Learning on the Job

Mani Ratnam, who had wanted to run away within a week of joining films as a youngster, is now an icon. A new book talks about his cinema

For a young man belonging to a family which earned its living from movies — his father and two brothers were film producers — Mani Ratnam knew little about filmmaking. Three decades and 20 films later, the Chennai-based filmmaker has reached an uncrowded place at the top rungs of Indian cinema. Ratnam has recently collaborated with journalist Baradwaj Rangan in a book, Conversations with Mani Ratnam, on his life and cinema, and will soon wind up his new film Kadal. He talks about making bilinguals, censorship and stardom in this interview:

How did it all begin?

When I started, I didn't know how to make a film. I just knew I wanted to. My learning has been on the job.

Your first film was in Kannada, second in Malayalam, then one in Telugu and many in Hindi. How do you cross the language barrier?

It takes very little in India to go anywhere and understand what is required for that particular culture. If somebody from the UK can come here and make Gandhi, Slumdog Millionaire and A Passage to India, you should not hesitate to go from here to the Northeast and do a film. We have Shekhar Kapoor who made Elizabeth. Sometimes, an outsider's view helps. There are no rules in this game.

More recently, you did bilinguals where you shot films based on the same script but with a different cast in Hindi and Tamil simultaneously. Was it because you had a story for both languages or both markets?

Neither. A film these days takes two years for me. So, if I am to do one in Hindi and one in Tamil, between each film, it becomes four years. That was the only reason it was done. But bilinguals are a pain. I don't think I will ever do it again. It is too taxing and strenuous.

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