In the maamidom that is Madras, the January depression blues do not hit until after the month. Once the kutcheri season is over, there's always Pongal to look forward to. Its only when Pongal is done with and all the new movies have been watched, does it set in. But by then, there are always other things to keep us occupied. We talk about Mani, for instance. Doz has an interesting post here about holy cows in general and Mani Ratnam in particular. B Rangan has an excellent piece here which makes any more conversation on Mani plain redundant. But hey, I am a blogger, I talk about redundant stuff, so here goes:
Rangan talks about some specific moments when we started realizing that Mani was not in his element anymore - Yes, by the flag scene in Roja, I, for one, was mourning the death of Mani as I knew him but it really wasn't the kidnapping scene when "I started shifting uneasily on my seat". It was a little before that. Because the Mani I knew was a slightly different Mani from the one Rangan's talking about. Rangan starts his post with "I am Tamilian. I am in my thirties. There you have it". I think that's missing a key point which is actually pretty obvious from the rest of his post. It should have been "I am a Tamilian. I am in my thirties. I am from Madras. There you have it." Because for those of us who do not really have any real connection to Chennaipattinam (or if you want to be little more general, to certain urban centers in Tamland), Mani was about how they lived. Those cousins and family friends and those strange people there. Not us. We too cut classes to see the first day, first show of Roja, and we too oogled at the first shot of Aravind Swamy smoking, perched on his car by the Ghats in Tirunelveli district, but we started shifting uneasily right then. Because we did not understand what (the hell) Mani was doing in Sundarapandipuram, of all places! He tried to do it again in Bombay and we were aghast but by then, we knew he was lost anyway. To get rural Tamland right, you need a Bharathiraja (of the 70s and 80s) or more recently, say someone like a Thangar Batchan (I am thinking only Azhagi here) or a Cheran (think first 30 minutes of Autograph). Mani saar, as much as I like him, cannot handle it. Not to say that he shouldn't venture into anything rural, just trying to make the point that the feeling that Chennaites get when you see Mani doing Pan-Indian films, it is not very different from the feeling we get when he tries to get into rural Tamland even for a short while.
I can see people who know me scratching their heads by now. When did I become an expert in rural Tamland? Yeah okay, lets just say that that's the only Tamland I know (except for a certain suburb of Coimbatore). And I know it well enough to know that I don't like the vellayappam they make in Tirunelveli. Fair enough? But anyway, that brings me to my next point. For those of us who grew up outside Tamland, we were also faced with the task of explaining our films to the people we live with. Now, this is a really easy task if you happen to live in the Bollywood belt and in Teluguland because well, do I really need to explain that? But if you happened to grow up in Malluland in the 80s / early 90s, its pretty much all uphill - this was literally the golden age of Mallu (mainstream) movies and you want to explain to an audience weaned on "Poochaikkoru mookuthi" and "Ramji Rao speaking" that Janakaraj in Agni Natchathiram was funny? That the movie, despite being a masala movie, is really cool in so many respects? Well, good luck. So anyway, I liked Mani until then because he was so easily defendable. You do not have to be a Chennaite, or even a Tamilian to appreciate a Mouna Raagam or a Nayagan. (Seriously, do you know anyone who didn't like these movies?) Mallus fell in love with Revathy (after all, she is Mallu) and cried along with Kamalhassan and agreed that yes, some Tamil movies are good too. (But if you have to know, they cried more for Sivaji Ganesan in Mudhal Mariyadhai.) Then Roja happened, and from then on, I dreaded going to school the day after a Mani movie opened.
So that's my Mani story. To tell you the truth, Mani was only going to take up one little paragraph and then I was going to talk about why I don't really like thayir saadham and filter coffee but I guess that will have to be part 2 now.