Mani Ratnam Curated

Director, Producer and Screenwriter

CURATED BY :  


  • How do you deal with writing blocks?

  • Your characters they are grounded, yet they have a global influence. This globalism, why do we find that it in a Mani Ratnam’s film?

  • In Tamil cinema world, people want to refer to a very local and regional kind of thing.

  • Do you wonder if these kind of, slightly alienating things to a regular audience, if they will play a factor in the way a film is released in a B and C center?

  • When you are making a movie, or writing a script, do you take into account the fact that different kinds of audience’s exist and the script has to talk to all of them?

  • When you say you want to talk in such a language that film reaches as many people as possible. What do you mean by language over here?

  • Even though you have the markets in mind, basically say something is interesting to you, something you want to work on.

  • When a film, like Kadal doesnt work and its a grown-up film, do you try to say, okay let me just do something like Agni Natchathiram . Does that kind of influence?

  • Do you think that you have stopped worrying about whether the market will accept a certain thing, or do you still like to push boundaries?

  • When you take a slightly delicate subject, do you think that you will show this much of that part because of the market? Do you think that it would have been a slightly different film, if the audience was different?

  • You have often said that you are a part of the audience and if you like to see a film today the audience will like it too. Given the films that have become blockbusters today, do you still feel you are a part of the audience?

  • Lets talk about Kaatru Veliyidai because from the trailor we are getting the feel of love plus war zone, which you have tackled before. What made you think that this is something you haven’t explored before, so lets do it now?

  • Is there any film of yours that you have actually wanted to make a sequel to?

  • You tend to gravitate towards the kind of relationship drama, so is there any desire inside you that is wanting to do a hardcore action film or a spy thriller, or a full length comedy?

  • Is there a genre that maybe you wont touch, like horror?

  • How lond does an idea stay with you before you start working on them? Like Kaatru Veliyidai, when did the idea start jumping?

  • You have made a lot of issue films, the issues that there are do you think it is what the film demands, or is it something that you want to show it to the audience and it is something which you think about it that you want to portray?

  • When you start sketching out the idea, do you say to yourself that let me start exploring this idea, I will find the story as I go along or do you get a beginning, a middle and an end first and then work?

  • How do you deal with writing when you aren’t being able to crack a scene?

  • Is there any film that did not have a title till the very last minute?

  • Is the first draft always done by you?

  • At what point did you begin showing your drafts to others?

  • How do you ensure that your team is giving you the right feedback and not an awe of Mani Ratnam? How can you tell that?

  • Has there been a film for which you didn’t get a positive response and yet you were convinced to go ahead with it?

  • You have said that you have worked on films for a long time, Alaipayuthey in this film, it took you a while to crack the ending. If the journey has been a long one then the culmination would be fairly easy. So what is it?

  • Be it Roja, Bombay, Dil Se/Uyire or Kannathil Muttamittal, your movies deal with contemporary issues. What issue does Yuva/Aayitha Ezhuthu deal with?

    Yuva is contemporary in that it deals with three youngsters, their attitudes. How today's youth, from three different backgrounds, deal with a situation. The film is set against student politics. When you make a film, the bigger picture is to take the heart of the story and managing to convey it on screen. That is the challenge.

  • Directors normally find it a nightmare to juggle just one cast, and here you have gone made the same movie twice, in Hindi and Tamil. What was your experience?

    I had two nightmares (laughs). I have not done this before, and the two movies were shot back to back, not simultaneously. I dealt with two different set of actors, and each brought its own changes. Filmmaking brings its own organic way of doing things, changes, it develops a character of its own.

  • Did you resort to this because in Dil Se/Uyire, the same cast speaking in two different languages did not gel with the audience, and that the north and south have their own sensibilities?

    Dil Se was dubbed into Tamil as Uyire. Dubbing a movie brings its own set of compromises, and you end up losing some of the elasticity.

  • Abhishek Bachchan plays Madhavan’s character in the Hindi version. There is a tremendous buzz about him even though box-office success has so far eluded him. What is your take on him?

    I am very happy with Abhishek Bachchan. He has played a very interesting character, and the rest you will see for yourself.

  • Yuva is a youth film. Although your films are young, two of your previous films — Thiruda Thiruda and Alai Paayudhey — also had youth in the centre. Did your experiences with those two movies impact on how you shaped Yuva?

    No impact. Once you identify the script and characters are formed, the whole thing just drags you in. There is no baggage. The most important thing is to be honest to this particular script, and not to start off with the intention of making a good film. It depends on the story, and the characters. Each dictates its own rhythm.

  • The project also earned its share of headlines, what with Vivek Oberoi’s accident etc. How was the schedule affected?

    That was a most unfortunate thing. Sometimes the most ridiculous things happen and Vivek's accident was one of those. Yes, it did push back the schedule by some three months, but then there is no other choice. It was particularly hard on Vivek.

  • Yuva is a multi-starrer, which is a sort of break from the past in that this is the first time you have worked with three protagonists.

    That is because the script demands three different attitudes. Sometimes films work with just one character, sometimes with more. It all depends on the script, and is built in. I had not done it earlier because the scripts did not require that. There was no specific intention of doing a multi-starrer, it so happened that the story is about three youths. The story decides whether I use new faces or not.

  • You are also a tech savvy director who constantly pushes the boundaries. You have used sync sound in Yuva. What else is new?

    When you do something new, you don't do it in order to do something new but because it is required by the story, because it improves your filmmaking. Sync sound is used now because the story demanded it. These things are done without realising that one is doing something new, because that is not the intention.

  • Do you have a favourite character among the three protagonists in Yuva/Aayitha Ezhuthu?

    I hope not. I hope I have been able to do justice to all three. All three are important aspects to the film, so there is no choosing one over the other. When you see the movie you will be able identify with the characters, not necessarily with just one of them. You will feel at different times, in different circumstances, you are able to identify with all three. That way, each of us has a bit of the characters in us.

  • The burden of being Mani Ratnam, the pressure of consistently being among India’s better directors. How do you handle it?

    I ignore it. One knows where one stands, so there is no burden. The only burden is to make the film right, and constantly struggling to make it right. The pressure is enough to not only bring anyone down to earth but also take you a couple of feet under (chuckles).

  • You don’t suffer from pre-release jitters?

    The journey of filmmaking is so amazing. You start off with great confidence, and develop insecurity at the time of release. When you are ready with the finished product, you are constantly wondering if you have been honest to the story you started out with, if you got what you wanted. One is too close to the project by then to be objective. You never know if you have been true.

  • You have said Yuva/Aayitha Ezhuthu is a seed that has germinated with you for some time. How does your creative process work?

    Sometimes it is quick and happens fast. Sometimes the seed remains with you for a while, as is invariably the case with me, been with me for two-three films. Unlike in the West where an idea goes into development, with different departments taking over different stages of its development, we work differently here. Sometimes you have not found the writers to develop the script, so it remains with you for a while. After some time it falls into place. Everybody works this way. It is important that you have people around you with the same passion for good films, and have the same flair. That is as important as the story itself.

  • Actors, and technicians will give their right hand to work with you. Since you can have anyone you want, how do you pick and choose for your movies?

    When it comes to casting for movies, it is a priority that you cast right. The guiding principle must be what is right for the movie, that is the basis you cast someone, not because so and so is a friend. It helps to have a wide choice, it makes filmmaking easier. But the priority must be the film, and to be clear about it. Of course, the person you want may not be available, say, then you go for the next best choice.

  • About Yuva/Aayitha Ezhuthu you have said it is about how three different characters react to the same situation. Do you see a bit of yourself in any of or all the three characters? Is the movie then a vehicle for self-examination?

    No, not self-examination. This is true for everybody. Everyone will identify with the characters at different times. About a bit of me in my films, every filmmaker puts a bit of himself in his movies, that's how it is done. Just as every actor puts a bit of himself into every character he plays. In this case it could well be about three different aspects in the same person. When you are in one person's shoes you see things differently, when you are in the other person's shoes you will see it differently yet.

  • You have also said the kernel is a real-life incident. Do you think you have remained true to the original incident or changed it anyway?

    No, it is totally different. That incident I referred to was just the starting point. I have taken the spirit of the person, and this is in no way a real-life drama.

  • Your films have never used the female character as simply an adornment, rather they have very strongly delineated characters. Your promo material, however, focuses on the male characters?

    Wait till you see the film (laughs). I don't use women characters for the sake of using them, this movie calls for very specifically designed characters. They have strong feelings and express them. They are not heroines, they are characters. They all have a mind of their own.

  • Your wife Suhasini is a talent in her own right, and is an integral part of your filmmaking process. What is her contribution to Yuva/Aayitha Ezhuthu?

    She is a critic first. She is the bouncing board for this film. She brings in the objective view, and was involved at the script and the post-production stages. She has the long-distance perspective.

  • Be it in Roja, Sonu Walia in Dalapathy, Malaika Arora in Dil Se/Uyire, you have used what Bollywood calls ‘item number’ long before the term became fashionable. Is there one in Yuva?

    The songs were not considered 'item numbers' at that point (chuckles). The point is, because I used Sonu Walia from Mumbai it became an item number. Had I used, say, Disco Shanti, it would not be considered an item number. In Yuva the songs are more an integral part of the story. I had started off saying there will be no songs, and then changed my mind. But when you see the movie you will realise that nothing stands out as a song, but they flow with the story. The music too deals with three different people with three different styles, and is more in tune with the characters.

  • A R Rahman has said working with you is a two-way give and take. Music is a strong element of your movie-making, and it has a tremendous Tamil idiom. What is the extent of your involvement with Rahman’s music?

    I don't make, but merely choose, the music. I get to tell Rahman, sometimes push him to what I want, but finally it is up to him to deliver. Rahman is very very director friendly. He is ever ready to go whichever the director wants, the story wants, depending on the kind of movie or the music you want, and within that he finds his niche. It is a constantly complementary process. At the end of the day he is not pleasing you, he has to please himself.

  • Nayagan was the only movie you and Kamal Haasan, the two powerhouses from Tamil films, worked together. It has been a long time. Are movie buffs to be denied a chance to see you together?

    I don't know. Kamal Haasan is a huge talent. We need to have something to offer like Nayagan, we need to cross that benchmark, or at least go up to it. We are not merely doing a project, that is very easy, but we need to something good. As of this moment we have not hit on anything.

  • From the Western perspective, Bollywood has become an all-encompassing term for Indian cinema. It does not justice to talent like you who are out of the Mumbai film industry, or to the Malayalam and Bengali industries. Does it irk you?

    The name itself. Calling yourself after something that rhymes with Hollywood is, well, sad. Obviously they are doing it to identify Indian films, but that is a classification one can grow out of. As long as you are making the kind of films you are happy about, it is okay. One is not in competition with Hindi films.

  • Making films appealing to the NRI sensibility is the trend now, but Tamil films seem to stay out of it. Do you see yourself making an NRI film?

    My focus is on the script, and the characters are rooted here. I don't think it is easy within the script to take them over there and bring them back. I have to be honest to the story I have. If the story is based over there, I will have no problems doing it, but not with this story.

  • Your films are rooted in the local idiom and have done well for that reason. Dil Se/Uyire was one movie that failed to connect at that level. With the 20:20 vision of hindsight, what could you have done differently?

    I don't know. When you make a movie for a year-and-a-half, obviously you are convinced that it is right. Yes, the film didn't do commercially well. Yes, I made a mistake, but that doesn't mean the one-and-a-half years were a lie. It was intended to be right, but some elements didn't work. There could be a few faults, I was aware of them at that time, but despite it I thought we will be able to make the film work. It was confidence. But, then, you get on.

  • Did you have to audition a lot of actors before you zeroed in on Gautham and Thulasi or was it a conscious decision to launch two star kids?

    We generally audition a lot of people. Sometimes, it falls into place just like that, while at other times it takes a very long time. Casting is very important. Fifty percent of my job becomes easier if I find the right people for the right role. Right casting is crucial to make a character or a story more believable. When I am casting for a film, the only thing on my mind is to find actors who will be perfect for the role. Nothing else matters. For me, the film is most important. Its an absolute, absolute coincidence that the lead actors happen to be stars kids. My job is to make films, as well as I can do, it is not my job to introduce people. If I want a new actor or even a technician for a film, I want somebody who is as passionate as I am about my work.

  • You are known to keep things as close to reality as possible. How much of it is a result of research and how much is instinct?

    You need to know the background you are talking about, the dialect, etc. Sometimes, you get it through research, but sometimes just research is not enough. It's not like a book where knowledge alone is enough. In cinema, you have to translate that knowledge into execution. In Kadali, we re-created a fishing village. To get the ambience right, its not enough for me to know what things fishermen normally have in their homes. I need to know where they have in their houses, what will they do when it rains, how is the boat kept, where do they hang their nets... you have to be there, you need to have people who are from that side on your side and make sure that it is as close to being right as possible. When you are shooting at sea, you need different settings to reflect the moods of different people. So, you constantly observe. Even while shooting, there are a lot of inputs I take. If during shooting, I see a small procession with a father walking by, I incorporate that in the film. Everything I see at any point of time becomes material for me to work with. Yes. They can look very ridiculous sometimes. But later, but some ideas have the potential to get transformed into a full-blown film. While some look promising as an idea, they do not develop at that point of time. For example, I had the idea of making Roja in my mind seven years before I made the film. It just remained as an idea and I just could not move it further till something happened and it became a film. Ideas take time to germinate, so if you keep constantly going back to an idea, chances are it will come together at some point

  • Must be pretty exhilarating to crack an idea on paper for the first time?

    Writing is nagging, fascinating, troublesome and exciting. It is there and not there, you are very sure and unsure, it comes and doesnt come, it comes and promises to be fantastic and disappears. But I think the real high is when an idea comes together. As you are writing, you dont know where it was and you suddenly see it happening, its the moment where you know youve solved the problem and you feel good about it. Yesterday I had an idea, tried writing it on the phone in the flight, some irrelevant thing can get it going, lets see.

  • How do you decide if an idea is good enough to be made into a film?

    Its hard to quantify it. I make films that reach people. I dont believe that to be mainstream you have to be foolish. I dont think you have to be a buffoon to sell. I think you can be logical, aesthetic and still work within the mainstream format. That is what I try to do. I might stray, and I might fall sometimes, but I am not afraid to try. If it doesnt work, it doesnt work, I understand that and try to get up and run again.

  • Tell us something about Kadali?

    Saw the trailer? (Yes.) I've told you what I wanted to say! (laughs).

  • One of the most treasured things for a filmmaker is his voice and you have a very unique voice. While writing do you wonder if Mani Ratnam’s esque, like you thinking ‘lets step back and rework.’ Does that happen sometimes?

  • It is still a Mani Ratnam’s movie that is still yours in a way. How do you explain that?

  • Do you enjoy the writing process more or the directing process more? D you find it hard to let go off the writer in you? If tomorrow someone would give you a great script would you be interested in directing it?

  • Are you saying that till now you havent got a script that has interested you?

  • Since you have been a writer-director for 30 years now, when you used to write, do you already direct the scene in your head?

  • Do you alter scripts according to generations?

  • When you watch a certain kind of film, there are parts when the characters dont talk and there is a certain pause in that scene, it slows done. Some audience gets impatient and they want some kind of action going on.

  • What about actors, do they pop into your mind while writing the script?

  • You have a MBA background, how did you learn directing or writing?

  • Does this also mean that you have to be a certain kind of human being to be a filmmaker?

  • What do you look for in an actor, can you name a couple of things? Like when you took Aditi Rao what were the things that made you think she was perfect for the role?

  • What about the box office?

  • What about things like location, do you personally select the location personally or what?

  • The decision to shoot a scene in a particular location, happens before the actual shooting?

  • You go and look at a location and thought that ‘let me rewrite this scene and keep that location in mind?

  • I believe the tradefolk in Madras always try to pull you down. Now they’re saying Thiruda Thiruda isn’t doing too well at the box office.

    Suprisingly for a very disorganized industry, the trade is very organzied about its box-office reports. Even before the first day's shows are over, they have the statistics at their fingertips. From the day I've started making films, I've been told that my films won't click in the interiors or the B and C centres. I'm tagged as a 'city director',whatever that means. So they'd like it if I pulled myself down to appeal to the B and C centres. According to me, that's not film-making, that's crass commercial circulation. I keep the mass audience very much in mind, but I can't be tyrannised by such considerations. The trade pundits don't always try to pull me down. But there's an initial resistance, it's easier for them to accept a film made in the convential pattern. If you go even a little off the beaten track, you're not considered commercial enough. Earlier, when I was, say, making Mouna Ragam or Nayakan, they were quite encouraging, they were eager to accept me. But ever since I became established... so to speak...there have been constant digs. Even Roja was accepted as a hit after it had run for several months. I suppose now I'm worthy of the potshots. This isn't unusual, one has to face the initial brunt. Trade people may think I'm established though I don't see myself as part of the Establishment.

  • Don’t you get flak for breaking conventions – like using A.R.Rahman, a new music director, instead of banking on the tried and tested names?

    The reaction to Rahman has been extremely positive. To start with there were the usual remarks, it was said that his music is far too computerized to last long. They went at him till he did the music for Gentleman which became such a big hit that all his detractors have been silenced... I'd heard some of Rahman's ad jingles, he played me some of his old tracks and I liked his arrangements very much. Of all the new composers I've heard, he was influenced by Illaiyaraja the least.

  • Isn’t he being called a threat to Illaiyraja ?

    Oh, that's because people need to talk about competition, rivalry and all that stuff. Illaiyaraja has his style and Rahman has his. Right away, I liked Rahman's attitude - he wants to give his best to each song, he works out the background score with painstaking detail. His music is very young and modern without losing its Indianness. For Thiruda Thiruda, he composed a peppy and stylish score to suit its mood of intrigue and adventure. Chinna Chinna was the first song composed for Roja. I told him the outline of the story, the situation and found that he was quite different from what I was used to. It was a difficult song to work out, in the sense that I'd been used to Illaiyaraja and his harmonica. After several sittings we worked out every note for Chinna chinna; the same kind of precision went into Nagamani Nagamani (Rukmani Rukmani) which we thought would be simple enough to compose; but since its sound including the voices of the old women, was different, it took us quite a while before we were completely satisfied.

  • Do you know the Nagamani(Rukmani) tune has been “borrowed” in Meherbaan ?

    Yes? I'm not surprised. Earlier, Illaiyaraja's composition was borrowed as well... for that number in Bol Radha Bol.

  • Have you heard the hindi version of the Roja songs?

    I heard the tape once, it really bothered me, so I switched it off fast. Baba Sehgal's version of the Nagamani (Rukmani) song, it was sung in a flat tone when his vocalising should have had some variations. Besides the music, I'm so afraid of seeing Roja in Hindi that I've kept far away from it. Frankly after I finish a film, it's out of my system. It's a waste of time to keep worrying about who's doing what to it in which language.

  • Do you know you have a cult following in Bombay ?

    (Laughs uproariously) Ha! Maybe I'm a cult in Bombay because I'm not there. Neither do I want to be, I can't start fretting about the collection figures of my film in CPCI and Punjab. I'm not ready to do a Hindi film because I'm not srue if I could strike a rapport with the audience. Moreover I can't see falling into line or directing a vendetta movie just because the last hit has been about a revenge-seeking police officer; I'd probably go against the current and make a love story. I always aim at variety, because that allows me to be inventive. I want to make films which I like, work with actors who can give 60 days at a stretch. I can't depend on any star's whims, I wouldn't be able to tolerate a star who wants to pack up shooting and ruin the whole schedule. In Madras all the stars have been cooperative, whether it's Kamal (Hasan) or Rajnikant.

  • You like working with stars?

    Essentially, I want to use stars as actors. Stars are a burden, the bigger their image the bigger your responsibility of not going against what the audience expects of them. And, of course, a star just wouldn't be credible in a certain kind of film, like I couldn't possibly have cast Rajnikant in Roja.

  • Why haven’t you worked with Kamalhasan after Nayakan ?

    I would definitely like to if I found an exciting enough script for Kamal. There's a mental block of sorts about working with him again - we have to better Nayakan if we team up again. Kamal is bound to become a good director some day. He did the script of Thevar Magan which was very cohesive. In fact, I was pleasantly surprised that it held together so well...because Kamal is thinking in nine directions at the same time.

  • Your Roja hero, Arvind Swamy, has become quite a star now, hasn’t he ?

    I'm not interested in making stars, it just happens. Earlier, Arvind was in Dalapathy. I'd taken a screen test like I always do, often it's not even necessary to see the results since you can make out what the newcomer is like when he or she faces the camera. Arvind had plans of going to study business management in the U.S., I'd told him that he would be wasting his time. He didn't leave subsequently because of personal tragedies, his parents passed away.

  • You frequently cast actors from Bombay in significant supporting roles. How come ?

    Because then I have a wider choice. But it's not as if I make it a point to have an actor or two from Bombay. It's just that I needed someone from the north who'd be accepted as a Kashmiri in Roja. So Pankaj Kapur was cast and he was excellant. I needed a somewhat mysterious woman for Thiruda, and since audiences in the south weren't familiar with her, I cast Anu Agarwal. Initially, I was thinking of Dimple Kapadia but she had already acted in Kamal's Vikram.

  • Bombay heroines often give statements that they are dying to work with Mani Ratnam. Flattered ?

    (Smiles) Come on , they're just statments. Let them learn Tamil first. I'd met Karishma Kapoor for the role of the Kashmiri girl in Roja, but she was far too expensive for a Tamil film. I'd rather spend money on the film-on the camerawork, music and the sets -than on a star. Roja cost under a crore while Thiruda turned out to be Rs. 2-crore project. I don't overshoot, you won't find too many out-takes of my films. Roja was a little short of the normal length while Thiruda, because it has a lot of action is a little longer.

  • Incidentally what was the germinating point for Thiruda Thiruda ?

    I was thinking of making a fun film for several years-a fas paced adventure played out against a realistic, rural backdrop. I intentionally kept the plot thin, I wanted to play around with the situations. I was told that Kamal's Vikram and Ram Gopal Varma's Kshana Kshanam hadn't succeeded because they didn't have strong storylines. I didn't agree with that, there could have been some other problems, I don't think its compulsory to have a thick plot to grip the audience.

  • Weren’t you afraid that you were walking on a tightrope while dealing with the subject of terrorism in Roja ? You could have offended a section of the audience.

    I was aware of the problem while making the film. But I was making it from the Indian point of view, I wasn't raking up the Hindu-Muslim issue at all. I was worried a bit about how the censors would react because at times, they follow rules blindly - like you can't show the Indian flag. Fortunately no objections were raised to the flag scene. But a couple of objections were raised by the army - I had to cut the scene showing the army officer (Nasser) lighting a cigarette while carrying out a search of the terrorists' hide-out. I was told that I couldn't show an armyman smoking on duty. The second objection was to the scene where Nasser comes to Roja's room to tell her about the orders issued form Delhi and he says, "I'm sorry I've had a few drinks." The cuts came in the way of the narrative's flow, it was as if I was being told that armymen don't smoke or drink.

  • Whom do you finally depend on for feedback ?

    I muster up enough courage to stand in three or four theatres while my film is showing for the first week. A rumour spread that I'd cut some scenes from Thiruda after the firsts few days .. not true. I haven't touched a single frame, the only time I did make some changes was in the case of Mouna Ragam, I trimmed the climax. Otherwise I'm pretty confident of myself, I see my film many times before its release to ensure that the story flows smoothly.

  • I believe the tradefolk in Madras always try to pull you down. Now they’re saying Thiruda Thiruda isn’t doing too well at the box office.

    Suprisingly for a very disorganized industry, the trade is very organzied about its box-office reports. Even before the first day's shows are over, they have the statistics at their fingertips. From the day I've started making films, I've been told that my films won't click in the interiors or the B and C centres. I'm tagged as a 'city director',whatever that means. So they'd like it if I pulled myself down to appeal to the B and C centres. According to me, that's not film-making, that's crass commercial circulation. I keep the mass audience very much in mind, but I can't be tyrannised by such considerations. The trade pundits don't always try to pull me down. But there's an initial resistance, it's easier for them to accept a film made in the convential pattern. If you go even a little off the beaten track, you're not considered commercial enough. Earlier, when I was, say, making Mouna Ragam or Nayakan, they were quite encouraging, they were eager to accept me. But ever since I became established... so to speak...there have been constant digs. Even Roja was accepted as a hit after it had run for several months. I suppose now I'm worthy of the potshots. This isn't unusual, one has to face the initial brunt. Trade people may think I'm established though I don't see myself as part of the Establishment.

  • Don’t you get flak for breaking conventions – like using A.R.Rahman, a new music director, instead of banking on the tried and tested names?

    The reaction to Rahman has been extremely positive. To start with there were the usual remarks, it was said that his music is far too computerized to last long. They went at him till he did the music for Gentleman which became such a big hit that all his detractors have been silenced... I'd heard some of Rahman's ad jingles, he played me some of his old tracks and I liked his arrangements very much. Of all the new composers I've heard, he was influenced by Illaiyaraja the least.

  • Do you know the Nagamani(Rukmani) tune has been “borrowed” in Meherbaan ?

    Yes? I'm not surprised. Earlier, Illaiyaraja's composition was borrowed as well... for that number in Bol Radha Bol.

  • Have you heard the hindi version of the Roja songs?

    I heard the tape once, it really bothered me, so I switched it off fast. Baba Sehgal's version of the Nagamani (Rukmani) song, it was sung in a flat tone when his vocalising should have had some variations. Besides the music, I'm so afraid of seeing Roja in Hindi that I've kept far away from it. Frankly after I finish a film, it's out of my system. It's a waste of time to keep worrying about who's doing what to it in which language.

  • Do you know you have a cult following in Bombay?

    (Laughs uproariously) Ha! Maybe I'm a cult in Bombay because I'm not there. Neither do I want to be, I can't start fretting about the collection figures of my film in CPCI and Punjab. I'm not ready to do a Hindi film because I'm not srue if I could strike a rapport with the audience. Moreover I can't see falling into line or directing a vendetta movie just because the last hit has been about a revenge-seeking police officer; I'd probably go against the current and make a love story. I always aim at variety, because that allows me to be inventive. I want to make films which I like, work with actors who can give 60 days at a stretch. I can't depend on any star's whims, I wouldn't be able to tolerate a star who wants to pack up shooting and ruin the whole schedule. In Madras all the stars have been cooperative, whether it's Kamal (Hasan) or Rajnikant.

  • You like working with stars?

    Essentially, I want to use stars as actors. Stars are a burden, the bigger their image the bigger your responsibility of not going against what the audience expects of them. And, of course, a star just wouldn't be credible in a certain kind of film, like I couldn't possibly have cast Rajnikant in Roja.

  • Why haven’t you worked with Kamalhasan after Nayakan ?

    I would definitely like to if I found an exciting enough script for Kamal. There's a mental block of sorts about working with him again - we have to better Nayakan if we team up again. Kamal is bound to become a good director some day. He did the script of Thevar Magan which was very cohesive. In fact, I was pleasantly surprised that it held together so well...because Kamal is thinking in nine directions at the same time.

  • Your Roja hero, Arvind Swamy, has become quite a star now, hasn’t he ?

    I'm not interested in making stars, it just happens. Earlier, Arvind was in Dalapathy. I'd taken a screen test like I always do, often it's not even necessary to see the results since you can make out what the newcomer is like when he or she faces the camera. Arvind had plans of going to study business management in the U.S., I'd told him that he would be wasting his time. He didn't leave subsequently because of personal tragedies, his parents passed away.

  • You frequently cast actors from Bombay in significant supporting roles. How come ?

    Because then I have a wider choice. But it's not as if I make it a point to have an actor or two from Bombay. It's just that I needed someone from the north who'd be accepted as a Kashmiri in Roja. So Pankaj Kapur was cast and he was excellant. I needed a somewhat mysterious woman for Thiruda, and since audiences in the south weren't familiar with her, I cast Anu Agarwal. Initially, I was thinking of Dimple Kapadia but she had already acted in Kamal's Vikram.

  • Bombay heroines often give statements that they are dying to work with Mani Ratnam. Flattered ?

    (Smiles) Come on , they're just statments. Let them learn Tamil first. I'd met Karishma Kapoor for the role of the Kashmiri girl in Roja, but she was far too expensive for a Tamil film. I'd rather spend money on the film-on the camerawork, music and the sets -than on a star. Roja cost under a crore while Thiruda turned out to be Rs. 2-crore project. I don't overshoot, you won't find too many out-takes of my films. Roja was a little short of the normal length while Thiruda, because it has a lot of action is a little longer.

  • Incidentally what was the germinating point for Thiruda Thiruda ?

    I was thinking of making a fun film for several years-a fas paced adventure played out against a realistic, rural backdrop. I intentionally kept the plot thin, I wanted to play around with the situations. I was told that Kamal's Vikram and Ram Gopal Varma's Kshana Kshanam hadn't succeeded because they didn't have strong storylines. I didn't agree with that, there could have been some other problems, I don't think its compulsory to have a thick plot to grip the audience.

  • Weren’t you afraid that you were walking on a tightrope while dealing with the subject of terrorism in Roja ? You could have offended a section of the audience.

    I was aware of the problem while making the film. But I was making it from the Indian point of view, I wasn't raking up the Hindu-Muslim issue at all. I was worried a bit about how the censors would react because at times, they follow rules blindly - like you can't show the Indian flag. Fortunately no objections were raised to the flag scene. But a couple of objections were raised by the army - I had to cut the scene showing the army officer (Nasser) lighting a cigarette while carrying out a search of the terrorists' hide-out. I was told that I couldn't show an armyman smoking on duty. The second objection was to the scene where Nasser comes to Roja's room to tell her about the orders issued form Delhi and he says, "I'm sorry I've had a few drinks." The cuts came in the way of the narrative's flow, it was as if I was being told that armymen don't smoke or drink.

  • In your action scenes, you seem to plunge your actors in danger. Like Arvind Swamy appeared to nearly go up in flames in Roja.

    Ha! But then Arvind was keen on action, he wanted to come out of his clean-cut appearance. After that scene in the snow , he had to be rushed to the hospital. But when he saw the results he agreed that it was worth flirting with danger.

  • You’re said to be very tough with your acting crew. Don’t they want a bit of pampering as well.

    Where's the time for pampering ? There are nearly 120 poeple in a film unit, and each one is treated like an equal. I tell the artiste what I have in mind, then he or she adds his or her inputs. If an artiste is thinking more about his or her performance and not the overall film, then I'm firm - I don't let them get carried away. I think that's fair enough.

  • Some feel that you lay undue emphasis on technique. Is that fair criticism ?

    It's most unfair and I'm still hounded by this charge. The most ter riblething you can say to a filmmaker is that you have smart technique and terrific locations. Honestly, for me technique is secondary. The script and performance are the two most important factors. In any case, I just don't understand why a film should look shabby and udnernourished. I frame every shot the way I'd like to see it on screen. Being excessively polished and glossy is like speaking in English, it comes in the way of the narrative. I have always attempted to strike a balance between story and style. ANd yet I'm informed that I'm not "massy" enough. Fortunately, I haven't let myself be swayed by such cliched remarks.

  • How do you manage to make such young love stories even at this age ?

    Frankly, age has nothing to do with film making. Every thing is in your mind and how to perceive things is what matters.

  • You seem to have an added attraction towards Mumbai. Any particular reason for that ?

    I have spent two years of my student life in Mumbai and have a special bond with the city. The metropolitan culture of the city attracts me big time.

  • What is Ok Bangaram all about ?

    The film showcases various conflicts of life and how a couple survives some tough times in today’s society.

  • You have shot this film in sync sound. Any particular reason behind this ?

    That is how a film should be shot actually. If I get a chance, I would love to do it in my future films as well.

  • How was it working with P C Sreeram after a long time ?

    P C and I go a very long way back. He is like my bounce board and I involve him in every film of mine in some way or the other.

  • How was the whole experience working with Sirivennela Seetaram Sastry ?

    I am very happy and proud that I got to collaborate with such a genius like him for this film.

  • Tell us about your relation with A R Rahman ?

    From the day I met A R, he is the same person and has not changed one bit. I torture him with my ideas and he gets back with his splendid music scores.

  • You have worked with both Dulquer and his father Mammooty. What differences have you spotted ?

    Both the actors are poles apart. Dulquer is in his league of his own and is a great talent to watch out for.

  • What was it like to work with Mohanlal?