MANI RATNAM - A Biography Through Cinema
Acclaimed as the man who revolutionised Tamil Cinema, Mani Ratnam is one of the most respected directors in India. All his films contain their own unique style, with beautifully photographed songs and unique back-lighting. However, his films contain substance as well as style - Ratnam has dealt with a wide variety of topics, from the classic Indian love story to political thrillers.
He was born G. Subramaniam in 1956, in Madras (now Chennai). Filmmaking is in his blood; he is the son of film producer "Venus" Gopalratnam and his brother was G. Venkateswaran, a film distributor turned producer. After graduating with a degree in commerce from Madras University and an MBA from the Jamnalal Bajaj Institute of Management Studies, Mumbai, he embarked on a short-lived career as a management consultant before taking the plunge into his true calling. His first film, Pallavi Anupallavi (1983), starring Anil Kapoor, didn't make many waves, although it won the State Award from Karnataka for Best Screenplay that year. Though he did three more films, two in Tamil and one in Malayalam, he had to wait until he broke through with Mouna Ragam (1986). Starring Revathy, the film told the tale of a woman who, although forced into an arranged marriage, chooses to maintain a platonic relationship with her husband. The film was noted for its sophisticated approach and execution of an extremely sensitive topic.
His next film, Nayakan (1987), was also arguably his greatest. Often compared to The Godfather (1972), it established Mani Ratnam as the leading director of Tamil cinema and won Kamal Hassan the National Award for Best Actor.
Then came the best of his early work - Agni Nakshatram (1988), Gitanjali (1989) and Anjali (1990). The first was a tale of conflict between two stepbrothers; shot with glossy camera work, the film resembled a cross between an ad and a music video, and set a trend for a whole new visual style in Tamil cinema. Gitanjali (1989), shot in Ooty to create a soft and poetic mood, was a touching love story between two terminally ill people with less than six months left. Anjali (1990), about a disabled child brought back to her family with two normal children had been chosen by India to be sent to the Oscars for Best Foreign Film.
When Roja (1992) was released, Mani Ratnam was already a household name all over India. A patriotic love story set against the backdrop of Kashmiri terrorism, the film was dubbed in Hindi and became a huge national success. It reinforced Mani Ratnam's status as a director of style and substance, as well as proving a highly auspicious debut for the now-acclaimed music director A. R. Rahman. It helped that India's erstwhile Chief Election Commissioner T. N. Seshan took the rare step of officially endorsing the film. Thiruda Thiruda (1993) was a light-hearted and fun-filled romp which seemed to be a departure from the serious trend of his films, but Ratnam quickly returned to more thought-provoking cinema with Bombay (1995), a romance between a Hindu and a Muslim during the Bombay 1993 riots. The film, which explores more fundamental questions of religion, harmony, relationships and human suffering, has been declared a classic by critics and fans alike.
Delving deeper into the connection between South Indian cinema and politics, Ratnam made Iruvar (1997), followed by Dil Se.. (1998), his first Hindi film. Based on insurgency in northeast India, it told the story of a radio executive, a revolutionary and a tragic mission. With an excellent cast, beautifully crafted scenes and A. R. Rahman's spectacular score, it is held as ahead of its time and a contemporary classic.
He returned to familiar ground with Alaipayuthey (2000), which tackled the story of a couple in love who go through the trials and tribulations of marriage. Kannathil Muthamittal (2002), the tale of an adopted girl meeting her terrorist mother, saw Mani Ratnam back in form as one of the greatest storytellers in Indian Cinema. His next film, Yuva (2004), saw Ratnam return to Hindi cinema after six years (it was simultaneously released in Tamil as Aayitha Ezhuthu), telling the poignant and powerful story of three young men from disparate backgrounds brought together by a single event.
Mani Ratnam is lives in Chennai with his wife and collaborator, Suhasini Maniratnam, a respected and decorated actress, writer, director and producer in her own right, and their son, Nandan.