Monday, February 12, 2007

Mani time

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.


Ludwig said...

Thanks for the links. I think 'Roja' was my first Mani Ratnam movie (in Telugu), so I never felt that there was a drop in quality etc., although in hindsight the whole flag-burning stuff in 'Roja' blows...

So the Mani Ratnam movies I have seen and mostly liked: 'Mouna Ragam', 'Nayakan', 'Geethanjali', 'Anjali', 'Alaipaayuthey', 'Kannathil Muthamittal'. The ones I've seen and not really liked wholly: 'Roja', 'Thiruda Thiruda', 'Bombay', 'Dil Se', 'Aayitha Ezhuthu/Yuva'.

If I had to see the following movies, what order should I see them in: 'Agni Natchathiram', 'Dalapathi', 'Iruvar'?

The Black Mamba said...

Good good. glad you brought this up. Like all good tam kids who has lived through the 80s and 90s I too have watched all Mani Movies.
I am a fan, and I too am disappointed.

I am sure there were references to Adyar and Mambalam etc that were missed in my first viewing of Agni Natchathiram. Or things about Delhi that were completely new to me in Mouna Raagam. But that was hardly the point - when Mani makes movies about people, they seem to be real, if only in a world that ain't real to you.

For me however, it is not Mani's well-known admiration for Kurosawa or less know, but obvious influence by the latin american directors like Iñárritu, that make him who he is.

What makes Mani stand out is the fact that, even a ten year old will realize the importance of good dialogues, screenplay and of course, cinematography and music composition - and child actors. :)

What are Mani movies without Balu Mahendra, PC Sriram, Ravi K. Chandran, Santosh Sivan, Rajiv Menon? Or Illayaraja and AR Rahman? Or Sujatha and Vaali? Or the niece from Alai Payuthey, Amuda in Kanathil, the lil' sis from Mouna Ragam? ...

And why is everyone just talking about the cool heroines, what about Karthik in mouna ragam, or Aravindsamy or Madhavan or even Siddarth or Surya? Which other tamil movie has heroes you really wanted to go out with ;) and not just sigh and say, its just a tamil movie, that is the way it will be.

I am glad Mani did not make Saathiya, he knows Madras, and he can make movies about it that are beautiful, but trying to make the same nuances work in bombay is not the same.

and ludwig: my 2 annas, that clearly depends on your mood, I would say,

Agni Natchathiram - for Karthik ;) to the college kid in you. to nostalgia for things you have never lived through.

Dalapathi - for Aravindsamy ;) And oh the rest.

Iruvar - Lyrical. you will not cringe when you see Ash here. Probly the one movie that really needs you to know more about tamilnadu than the others. political and with some good tamil poetry.

Veena said...

Luddo: Agree with BM. Agni Natchathiram for Karthik whose only better movie was Mouna Raagam. I mean, seriously, it makes you want to go out with the guy! Dapapathi again for Aravind Swamy - the only movie he actually looked good and God, was that good! Iruvar - it has some interesting poetry and people usually think highly of it - I am not a big fan because I know a little too much of Tam history and I am pissed off when I see its being botched up. But if you aren't too much into Tamland history, it will rank pretty high on your list.

BM: Hmm, quite a comment. Agree. Mani's success was also that he got all the right people in, I agree. Somehow I cannot think of a Nayakan without Ilayaraja or a Alai Payuthey without the neice. But I don't know man, Mani's biggest weakness is his heroines - other than for Revathy in Mouna Raagam or Sharanya in Nayakan, they were all completely random. But then again, they never had string roles - the only person I can think was Amudha but then she is a child actress.

Ludwig said...

Veena, BM

> Which other tamil movie has
> heroes you really wanted to
> go out with

What??! I cannot believe this. Neither of you wanted go out with Captain Vijaykanth? I'm flabbergasted and flummoxed.

Thanks for the pointers re: the order in which to approach Agni N., Dalapathi and Iruvar. Not being Tam and not having grown up in Tamizhnaadu, and only barely comprehending Sentamizh, I hereby declare myself less biased and more qualified than either of you at judging Mani saar's movies!

OK, OK. So what I'm saying I guess is, for someone who isn't exactly plugged to the gills in the Tamizh ethos, the mami-in-Mambalam, attai-in-Arumbakkam type look and feel that are purportedly part of his movies, doesn't probably register as much.

The two movies where I felt I could relate to the characters (somewhat):

Anjali - The kids running around the building bit. That was very good, I thought, even if Mani saar seems to have been 15 years too early in depicting the kids (i.e. the kids in Anjali seem more like kids today than kids in those days). Be that as it may, it was a totally plausible construction, took me back to my flat days, running around, maadilu love jodi type of scenarios abound.

Alaipaayuthey - Unlike Anjali (which I saw before I ever lived in Madras), this one struck a chord of some sort, for the Madras college days, even if we stuck our heads out of campus, like tentative turtles, only to feed, once a month or so. Perhaps not as strong as Anjali, but nevertheless...

Anyway, blabbering too much. What am I doing, sitting in Hyderabad, worrying about the Tamizh ethos (Pothos and Aramis)? ellaame bhagavad sankalpam...

Veena said...

Luddo: Captian prefers younger women, so we don't really qualify, we hear!

And I don't know. I say both of us are as qualified as you are in judging Mani saar as our connections to Chennai are very tenuous. The Chennai culture in general and the maami culture in particular that Mani seems to potray so well is very much a mystery to us as it is to you. Ofcourse we understand the language but thats about it. I am much more an expert in rural Chettinad(and its cuisine in particular) and as for BM, the kozhi pannais of the Coimbatore-Erode belt are her territory.

And Luddo, can you like not talk about your Madras college days and Alai Payuthey in the same comment? Its only the Loyola college types who get to talk about that, alright? Not you. Sorry.

And Anjali, yes, definitely. Malluland being full of love jodis running around, I could relate to this one. And seriously, a spastic child in the family at that time made it a little real.

If I have to pick a movie as my fav Mani movie, it would be a tough choice between Mouna Raagam and Nayakan but Nayakan would win, I think. Not sure how much of that can be attributed to Kamalhassan and Ilayaraja though. Somehow except for a few songs I never got the Mani-ARR connection.