The contemporary era has seen more Tamil film makers alternate quite fluently and regularly across both Hindi mainstream cinema and indigenous concerns. Mani Ratnam’s work seems to suggest it is possible to maintain a successful parallel career. When directing a new project, Ratnam ensures he remains loyal to his Tamil roots by making two versions of the film; one in Hindi and the other in Tamil. Of course, this may seem logistically complicated and expensive but it underlines the increasing demands placed on regionally specific directors who have to cater to a range of audiences rather than just the traditional mainstream collective. Inevitably, a revealing critical dichotomy exists in the recent work of Ratnam as usually the Tamil versions seem to be superior to the more compromised sensibilities of his mainstream Hindi films.
Director Mani Ratnam was born in Madras, 1956. His father, Venus Ratnam, was a successful film producer whilst his older brother was a distributor. Though Ratnam graduated with a Business degree, it seemed somewhat inevitable that he too would make cinema his foremost vocation. Debuting in 1983 with a light hearted melodrama, Pallavi Anupallavi starred a young Anil Kapoor. Ratnam’s early work showed his ability to work across regional cinemas, making films in the languages of Kannada, Malayalam (Unaroo, 1984) and Telugu (Geentanjali, 1989). One of the reasons why Ratnam has been able to keep ahead of the Bombay film industry is that he built up an early reputation for setting high technical standards and ‘invested heavily in the acquisition of technologically sophisticated equipment.’ (Rajadhyaksha & Willemen 1994: 183) Perhaps it is off little surprise that the South Indian film industry has arguably produced some of the best cinematographers, editors and composers of the last twenty years, many of whom have been courted by mainstream Hindi film projects.Modelled on Coppola’s The Godfather (1972) and featuring Kamal Hassan in the lead role, Nayakan (Hero, 1987) was the breakthrough. Taking its inspiration from the true life story of Bombay gangster Varadarajan Mudaliar, Nayakan’s powerful depiction of the underworld prefigured Vidhu Vinod Chopra’s Parinda (1989) whilst going on to influence Ram Gopal Verma’s Satya (1998). Rajadhyaksha & Willemen argue that Nayakan ‘draws on 30 years of Tamil Nadu’s star/politician images and directly plays to Tamil people’s anti-Hindi feelings’. (1994: 444) In this context, even though Ratnam may have been considered an iconoclast, very few Tamil film makers have been able to maintain a distance from the influential politics of the DMK party.
Ratnam followed the critical acclaim of Nayakan with a string of commercially successful films including Agni Nakshatram (1988) which appropriated MTV aesthetics. Though Nayakan had already attracted noticeable attention from the Bombay film industry, it was Ratnam’s controversial 1992 film Roja (The Rose, 1992), which received a nationwide release and saw him shift the ideological agenda away from regional preoccupations and ‘take on the role of addressing national issues – namely the rise of separatist and independence movements within India’s borders’ (Chaudhuri, 2005: 162) in his triptych on terrorism. Roja was equally significant in terms of Ratnam’s debut collaborations with gifted cinematographer Santosh Sivan and more strikingly music composer A. R. Rahman who has scored most of Ratnam’s films. If Roja tackled the politically contentious issue of Kashmir then Bombay (1993) provocatively switched the focus to communalism and the 1993 Bombay riots in which Hindu fanatics spurred on by the twisted nationalist sentiments of the Shiv Sena destroyed the Babri Mosque, leading to widespread anti-Muslim persecution.
Mani Ratnam (born Gopala Ratnam Subramaniam on 2 June 1956) is an Indian film director, screenwriter and producer, predominantly working in Tamil cinema, based in Chennai, India. Born into a Tamil Brahmin family in Madurai, Ratnam worked as a management consultant before entering into the film industry. He made his directorial debut with the Kannada film Pallavi Anu Pallavi in 1983, and followed this with the Malayalam film Unaru (1984) and the Tamil film Pagal Nilavu (1985). Ratnam came into prominence after Mouna Ragam (1986), a film about the friction between a newly–wed couple. He made his Telugu debut with the National Film Award winning Geethanjali (1989), which was critically acclaimed and a major commercial success. Ratnam is also known for his "Terrorism trilogy" consisting of Roja (1992), Bombay (1995) and Dil Se.. (1998). He is widely regarded as one of the leading directors in Indian cinema. Ratnam is widely credited with having revolutionised the Tamil film industry and altering the profile of Indian cinema.
Ratnams Nayagan (1987) and Anjali (1990) were submitted by India for the Academy Award consideration in the category of Best Foreign Language Film. His Tamil film Nayagan along with Satyajit Rays The Apu Trilogy (1955–1959) and Guru Dutts Pyaasa (1957) are the only Indian films to have appeared in Time magazines All-Time 100 Greatest Movies.Ratnam is married to actress Suhasini. In 2002 he was honoured with the Padma Shri, the fourth-highest civilian award given by the Government of India. Ratnam has won several film awards, including six National Film Awards. In addition to these, he is a recipient of a number of awards at various International film festivals. He has also been instrumental in organizing Netru, Indru, Naalai, a stage musical which has helped mentally affected women and children.
Early years: 1983–85
Unlike many film-makers, Ratnam neither assisted in film-making nor worked as a cinematographer before making a name for himself in the industry. He made his directorial debut in 1983 with the Kannada film Pallavi Anu Pallavi, which starred Anil Kapoor and Lakshmi.The film explored the relationship between a young man and an older woman. Ratnam persuaded acclaimed director and cinematographer Balu Mahendra to serve as his cinematographer. Ratnam s screenplay won a Karnataka State Film Award for Best Screenplay.His second film was a Malayalam production titled Unaru. It explored the trade union problems in Kerala.His next film, Pagal Nilavu starring Murali and Revathi, marked his directional debut in Tamil cinema.The same year, he directed another Tamil film Idaya Kovil, a romantic drama which proved to be a major box-office success.