Monday, November 29, 1999

The Judgement Day

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Waiting for the verdict on Raavan, Mani Ratnam tells Dipti Nagpaul-D'Souza why he belongs to the groups called strugglersWith Raavan releasing today, how do you think it has turned out?As the director, I am so close to the project that all I can see is pixels and what needs to be set right. While making the film, you go by your gut, and depending on what you had started with, you try your best to stay close to it.Over the years, you have come to represent a certain kind of cinema. Are you happy with that image?To me, every film is like the first film. You still don't know how to get your story across and you try to get it close to being manageable. So if there is a group I would like to be associated with, it is that of strugglers.You balance commercial success and tasteful cinema.I don't see them as two different things. I love commercial cinema—the songs, the dance, the action, the entertainment. The commercial aspect is just about the pitch at which you tell the story—when you address a larger audience and at a pitch they will follow, it's termed as commercial cinema. That does not mean the film has to subscribe to bad aesthetics. Aesthetic is an individual call; you can decide which kind of cinema you want to make and the money you want to use, and then you choose what notes you play.How much of your creative process of filmmaking depends on instinct?The filmmaking process is largely logical. When you conceive an idea, the characters have a purpose, the events have a reason, the setting should be believable. But within that is a qualitative element which calls for instinct—how can I get all this to elevate from what is on the paper and create a moment that is magical. We filmmakers try to do it but mostly struggle to achieve.Is it also instinct that helps decide whether to make a film in more than one language, as you have with Raavan (Hindi) and Raavanan (Tamil)?I had not done a Tamil film in a long time. It's a market I've worked at for 20 years. So I didn't want to lose out on that audience and decided to share my film with them. But it is usually the setting that decides whether a movie can be made in two languages. Dil Se was set in the border states up North so Hindi was the right language for it. I made an exception with Roja, which is set in Kashmir. But now, when I've started making films in Hindi, if the subject is rooted up North, then I make it in Hindi. But if the subject is common, then I am open to making the movie in multiple languages.What is the toughest part of making a film in two languages?When you finish shooting a scene for one version, you think that now when you've got this right, all it will require is one more take for the other version. But the trouble is that you have to ensure with the second version that it at least matches the standards set by the first one. But if you better that scene in the second version, you have to think whether you should redo the first one to match up.How different is Raavan from Raavanan?They are both twins but not identical. They are individuals with their own features and presence. Since the actors are different as is the language, the interpretation, the flavour and the tenor varies too. For example, Beera's character in Raavanan can move into and out of poetry. But when we tried doing the same in Raavan, it seemed forced. In Raavanan, it was easier to place the poetry in because the audience is still rooted in that kind of literature.Though Raavan is a modern interpretation of the Ramayan, does it use the Naxalite issue as the backdrop?I would call Raavan a personal story about the characters and their relationships. It is a contemporary story set in a backdrop relevant today but which draws parallels with what must have been the setting of the epic. You can interpret it in whatever way you want.You are known to keep the same team for every film.I like to work with people who are as interested as I am in the story I am telling. To make a film is not just a technical exercise but fine art. Everything, be it editing or cinematography, adds to the performance. So I try to hit a rapport with people who share the same aim of trying to push ourselves and go beyond what we did before. I don't want someone to do what I want them to; I want them to bring to table what they have.What factors decide the casting for your film?If you can get an actor who fits the character, 50 per cent of the job is done. But you have to be aware of the commercial possibility of the actor too because if you have a huge star then you have to know you have a huge burden to carry. The third factor is that the actor should be on the same wavelength as me. We should like similar cinema, sensibility and working spirit. Comfort, on the other hand, is a bad word because if you are both comfortable, complacency seeps in. It is better when you are not comfortable because then you are both struggling to get hold of the character. So, say, if I have to work with Abhishek (Bachchan) again, then it is only when I have a drastically different character in mind for him.Do you fall victim to Friday jitters too?There is something you have spent two years of your life doing and now it is out there for people to see. You make a whole lot of assumptions as a narrator when you make a film—about the pace, what needs explanation and so on. All of that gets validated or negated on the day of the release. So it is important to me that I know if I, as a storyteller, have been able to communicate with the people. It is result time now, the judgment day."Mani doesn't reject anything. He's not the kind of guy who'll say 'I don't like this'. You have to go by experience and see it in his eyes what he means."—Oscar-winner musician A R Rahman"He is a great team player and that is where his strength lies. He views a film as a vision that is common to all and not as a personal project."—Writer-director Rensil D'Silva"With all directors you learn a bit about direction but with Mani Ratnam, you can't help but be awed into silence by how he pays attention to the minutest of details."—Actor Vikram"Mani is a filmmaker who will never take away from you your contribution to a film. He never dictates but inspires you to think and bring forth the best you have."—Cinematographer-director Santosh Sivan

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