Learning on the Job

Mani Ratnam on why he can't make a film with Amitabh Bachchan or Rajinikanth and the censorship process in India.

For a young man coming from a family which earned a living from movies (his father and two brothers being film producers), Mani Ratnam knew little about the process of filmmaking. But three decades and 20 films later, the Chennai-based filmmaker has reached an uncrowded place that is occupied by only select members of his tribe. Mani has just finished collaborating with journalist Baradwaj Rangan to bring out his story in a book called Conversations with Mani Ratnam, and is about to wind up his new film Kadal. Excerpts from an interview with The Indian Express:

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. It is fundamentally very similar. 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 North East 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 a different cast, simultaneously in Hindi and Tamil. 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 bilingual is a pain. I don't think I will ever do it again. It is too taxing and strenuous.

You are always asked when you will work with Kamal Haasan , Rajinikanth or Amitabh Bachchan. Will it happen in the near future?

Very difficult. Because they are huge stars and have done everything under the sun. So unless I can find something new, I will not go anywhere near them. I can't go ask any one of them 'just do one role for me'. I have told Amitabh Bachchan in the past 'you are too big for me. I can't carry you'. The more talented an actor is, the more the demand for the role, which will bring that out of him, a character that will go to a shade that the actor has not done.

Do you think we, as a country, assign stardom too early?

I think we are a nation that likes heroes. Whether tribal leaders or our gods, heroes have always been there. We make stars of them very easily, then we expect them to be that, and still convince us as actors. Whereas in the West, there are sportsmen who carry that mantle to a great extent. There are a few who are huge stars, the rest of them stay actors and concentrate on that.

Having faced the possibility of getting an 'A' certificate for one of your films merely because the lead character a housewife sought divorce, how do you view the system of censorship in India?

We are not yet ready for self-regulation. It can't come overnight. We should grow up and be mature enough to be able to do that. I think we are in the process, at least debates are starting and questions are being raised.

To read the full interview, log on to www.indianexpress.com

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