to me. I had always heard about him as a great director but had never watched any of his films, mostly because they did not carry any mainstream Super Stars by then. So, I had to watch all his earlier films which are considered gems in film-making.
And then, the Maniratnam bug bit me and I started watching all his movies one by one, trying to decode them and understand how he uses the various tools at his disposal as a director to tell a story. Though I cannot particularly say which one is my favourite, the movie that seems to have made a lot of impact on me is Alaipaayuthey. The movie starring Madhavan and Shalini talks about post-marriage relationship dynamics. We all are ready to fall in love but are we really ready to get married as marriage brings with it much more responsibility?
Though the movie released in 2000, its relevance is timeless. I was just blown away the first time I watched it because it was such an engaging relationship drama that I had not seen till then. The story, the plot, the emotional arcs of the characters, the music, and the direction were just unbelievable. It made me wonder why didn't I get introduced to Maniratnam Sir earlier. Better late than never. Tharun Bhasscker, the talented Telugu filmmaker is also a fan and often quotes Maniratnam's influence on him as a filmmaker.
The astonishing part is that though it was a relationship drama, the non-linear structure of the screenplay created a sense of suspense. I probably think that it was because of this choice that we directly start watching the movie from Madhavan's character POV and empathize with him right away. It also holds the audience and keeps us hooked.
I especially like the scenes of both these characters at the home, their small fights, the body language, the subtext in each dialogue, and even the staging of these entire sequences. I instantly became a fan of his direction and set out to watch all his movies. You should also start watching his movies if you have not started yet. They are gems in every sense.