Mani Ratnam On ‘Kaatru Veliyidai’ and 25 Years With AR Rahman

Movie making maverick Mani Ratnam is ready with his new Tamil film Katru Veliyedai, which opens in theatres next week. The prolific and altogether terrific filmmaker reveals more about his upcoming film, his journey with AR Rahman and lots more, in this interview.

Q: You have no idea how excited we are about your new film. What do you think is the secret recipe for your astounding longevity as a filmmaker of enduring appeal?

Mani Ratnam: Ha! Glad to hear that you are excited about my new film Kaatru Veliyedai. Feels good to hear that. I must be doing something right. But sincerely, there are so many filmmakers who have made films till the very end. There are so many film makers now, all over the world, who are doing great films, irrespective of their age. That gives you enough courage to reach for the sky. You will never reach it, but no harm in trying.

Q: Kaatru Veliyedai (KV) is your first film in two years and the second love story in a row. As you grow older, are you gravitating towards themes about young romance?

Mani Ratnam: Filmmaking is a strange business. After OK Kanmani I had planned and almost went on floor with a completely different project. The casting did not fall into place. So, worked on a second one and somehow, that didn’t fall into place either. Then KV happened. The other two films that I planned were not love stories.

Q: What was the triggering point for KV that impelled and attracted you towards the subject?

Mani Ratnam: The characters, maybe. The shades of people that you come across. The relationships you see in real life. Unlike OK Kanmani, KV lends itself to a classical form. So it is very different from the previous film in tone, texture and scope.

Q: Karthi and Aditi look gorgeous together. What made them right for the roles of a pilot and a doctor?

Mani Ratnam: With Karthi, the casting is a bit against the grain. But that is what adds to the charm, I think. He plays a character who is so different from his real self, that he had to discover the person as we went along. I think that pushed him as an actor and me as a director, to be able to bring out nuances and flesh out the role better.

Q: And the beautiful Aditi Rao Hydari?

Mani Ratnam: Aditi's part was tough. To begin with, she had to learn Tamil dialogues. She had to put in a tremendous amount of hard work, which she did. And then, the film relies very heavily on her character. Aditi had to be very real and very convincing. I think she carries the film.

Q: I believe the two actors actually learnt a bit of their vocations. How do you rate the level of dedication in Karthi and Aditi as compared to your actors in the past, say Arvind Swami and Madhoo in Roja, or Mohan and Revathi in Mouna Ragam?

Mani Ratnam: All roles require preparation. Some characters have a peculiar requirement. Like Karthi is a fighter pilot in this one. We had to make sure that he was fully familiar when he sat in his cockpit. We should be convinced that he does this every day of his life practically. So it required extra effort. He had to learn a bit of flying. And he went to an airbase and was with the fighter pilots, just to get a glimpse of their routine, understand their mind-set, and their attitude. Aditi needed to know the basics well when she examined a patient at the hospital. Though we had doctors on set to guide us, it was necessary for her to spend a few days at the hospital, before we started the actual shoot. So some roles do need a bit more of physical homework, whereas a role like Abhishek Bachchan’s Lallan in Yuva needed a lot more mental preparation.

But I think all actors, given a chance, bring their best to the table.

Q: Tell me, of all the fabulous actors that you've worked with, whom have you enjoyed working with most?

Mani Ratnam: The children in Anjali and all the other films, where they’ve worked with me.

Q: Many including me consider Kamal Haasan in your Nayakan to be the most monumental performance by any actor in your cinema. Do you agree with that?

Mani Ratnam: Have you watched Kokila, Mundram Pirai, Avargal, Swathi Muthyam, Michael Madana Kamarajan… I could go on. He has done so many and Nayakan is one of them for Kamal. In my films, I have been lucky to have quite a few great actors.

Q: When do we see you and Kamal ji come together again.

Mani Ratnam: When and if it happens, I suppose.

Q: Speaking of Nayakan, there was an awful Hindi remake, Dayavan. Your films are being perpetually vandalised by filmmakers. How do you react to such vandalism of your work?

Mani Ratnam: If I were to remake some film, and hopefully I won’t ever have to, I would do it my way. Retain the spirit of the original, but execute it in the way I feel convinced it should be done. So, good or bad I am on the filmmaker’s side.

Q: Coming back to KV, the film's look is bathed in a kind of radiant glow, suggesting intense passion. What was your required mood and colour palette for this film?

Mani Ratnam: Like every other element, colour is also a storytelling tool. It is not a standalone entity; it goes with the lensing, the angles, the location, the production design and the costume design. As a director you use all the help you can get from each of the departments to tell your story a bit better. To create a mood, and rhythm in the overall flow. But what rules is the content and the way it is performed. In KV, DOP Ravi Varman was a huge part of the storytelling.

Q: You and AR Rahman... 25 years of blissful confluence... how do you explain the sublimity and spirituality of the sound that Rahman saab generates in your cinema? Which among the great Rahman soundtracks of your cinema is your favourite, and why?

Mani Ratnam: Dil Se is my favourite. And like all things that are favourites, you can’t attribute a simple set of reasons. The concept of ‘favourite' is more an irrational emotion than a rational one, I think.

Q: Now that KV is just weeks away what are your thoughts on it? Are you satisfied with the way it has shaped up? Where do you place it in your oeuvre?

Mani Ratnam: Subhash, I will leave you to answer this question after you see the film.

Q: Fair enough. When do we see you return to Hindi filmmaking?

Mani Ratnam: Very soon, hopefully.

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