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Interview excerpts from Mantra Online.comMani Rathnam                                                    

Mani Rathnam - "Violence is not a prerequisite ffor my cinema"

Hindol Sengupta (IANS)

He has been called South Asia's greatest storyteller of human strife, but behind his solemn golden-rimmed spectacles, director Mani Rathnam prays for peace.

Your films have been tremendously successful in translating human strife and suffering into cinema. Comment.

I've tried my best to tell the human story behind the blazing fires, beyond the hatred. Yes, my films have been successful, yes they've brought me fame and fortune, but no more.

But how come you focus mainly on the subject of terrorism and violence?

Violence is not a prerequisite for my cinema, I just told stories about violence because it is happening. Anyway, my films always look at violence as the backdrop of love, and I would much rather talk only of love, without the backdrop. I pray that there is peace and I promise to make wonderful films about peace.

You have indeed come a long way off from the career that you had initially planned.

Indeed. From a business management degree from the Jamnalal Bajaj institute in Mumbai to becoming a movie director has been a paradigm shift in my career path. Not very orthodox I must add.

Your controversial film Bombay put you in the line of fire. Something that perhaps would not have happened if you had stuck to management.

Specially in 1995, when bombs were hurled at my residence after the release of Bombay, which retold the gory tale of communal riots that had torn apart India's business capital of Mumbai a couple of years before. The milder critics had accused me of trying to promote a kitsch communal harmony (the lead characters were a Hindu boy and Muslim girl in love), and the most vitriolic threatened to kill me for showing Hindu hardliners inciting rioters. I had to tell these stories, through them I've responded as a filmmaker and a human being, and the same human being is repulsed by the violence. How can reality be controversial?

Comment on the tag of being a controversial filmmaker.

I do not make controversial films. Some people make them controversial for their own reasons. What I just do is try to look at the problems of our society from a new perspective. Roja, Bombay and Dil Se.. have told the story like it is.

With Kashmir being in the spotlight your film Roja too is being looked at with a renewed interest.

Quite right. With Kashmir increasing in world focus, there has been great renewed interest in the film. I plan to market a subtitled version of the film across the world.

While highlighting the problem the macro level you also focus on the individual strengths and weaknesses of your characters at the micro level.

Roja (meaning rose) was about my kind of heroine who is demure but determined. People are always special -- from the disabled child in Anjali to the Amudha in Kannathil Muthamittal (A peck on the cheek), which deals with the Tamil insurgency in Sri Lanka.

Your focus has shifted from Kashmir to Sri Lanka. Comment.

Sri Lanka has been happening in the backward of Tamil Nadu for decades. But I never thought of making a film on it until I found this story. The film that depicts a young girl's search for her guerrilla mother fighting for a Tamil homeland in the island nation.

You use dollops of song and dance in an otherwise serious film. Why?

Some say you can't be serious filmmaker and still use songs and dance but they are our heritage as Indian filmmakers. We can't be ashamed of it.

Indo-Asian News Service

Interview excerpts from All Indian

I am a pucca commercial director

Mani Rathnam, who gave such memorable films like Roja, Bombay, and Sakhi, in now back with Amrutha, This film is a continuation of Mani Rathnam's tryst with terrorism as it is woven around the LTTE brand of political violence. Of course, his fascination with human relationships is all too evident in Amrutha as well. Mani Rathnam, who was here on the eve of the film's release, was all praise for Hyderabad. An informal chat with the renowned director.

What is Amrutha's storyline?

Since the film is going to hit the screen on February 14, don't you think it would be nice to discuss about it after the release? Basically it's a story of human relationships revolving around a kid called Amrutha.

Why do you always go in for themes that revolve around terrorism? Your films Roja, Dil Se.. and Bombay had similar themes.

I react to things that happen all around me and make them into movies. I try to interpret it and provide solutions in my own style.

There was a bomb attack on your house after Roja... Can one stop being creative just because of such attacks?

As a director I have a responsibility towards the society and I try to discuss contemporary problems in my own way.

You did not go in for multi-starrers after Dalapati. Any reasons?

I choose the stars to suit the storyline. I believe that right casting is 50 per cent of direction. Dalapathi demanded big stars. So I went ahead and cast well-known stars. I strongly believe that story is something that has to come from deep within and not something that is haphazardly concocted.

All your films seem to have a first-night song...

Songs are links between one scene and the other and should be an integral part of the story. It should help the story in its natural progression.

Yours films can be called commercial films that look like art films. What according to you is the difference between the two?

I am pucca commercial director. The same story can be told in many ways. But I like the main stream films. However, I try to retain the sensitivity. All my films were commercial films, though some of them were not commercially successful.

You seem to like working with kids. You made Anjali, Amrutha and Bombay with children as central characters. Any special reason for this preference?

I derive more satisfaction working with kids, Also unlike the big stars they do exactly what you want them to do.

Why aren't you making a film for the international audience like the way Shekhar Kapoor did?

For any cinema, the canvas is dependent on the storyline. I am only trying to place local sentiments and human relations in perspective. Our films have already crossed territorial limits. That is no mean achievement.

Your wife Suhasini is great actress in her right. But you never gave her an opportunity to work in your films...

(Laughs) I asked her to work in my first film. She rejected the offer. So I am not going to give her another chance.

Interview excerpts from

There is a magnetic quality about Mani Rathnam's movies, which stems from his art of story telling and innovative techniques. Every frame in his films will have a lyrical quality in it. Maniís latest release Kannathil Muthamittal has been getting rave reviews. The film reassures you that good cinema is still alive and throbbing despite the moribund state of mainstream cinema in India.

Mani, Indiaís number one director met at his aesthetically done Alwarpet office in Chennai, and talked about his style of filmmaking. Excerpts:

Congratulations on getting the ĎPadmashrií and making a wonderful film like Kannathil Muthamittal.

Thank You. Nice to know that Kannathil Muthamittal is being appreciated. I am very happy with the way the film has been accepted.

Have you finally made the kind of film you wanted to?

Yes. The audience are ready for a change. I make mainstream films that are sensible, logical and have characters that are natural.

Have you lost any of your ideals?

(Laughs) No, I still try to hold on to them. Have I made any compromise in Kannathil Muthamittal? Success can be alluring but no way will I compromise on my goals, conviction and belief.

Was Kannathil Muthamittal on terrorism or adoption?

It was definitely on adoption, set in the backdrop of terrorism-ridden Sri Lanka, where there are many more Amuthaís searching for their roots. Actually an article in the Time on adoption motivated me to do the film.

Are you fascinated by terrorism? All your films like, Roja, Bombay, Dil Se.. and now Kannathil Muthamittal had terrorism in the background. Please Comment.

Terrorism does not fascinate me in fact it worries me. Look, what is happening now in Gujarat? It is a reflection of our times. Terrorism is all around us and we are living with it. Some solution has to be found to it, so that we live in peace and without fear.

What is your political ideology?

I am a rationalist. I would like to define myself as an average citizen with a lot of angst.

Now, let us move to your art of filmmaking. In your films what is the driving force or the most important aspect?

The most important thing is the passion to make good cinema and a story to tell. The way I do a film is like writing. I make it a point to blend the story and discuss it with my wife. I always do that as she helps me with my scripts. Story is of paramount importance. I also bounce the story idea with my friends.

How do you manage to take so much out of your technicians?

All of them are good in their own fields. But for me the most important thing is that they should be in the same wavelength. When I discuss the story and shot with them, they are also able to give inputs for the betterment of the film. The film as a whole is the most important factor for me.

You are known to get the best performance out of children, Anjali, Bombay and now Kannathil Muthamittal?

Kids are real, natural and spontaneous. The problem is actually to get the correct children. After that it is easy to work with them.

They say you can get even a wooden actor to emote. Please comment.

(Smiles) I have a passion for getting my shots correct. I never act out my lines for artistes, I just tell them to be real and genuine. My idea is to make the scene work. I tell them that it is two of us together which will make the character.

There is a feeling that Madhavan apes Shah Rukh Khan a lot. What do you think?

I have worked with both of them and have never felt so. Madhavan has improved leaps and bounds from Alai Payuthey to Kannathil Muthamittal as an actor.

Tell me, how do you get such good music out of A R Rahman?

Rahman is every directorís dream. Before I start a film, as soon as the story is ready we discuss the situations where songs can be incorporated. If I am not happy with a tune, Rahman will dump it and create a new one. He has no ego problems and tries to come out with a new number with the same kind of passion with which he did the earlier one.

So, What will be your next project?

I have not even thought about it.

Did you have a meeting with Aamir Khan?

Yes. I did meet Aamir sometime back. And discussed in general about films. Sometime in future if I have a script suitable for him and if he likes it, then there is a possibility of doing a film with him.

Interview excerpts on Kannathil Muthamittal.

Mani Rathnam is a man associated with realistic cinema. So much so that every film of his has been compared with incidents that take place in society. Roja, Bombay, Uyirae (Dil Se..) and now Kannathil Muthamittal (A peck on the cheek) starring R Madhavan, Simran, Nandita Das and J D Chakravarthy.

We meet the man who is in town to promote Kannathil Muthamittal, which narrates the Sri Lankan conflict through the eyes of a girl.

Mani Rathnam and realistic cinema are inseparable ...

It is not just me. There are so many people.

But very few manage to make realistic films within the parameters of commercial cinema

That is true. I have always tried to retain the sensibilities within the domains of mainstream cinema.

A bomb was dropped into your house, because you have been tackling real subjects

I am fighting against these very things when making a film. Why should I stop? Anyway, that matter is a little old now.

After Roja, Bombay and Uyirae, why a film on the Sri Lankan conflict?

Why not? It is happening behind my house. I react to such situations in the same manner as you do. I do not react differently. The incidents trouble me. It is as relevant to me, to you, a newspaper or any other media.

What went wrong with Dil Se..?

I donít know.

Was it the language?

I donít think so.

Why are you making more films in Tamil then?

It is easy to cater to a regional audience and its tastes. They are not so varied and they accept changes faster.

I beg to differ. Your films have found lot of patronage among the Hindi belt too.

I was just giving you my opinion. Maybe, you are right.

One query about Lagaan have you seen it? What do you feel?

I really hope it wins. It is a brilliant film. The characters are well etched and the screenplay is very good. The quality of writing is really remarkable.

The girl in your film Keerthana, the daughter of Parthiban and Sita, has done extremely well.

Indeed. She is a brilliant actress. She is so natural that you donít have to work hard with her at all.

Any film in Hindi now?

I am working on a script. It depends on how it turns out and whether it is relevant to the Hindi or the Tamil audiences.

Interview excerpts from Deccan Herald on Dil Se..

At high noon, Mani Rathnam's showered and scrubbed in his club select Juhu hotel room. He looks the way he always has: blue jeans, striped handloom shirt, keds, and a bemused smile dancing on his face.

An assistant is jotting story ideas on paper sheets. Evidently a potential plot is already percolating. I detect and errant crease on the ace directorís forehead. Could he be a tad anxious about the impending release of his first Hindi film Dil Se..? Or am I just imagining the stress pangs? Ergo, the first question

Hello, are you trying to look cool when you're actually quite hassled?

Hassled? Who me? No, way, I'm fine. I always feel relieved on completing a film. You're excited when you start a project, but three-fourths of the way, you're desperate to reach the shore. Like it or not, although hands-on film-making is the priority, you also have to be something of a marketing and business person. You have to ensure that enough money is made to survive and bankroll your next film.

Did you opt for a Hindi film because your Tamil film Iruvar didn't fare well commercially?

No, there weren't any trade pressures at all. I opted for Dil Se.. because the story is set in the north. Earlier, I had to devise ways and means to place Tamil-speaking characters in the north, like Nayagan, Mouna Ragam, Roja and Bombay. (Laughs). Since I'd exhausted my bag of tricks, now I've gone for a straight Hindi film. In any case, it's not as if I've shifted bag and baggage to Hindi next project will be in Tamil once again. I didn't have to grapple with the Hindi dialogue. Though I can't speak the language fluently, I can understand it. I could also place my trust in the Hindi-speaking actors and let them come up with their own inputs.

What was the kick-off point for Dil Se..?

I canít put my finger on the kick-off point. Usually a story starts off with a random thought, a germ. You can spend a year rejecting hundreds of ideas and then reach a crucial decision when you know, yes, this is it. Iíd worked on another script for a sort of slice-of-life romantic film which starts where other love stories end. A couple fall in love, get married, and what happens. Maybe Iíll still make this story some day.

Are you afraid of your ideas being stolen?

(Laughs) Iím afraid of ideas being stolen when theyíre in the conceptual stage. If theyíre stolen after Iíve finished a film then Iím flattered.

From the look of things, Dil Se.. seems to be a mix of Roja and Bombay.

Itís probably that. Itís the last of a trilogy on personal relationships against the political backdrop of India today.

What is the India of today?

I wish I knew. No one can define it, you can just reflect on the conflicts. What bothers me most are those nuclear tests. But no, it wonít be the subject of my next script. I donít want to get stuck on topical themes. For a film-maker to remain alive and kicking, variety is essential.

Would you make a sex comedy then?

(Laughs uproariously) Why not? Thatís an idea, so donít accuse me of stealing it. But seriously, Iíd love to make films of every genre. India is capable of making those blockbuster disaster movies too though Iím not fond of them personally, unless they have a sub-text like that tidal wave episode in Akira Kurosawaís Dreams. As for Titanic, what can I say? It was just a lovely Hindi film.

Can you truly make the kind of films you want to?

Not always, but Iím getting there. The snag is that you have to work in form thatíll reach a large audience. Iím trying to give up some of the safety elements like the conventional format of story-telling where everything have to be explained and underlined. I still enjoy incorporating songs though. The solution is not to be apologetic about them but to let yourself go.

Like shooting Chhaiya Chhaiya for Dil Se.. atop a moving train?

Sure! I felt absolutely liberated shooting that song. A song sequence by its very nature is absurd so you might as well enjoy yourself while it lasts and make others break into a jig to your tune. I break into a jig too, but only after the movieís over.

Was the no-show of Iruvar at the Box-Office a step back for you?

In a way, itís a no-show allowed me to start all over again on a clean slate. It did hurt when it didnít do well commercially. Still Iím extremely proud of Iruvar, I think itís my best film to date. I thought Mohanlal came up with an amazing performance. Frankly, I was disappointed he didnít win the National Award for it.

Jayalalitha has stated you made a hash of Iruvar.

Everyoneís entitled to his or her own opinion. In this case, the rest of Tamil Nadu also agreed with her.

Okay, are you satisfied with the way your casting turned out for Dil Se..

Iím thrilled. Shah Rukh Khan was thoroughly involved, treating the project like his own baby. And any other actress besides Manisha Koirala is unthinkable in her role. Yes, I did approach Kajol but that was for the earlier slice-of-life script which I abandoned.

Finally, how do you estimate yourself as a scriptwriter?

(Laughs) Iím fantastic! I love the struggle of creating a story which starts with one word on a sheet of paper and then starts flowing. I write my own scripts because I havenít found anyone who thinks and feels the way I do. A perfect rapport has to be established with the writer, which is as difficult as finding the right woman to marry and live with happily every after.