Monday, November 17, 2003

In defence of Mani!

A couple of days ago, Lazy Geek had posted a humor laced viewpoint about one of Bala's interviews. A couple of people did not see the humor part of it and mini-flamed him for the post. It sort of escalated into something just short of a flame war and since my comments threatened to beat the record for the longest comment ever, I decided to post it on here.

Though I agree with comments that Guru should see Pithamagan with an open mind, I cannot agree with the criticism about Maniratnam.

First - I strongly oppose the use of the words "blatant copying". Those words are I think too strong in this context. If the words had been used for some of the recent Hindi movie - Qayamat or some of those Dino Morea, Bipasha Basu "almost-skin flicks", then I would whole heartedly agree.

And though I don't share this particular person's feelings about Mouna Ragam or Pagal Nilavu or Nayakan, I cannot help but notice that though he is criticizing Maniratnam, he seems to have not noticed that all that Guru recommends about Mani Ratnam are his movies of recent years, i.e. KM, Iruvar etc. Mani has come of age now. I dare someone to find any of those scenes/subjects that fir the term "blatant copying" in these movies, unless the same mistakes that a lot of people commit when they say that Thiruda Thiruda is copied from Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, are repeated.

See, all that was great about Mani's early efforts were the technical aspects. I think he cleverly used commercial elements, i.e. those time and tested stuff that is "blatant copying" to establish himself with his audiences. Do not know of anybody else who have taken the same path as Mani.

After 1991, he has moved to his own sphere. Thiruda Thiruda was an aberration - an experimental foot hold into almost a forgotten movie genre in India, something I would term the "Chase genre". It had 2 guys and a gal chased by the law - the similarities with Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, that many people claim that Mani copied from, end at this point. I personally like the movie for the tight screenplay and the fast pace. His terrorism trilogy + KM (what would u call something that has four parts, lol) appeared after 1991.Dil Se was the most "unreal" of the trilogy, but original never the less.

AP was the most innovative treatment of the most repeated theme in the history of Indian cinema. I would have wanted it to be released with proper subtitles rather than a remake like Saathiya whose dialogues did not carry the same punch. Some of the parts of AP that did not have dialogues carried more punch than Saathiya's equivalent scenes. Mainly that particular scene when Madhavan runs to Shalini's train, grabs her book and spouts lines lost all its sheen in Saathiya. At least Mani should have redone it in Hindi. Though I wondered before it was released whether Mani was actually ghost directing Saathiya, I lost all those doubts when I saw the finished product.

In spite of the Godfather inspired scenes in Nayakan and Agni Nakshatram, the movies were very good because the themes were original. He just used those "inspired scenes" to complete them, to keep the lay man interested. After making sure that he had established himself, he found no reason to resort to such gimmicks and hence you find his recent movies shorn of such gimmicks.

You should also remember that Idhaya Kovil was made at the height of the success of the SPB - IR - Mohan trio and aimed to exploit the success of this combination. And it did. I still cannot find what you have found "stupid" about Pagal Nilavu, because you have not mentioned your peeve with respect to this movie. You have just committed the same sin that you accused somebody of i.e. not substantiating what you claim.

I can tell you what is realistic about each and every movie of Maniratnam except Pagal Nilavu and Idhaya Kovil. I was very young when I caught these two movies and hence don't remember much about them. But for the rest, I can give you examples. You can find unrealistic elements too, but hey, we are talking about cinema here.

To answer questions about realism in Mani's movies, according to me, just look at the various relationships. In Nayakan - Kamal's potrayal of Velu Nayakar and his relationships with his children. Ruthless in business but otherwise docile and vulnerable. In Agni Nakshatram, the treatment of Vijaykumar's bigamy (Vijaykumar is bigamous in real life too?) and the simmering hatred between the two "families". Mounaragam again had excellent portrayals by Mohan and Revathy, but was a little ahead of times with the whole divorce thing.

Bala has chosen a completely different path. Of doing his own thing right from the word go. But this path has been made easier only because people like Mani Ratnam have primed the audiences to accept alternative modes of story telling, screenplays shorn of clich├ęs (though both Bala and Maniratnam have not been able to discard these cinematic elements completely, as the item numbers in their movies would indicate) and hence movies like Pithamagan or Sethu can do well these days, in spite of the best efforts of producers to derail these efforts. In fact, the rumor is that Vikram stepped in with money for Pithamagan after producers showed Bala the door after sometime. Hence this delay in finishing the movie.

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