The rise and rise of Mani Ratnam – I

Circa 1985. A movie produced by Sathyajothi Films introduced a new director to Tamil cinema. The film was sold on the star power of its leading stars Murali and Revathi. Also the curiosity was raised by the presence of Sathyaraj, who was then a fast rising super villain. Of course there was Illayaraja. There were also Sarathbabu, Radhika, Nizhalgal Ravi and Arvind to boost the market prospects of the film. Nobody bothered about who the director was and the film did above average business at the box office. No body cared for the director but after the film the debutante director was noticed as promising for his deft screen play and smooth narration. The film was ‘Pagal Nilavu’. The song ‘Poo Maalaiye.. Thol Serava…’ blending narration and melody was the most popular element of the film.
Circa 1985. Impressed with the new kid on the direction block, Kovai Thambi one of the most successful Tamil film producers of all time, signed the director for his new film. It had some of the most saleable stars of that time, Mohan, Ambika and Radha. The film was not enough for the new enterprising director but he did a decent job and the film was an average hit. Again the director was not taken into consideration while discussing the film. Later the director said he just did only what the producer wanted and his mind had role in the film. The film was ‘Idhaya Koil’. Thanks to Illayaraja again for his magnificent songs which rocks even today after 25 years.
Circa 1987. Not able to feed his frenzy for meaningful cinema the young director convinced his brother to produce a film for his sake so that he can prove who he is and show where he is heading to. The brother obliged and oh boy Tamil cinema got one of its best movies in 100 years. Superb story and screenplay threw up new challenges in depicting human emotions. This silent symphony really heralded the arrival of one of the most creative directors of Indian cinema ever, the one and only Mani Ratnam. The film was ‘Mouna Ragam’. Again Illayaraja was sizzling but Mani Ratnam made sure the film is called “A Mani Ratnam Film” for the first time. It still remains on of the most favourite of any film buff and remaind a leading favourite which handled human relations very sensitively.
From ‘Mouna Ragam’, the director of class never looked back and made the entire film industry look up to him. What followed ‘Mouna Ragam’ was nothing but sheer magic. Film after film Mani Ratnam was raising the bar of creativity. When ‘Nayagan’ came Mani had set standards for others to copy. It won a wave of awards. It was India`s official entry for the Oscars and Mani Ratnam became a brand. The following ‘Agni Natchathiram’ increased his youth following. It also liberated technical inhibitions with Sriram’s photography which was trend setting. Remember the glow around everything and everybody in Agni Natchathiram?
‘Anjali’ was another angle to human emotions. A first of its kind in Tamil cinema dealing with spastic children it touched many hearts. From ‘Thalapathy’ onwards Mani Ratnam’s films were either inspirations or adaptations from real life or beliefs.
‘Thalapathy’ was the biggest star assembling in Mani films then. A modern day adaptation of Karnan-Duriyodhanan friend ship ‘Thalapathy’ probed the relationship between friends. But the only discomfort in the successful journey was the break up of Mani-Illayaraja bonding. But not before ‘Thalapathy’ in 1991 which gave the song ’Rakkama Kaiya Thattu… which was voted the fourth most popular song ever in the world in a poll initiated by BBC World Service in 2002.
The duo who gave some of the best songs in modern Tamil cinema broke their ties and that paved way for another extra-ordinary relationship that of Mani Ratnam and A R Rahman. By the time ‘Roja’ in 1992 and ‘Bombay’ in 1995 struck gold with pan-India film lovers with good support from A R Rahman, every star who mattered in the Indian film industry started nurturing an ambition to do at least one film under Mani in their life time. From an aspiring actor to the Miss Universe aspirants Mani Ratnam was the ultimate destination.
So when the most beautiful girl in the world Aishwarya Rai, shunned all lucrative offers from Bollywood, waited for Mani Ratnam to introduce her in films nobody was surprised.


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