Giving us some of the best film narratives that were beautifully captured and thoughtfully pieced together in the 90s, Mani Ratnam has indeed been amongst those visionary film directors whose films have managed to transfix our minds and made us ponder beyond the storylines.
Today, the man celebrates his 62nd birthday, and we use this occasion to celebrate the directorial genius that Ratnam has come to signify.
Through his trilogy of ‘politics paralleling people’ films, he made waves across the country for dealing with an extremely sensitive topic like terrorism and also bridging the north-south divide.
Roja (1992), Bombay (1995) and Dil Se (1995) were indeed unforgettable films made by Ratnam for obvious reasons like their soul-stirring compositions by musical virtuoso AR Rahman and brilliant cinematography by Santosh Sivan and Rajiv Menon.
But a few of the most undervalued aspects about these films have been the storylines and how Ratnam crafted narrative depictions way ahead of their time that deserve much more appreciation and discussion beyond just the ambit of film schools.
Let’s dissect each of these films, regarding the plot.
Ratnam could be called quite brave for weaving stories centered on human relationships against a backdrop of Indian politics and terrorism during a very turbulent period in India.
While Roja had its focal point resting on the insurgency and political turmoil in Kashmir, Bombay dealt with a near accurate depiction of the 1993 Mumbai blasts and its bloody aftermath on interfaith relationships and communal riots. And not to forget Dil Se, which saw a heartrending love story take birth in the milieu of insurgency in Northeast India.
Because these were issues even the people in power were reticent to broach about, it must have taken a great deal of courage for a promising filmmaker from the South to capture.
He succeeded in a realistic portrayal of the people who felt wronged owing to vested interests and even triggered many of us as the audience, to feel their pain and angst and even reason with it.
That is the true genius of visionary storytellers—to not just churn film after film for pure entertainment and revenue-garnering purposes but to send out a thought-provoking message that elicits public discourse and understanding of a situation from the perspective of the ‘other’ side.
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All three films have been fashioned as any other Bollywood film with their abundance of drama and songs, what makes them extraordinary besides gripping narratives and strong protagonists, is that Ratnam also bridged a glaring gap between the North and the South; people from all corners of the country watched each of his films.
To top it all, the musical renditions by Rahman made the films as iconic and unforgettable as they could get, to the extent that even today people quote songs from these films as some of his best compositions.
If you haven’t watched any of Ratnam’s films, best would be, to begin with the trilogy of Roja, Bombay and Dil Se.
For these aren’t just films that you would forget the moment they end, but instead, take you on a previously uncharted course of storytelling and visuals that would provoke a whirlwind of emotions and introspection that would never quite fade away.
Here’s us wishing the master filmmaker a very happy birthday and hoping that he would make more of such cinematic masterpieces.
(Edited by Shruti Singhal)