Bollywood

Book | Conversations with Mani Ratnam

There is a good chance that an avid film watcher in India would have seen at least one film by Mani Ratnam.

He has long been an integral part of Indian cinema making movies in varied languages, at regular intervals, and taking on issues and stories that are equally thought-provoking as they are entertaining.

My first experience with a Mani Ratnam film was Anjali. Although it wasn’t till recently that I realised he had directed the film, Anjali is one of the few movies that has stayed ingrained in the back of my mind ever since I watched a dubbed version in the early 90s.

One reason for this could be that the story revolves around kids, but some scenes still linger in my mind even after three decades of watching this film. If that doesn’t speak of Mani Ratnam’s brilliance, I don’t know what can.

Baradwaj Rangan, in his book Conversations with Mani Ratnam, takes a somewhat new approach at tackling the filmography of this prolific director.

Avoiding the route of a memoir, Mani Ratnam opens up to the author/critic/editor about his love for cinema. He then takes the reader on a journey into the workings of film, from the time the idea of the story germinates till the film’s release.

The success of the book lies in the fact that the author is equally passionate about Mani Ratnam’s films as is the Director when it comes to cinema. This passion, shared by both individuals, is what forms the crux of Conversations with Mani Ratnam.

The book’s format features a step by step look at the films that have defined Mani Ratnam. Rangan is meticulous with his research as he questions the director, linking characters from different movies and talking about specific elements -for example, trains – which form an integral or symbolic part of his films on a regular basis.

Mani Ratnam remains one of the more fascinating directors of the last few decades because he has had the inclination and opportunity to direct in different Indian languages during his career. That he receives high respect from actors and producers from various regional film industries makes him quite the desired entity in the business. Ever since discovering his regional, non-Hindi, films, I have had a strong urge to venture into this part of his career that until now remained unknown to me.

The book in that respect manages to pull the reader, no matter which regional cinema they follow, into the world of Mani Ratnam that is full of music, stories, and above all, a sense of honesty and want to show society a mirror through his films.

Mani Ratnam and Baradwaj Rangan, both stay clear of any scandals and name calling during their conversations. That for me makes the book stand out, for it remains true to the art of cinema, forgoing the need to sell more books by using gossip as an instigator.

Instead, what it focuses on are the various collaborations that Mani Ratnam has had over the years in the field of photography, music, and even story writing. What this also means is that on the outset the book is mainly going to appeal to film enthusiasts. But, in its defence, the book is presented in an easily readable fashion and helps the reader relate more to the films by giving a short synopsis of each movie under the spotlight.

My initial hesitation lied with the fact that I did not know Mani Ratnam’s regional films, but once again, the conversations flow so seamlessly between the director and the author that it doesn’t matter which film is being discussed. It becomes easy for the reader to immerse themselves in the power of cinema by being privy to what might initially seem merely a talk between two avid cinema fans.

One of the most exciting aspects of the book was realising, in reading the conversations, that sometimes critics or the audience dissect a scene so much that they see a particular meaning behind it all.

It can range from individual character studies to the type of music used in scenes. Mani Ratnam breaks this thought process by suggesting that at times a scene is just a scene and there is no hidden meaning behind it all.

Questioning Baradwaj Rangan on this very topic in my interview with him, he is quick to counterpoint saying that it’s not always necessarily what the director wanted or did not want, but at times the audience can take away a lot more from the film than what was initially intended by the filmmaker.

Conversations with Mani Ratnam is a book not only about a director who lets his work speak for him. It is about the power of films and the tremendous amount of hard work that goes behind each movie. Most importantly, the book is about passion for cinema, a love that is shared by the author, the director, and each and everyone who is likely to pick up the book up and read it.

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I know you are wondering how a book on Indian Cinema ended up here, in the middle of a travel blog. Last year, around this time, I went off on a tangent and decided to focus on films, via reviews, which captured different aspects of life from across the world.

Similarly, I feel that Indian Cinema is an integral part of who we are here in this country. Most of us breathe movies, love them, and hate them, with equal passion.

Going to the cinema is second nature to Indians. It is a chance for the family to enjoy a “masala blockbuster” together. A way for lovers to hide in the darkness of the theatre for some intimate time. And of course, an opportunity to forget about real life and lose ourselves in the stories on the silver screen for a few hours.

So, this time I decided to feature books based on Indian Cinema that should hopefully give you an insight into what films mean to the people in India and also highlight some individuals who made “Bollywood” what it is – the largest film industry of the world.

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Note: This article contains Amazon affiliate links. If you use these to buy the book, you get it for no extra cost, while I get a small commission from Amazon in return. Thank you

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