24 January 2013

Conversations with Mani Ratnam

Pages: 305, Price: 799
Author: Baradwaj Rangan
Knowing how reticent filmmaker Mani Ratnam can be, one has to congratulate writer and reviewer Baradwaj Rangan who gets the maker to articulate so well in his book, 'Conversations with Mani Ratnam' that released last month.
Rangan is an erudite film critic whose reviews stand apart from the rest as cerebral and nuanced pieces . Not everyone finds his writing style accessible, and yet, his is an opinion always worth having.

The writer originally had plans of going ahead with a standard narrative style with quotes from the maker. But after their initial few exchanges, both decided to opt for a Q&A format. This could have been dicey if the filmmaker had not opened up in the manner that he does. But as it turns out, Ratnam seems to have accorded due importance to the project and was closely involved with it.
Expectedly, Rangan is the right man for the job. It's easy to see that he is an ardent admirer of Ratnam's cinema. In an age where good Indian films are a rare occurrence, and thinking filmmakers a disappearing breed, Ratnam stands out as an auteur whom a  reviewer like Rangan would quite naturally engage with.
Mani Ratnam during the conversation seems at times impatient with Rangan for reading too much into individual scenes and situations in his films, and you smile knowingly. However, as you read further, you realise that much of what you see in his cinema is indeed well-thought out, with sub-text and so on. So him chiding Rangan for it seems amusing.
The two get on quite well, though Rangan's reverential tone is clear. At some places the director gets defensive about a certain point of criticism even if Rangan words it most tactfully. Then the atmosphere gets a bit heated up, with the filmmaker getting slightly cutting in his remarks. But for most part, Mani seems like a sharp, astute man, sometimes sarcastic but with a rough affection that is somehow touching. Much like how he depicts his male characters even when they are in love.

Rangan too plays his part admirably. He is unfailingly respectful but never desists from his line of questioning when he can help it. He persists with some points to seek answers even when Mani appears to snub it in the first attempt.
Many illuminating points come up in the book for the reader. Like why he takes the action to Delhi in 'Mauna Ragam'. It is because, he replies,  the new place - cold, strange and alien - enables in externalising the heroine's feelings about her marriage.
In 'Ravanan' - the beautifully surrealistic scene of Aishwarya falling from the cliff - works sublimely to show Vikram falling fatally in love with her.
The book talks a great deal about the craft of filmmaking, which will be of much interest to film students or even movie buffs who watch cinema with some intensity. But not everyone will summon up enough patience to go through the whole book. Divided into several parts, each section talks about one major film. This is a good move. Though the content overlaps and this could not have been helped in a free-wheeling conversation, it allows the reader to skip a certain film he hasn't seen.
I was also not particularly interested in detailed analysis of films that I didn't think very highly of. And since a great many of Mani's films do tend to be emotionally less satisfying in the end, where something somewhere seems to go wrong, the superb parts never adding up to a fulfilling whole, I must confess to getting a little exhausted with  the exercise.
Still, this is a valuable endeavour and these conversations from an intellectually gifted filmmaker like Ratnam with undeniable prowess in his field is something worth preserving.

1 comment:

Ravi said...

Nice review of the book.

I read it recently.
I found the interviewer to be somewhat immature. Although he seems to be well-read and wordy.

Mani was very interesting though.