Mani Ratnam

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Mani Ratnam
Mani Ratnam premiere.jpg
Mani Ratnam at the premiere of Raavan in 2010
Born Gopala Ratnam Subramaniam
(1956-06-02) 2 June 1956 (age 58)
Madurai, Tamil Nadu, India[1][2]
Residence Alwarpet, Chennai, India
Occupation Film director
Film producer
Years active 1983–present
Religion Atheist
Spouse(s) Suhasini (1988–present)

Gopala Ratnam Subramaniam (born 2 June 1956) commonly known as Mani Ratnam, is an Indian film director,[3] screenwriter and producer who predominantly works in Tamil cinema, based in Chennai. Widely regarded as one of the leading directors in Indian cinema,[4] he made his directorial debut with the Kannada film Pallavi Anu Pallavi in 1983. Despite a commercial failure the film earned critical acclaim and fetched an award for the screenplay at the Karnataka State Film Awards. Ratnam's following efforts were the Malayalam film Unaru (1984), and two Tamil films—Pagal Nilavu and Idhaya Kovil—both in 1985. He came into prominence after Mouna Ragam, a story that dealt with the friction between a newly–wed couple. He followed that with the Godfatheresque Nayagan (1987) that went on to gain national acclaim. The film was among the three Indian films to be named by Time magazine's list of All-Time 100 Greatest Movies.[5] Ratnam made his only straight Telugu film to date, Geethanjali in 1989.

Anjali released in 1990, depicting the story of a mentally disabled child. The film was submitted by India for the Academy Award consideration in the category of Best Foreign Language Film. He is well known for his "terrorism trilogy" consisting of Roja (1992), Bombay (1995) and Dil Se.. (1998). Ratnam is widely credited with having revolutionised the Tamil film industry and altering the profile of Indian cinema.[6]

Ratnam is married to actress Suhasini. In 2002 he was honoured with the Padma Shri, the fourth-highest civilian award given by the Government of India. Ratnam has won several film awards, including six National Film Awards. In addition to these, he is a recipient of a number of awards at various international film festivals.

Early life and background[edit]

Mani Ratnam with his wife Suhasini.

Mani Ratnam was born as Gopala Ratnam Subramaniam in Madurai,[7] Madras State, the present day Tamil Nadu.[2][8] His father, Ratnam Iyer, was a film producer who worked under the banner of the production company Venus Pictures.[9] Ratnam grew up in Chennai,[10] doing his schooling there completed his graduation with a degree in commerce at Ramakrishna Mission Vivekananda College which is affiliated with Madras University, Chennai[11] and then obtained an MBA from Jamnalal Bajaj Institute of Management Studies,[12] after which he worked as a management consultant before becoming a filmmaker.[6]

Ratnam had two brothers—G. Venkateswaran and G. Srinivasan—both of them film producers. The former was a prominent personality who produced many of Ratnam's films, Mouna Ragam, Nayagan, Agni Natchathiram, Thalapathi, and Anjali,[6] later committed suicide in 2003, reportedly because of financial problems.[9][13] His younger brother, G. Srinivasan died in an accident while trekking in Manali on 27 May 2007.[14] In 1988 Ratnam married Suhasini, the niece of Kamal Haasan and daughter of Charuhasan.[15][16] Suhasini is a National Award-winning actress and a well-known filmmaker as well.[16] They have a son named Nandhan Maniratnam.[17] Charuhasan, his father-in-law,[18] is a National Award-winning actor.[19] Ratnam lives in Alwarpet, Chennai, where he runs Madras Talkies, his production company.[20][21] Maniratnam rarely gives interview and hasn't been much outspoken about his religious views. However, sources working closely with him discuss that he is an atheist. For instance, A.R.Rahman is once believed to have said “I try to be a man of faith. And here’s a man who’s an atheist by choice. We coexist as opposites. When I have a problem, I think that tomorrow will be better; that’s because of my faith in spirituality. But what does he do? I wonder about this.”[22]


Early years: 1983–85[edit]

Unlike many filmmakers, Ratnam neither assisted in film-making nor worked as a cinematographer before making a name for himself in the industry.[23] He made his directorial debut in 1983 with the Kannada film Pallavi Anu Pallavi, which starred Anil Kapoor and Lakshmi.[24] The film explored the relationship between a young man and an older woman. Ratnam persuaded acclaimed director and cinematographer Balu Mahendra to serve as his cinematographer.[24] Ratnam's screenplay won a Karnataka State Film Award for Best Screenplay.[25] His second film was a Malayalam production titled Unaru. It explored the trade union problems in Kerala.[26] His next film, Pagal Nilavu starring Murali and Revathi, marked his directional debut in Tamil cinema.[27] The same year, he directed another Tamil film Idaya Kovil, a romantic drama which proved to be a major box-office success.[25]

Breakthrough: 1986–1991[edit]

In 1986, Ratnam directed the Tamil romantic drama Mouna Ragam, which starred Revathi and Mohan. The film was critically acclaimed for portraying urban Tamils in a "realistic" manner.[28] Specifically, it told the story of the friction between a newlywed couple.[25] Its score by Ilaiyaraaja was highly appreciated and became popular upon release.[29] Mouna Raagam was subsequently dubbed into Telugu under the same title and became a hit in Andhra Pradesh.[30] The film elevated Ratnam's status as a director and won the National Film Award for Best Feature Film in Tamil at the 34th National Film Awards. Ratnam won his first Filmfare Award for Best Tamil Director for the film.[25][31]

In 1987, Ratnam directed Nayagan starring Kamal Haasan, and the film became a huge success and brought him recognition at the national level.[28][32] Inspired by the 1972 American epic crime film, The Godfather,[6][33] the film was based on the real-life story of underworld king Varadarajan Mudaliar,[28][34] and tells the story of an orphaned slum-dweller and his rise to top of the Mumbai underworld hierarchy,[29] was included in Time magazine's All-Time 100 Greatest Movies in 2005.[5] Satyajit Ray's The Apu Trilogy and Guru Dutt's Pyaasa are the only other Indian films that have appeared in the list.[35] Indian critics dubbed the film as India's answer to The Godfather.[36][37][38] Nayagan was both commercially successful and critically acclaimed winning three National Awards—Best Actor, Best Cinematography and Best Art Direction—at the 35th National Film Awards.[29][32] The film was India's official entry to the Oscars for Best Foreign Language Film at the 60th Academy Awards.[39]

Following these two commercial successes, Ratnam wrote and directed Agni Natchathiram in 1988.[40] The film deals with the story of step-brothers played by Prabhu and Karthik[29] and is notable for its use of new techniques in camera framework, especially during the songs.[41] The film had a successful run in the box office.[6][40]

In 1989 Ratnam opted to make his next project, Geethanjali, his maiden venture in Telugu.[32] Starring Nagarjuna in the lead role, the film told the story of an ill-fated couple, both of whom are suffering from terminal diseases.[6] Geethanjali was critically acclaimed and won the National Film Award for Best Popular Film Providing Wholesome Entertainment in 1990. In addition, it won the Best Director and Nandi Award for Best Story Writer for Ratnam.[42] Ratnam maintained a momentum of making emotional stories of under-served people through the film Anjali in 1990, which starred Raghuvaran and told the story of an autistic child who changed the lives of people around her.[43] The film proved to be a commercial success and was nominated as India's official entry to the Oscars in the Best Foreign Language Film category at the 63rd Academy Awards.[43][44] Following Anjali's release, Ratnam later made another underworld-themed Tamil film, Thalapathi (1991), starring Rajinikanth and Mammootty.[45] The film was an adaptation of Mahabharata, dealt with the friendship between Karna and Duryodhana portrayed by Rajinikanth and Mammmooty respectively.[46] The film met with both critical acclaim and commercial success upon release.[47] Ilaiyaraaja's musical score and Ratnam's work were highly appreciated as they both went on to win the Music Director and Best Director awards respectively at the 39th Filmfare Awards.[citation needed] This film however, marks the last film where Mani Ratnam and Ilaiyaraja have collaborated.

International acclaim: 1992–99[edit]

With Thalapathi, Mani Ratnam ended his long-term association with music director Ilaiyaraaja, bringing in debutant music director A. R. Rahman to score his Tamil classic Roja (1992). The venture was successful, earning Ratnam various awards. Roja, a romantic film, was about terrorism in the Kashmir region.[6] Starring Arvind Swamy and Madhoo, it was nominated for the Golden St. George Award at the 18th Moscow International Film Festival.[48] It became highly popular, gaining an iconic status in Indian cinema and was dubbed into other languages and met similar success in other regions.[49] Ratnam took a more light-hearted approach with his next film —Thiruda Thiruda (1993). Scripted by Ram Gopal Varma,[50] it explored the action and thriller genres,[51] was a departure from Ratnam's previous style and fared moderately well at the box office. A retrospective of his Tamil films was held at the Toronto International Film Festival in 1994.[2]

Ratnam again teamed up with Ram Gopal Varma to provide the screenplay for the latter's Telugu film Gaayam, a socio-politico film loosely based on The Godfather.[52] In 1995, Ratnam returned to Tamil language drama through Bombay starring Arvind Swamy and Manisha Koirala, which told the story of a Hindu-Muslim couple in the midst of the 1993 religious Bombay riots and bombings. It was also the first Indian film to focus on marriage between Hindu and Muslim people.[53] The film met with controversy and censorship upon release,[53] was subsequently dubbed into Hindi and was commercially successful and appreciated by critics.[53] It won a number of awards, such as Nargis Dutt Award for Best Feature Film on National Integration, Special Award from the Political Film Society,[54] In the Spirit of Freedom Award at the Jerusalem International Film Festival[55] and the Gala Award at the Edinburgh International Film Festival.[56]

Ratnam produced his wife's directorial debut film, Indira,[57] and the critical success Iruvar with Mohanlal, Aishwarya Rai, Tabu and Prakash Raj in the lead, his next film as director. Iruvar was honoured the Best Film at the "Festival of the Auteur Films" at the FEST film festival held in Belgrade.[58] In 1998 came the third part of his "terrorism trilogy", named Dil Se.. and starring Shahrukh Khan and Manisha Koirala, with the latter fabricating the second collaboration.[59] It showed the relationship between a young man and a dangerous, disturbed woman. Although they fall in love, she is unable to take the romance further due to her bleak past. The soundtrack album, again composed by A. R. Rahman, gained mass appeal and gave Rahman his next Filmfare Award for Best Music Direction in 1999.[60][61] Unlike his previous two projects, Dil Se.. opened with well note among the film critics and the film poorly performed in the domestic market,[62] despite being a success overseas.[63][64][65] It was screened in many international film festivals, and won the Netpac award (Ex-Aqueo) in the Berlin International Film Festival.[66] In 2000, Ratnam directed the romantic drama Alaipayuthey that starred R. Madhavan and Shalini. The film focussed on marriage and explored relationships and their consequences, and garnered critical recognition.[67][68] It was also screened at the Berlin International Film Festival.[69]

Along with Vasanth, he was instrumental in organising Netru, Indru, Naalai,[70] a stage musical that marked the first theatre production, with numerous other artistes, to aid The Banyan, an organisation that rehabilitates women and children with mental illness.[71][72]

Kannathil Muthamittal and onwards: 2002–present[edit]

Ratnam's following project, Kannathil Muthamittal, dealt with the story of a child of Sri Lankan Tamil parentage adopted by Indian parents, who wishes to meet her biological mother during the Sri Lankan Civil War.[73] The film was critically lauded and commercially successful, winning six National Film Awards, Filmfare Award for Best Direction in Tamil, In the Spirit of Freedom Award at the Jerusalem Film Festival[74] and an award at the Indian Film Festival of Los Angeles.[75] In 2004, he made a Hindi film titled Yuva, his second venture into Bollywood. The film, which tells the story of how one incident sends the lives of three youths on a collision course and received positive reviews.[76] Ratnam made the film simultaneously in Tamil as Aaytha Ezhuthu, starring Surya Sivakumar, R. Madhavan and Siddharth replacing Ajay Devgn, Abhishek Bachchan and Vivek Oberoi respectively from the Hindi version.[76] The Tamil version was appreciated by critics, unlike the Hindi version, which was a failure at the box office. Ratnam suffered his first heart attack while shooting for Yuva.[59]

In 2007, Ratnam made Guru, a biographical film based on the life of Dhirubhai Ambani, a business magnate from India.[77] starring Abhishek Bachchan and Aishwarya Rai, through his production house, Madras Talkies.[78] The film is set in the early 1950s, became a box office success, and received critical acclaim.[79] Guru is the only Mani Ratnam film to be screened in the Tous Les Cinemas du Monde (World Cinema) section of the 2007 Cannes Film Festival.[80][81]

In 2010, Ratnam worked on a bilingual film, titled Raavanan in Tamil where in the film look was unveiled at 2010 Cannes Film Festival, as part of its marketing campaign.[82] and Raavan in Hindi.[83] The Tamil version was dubbed into Telugu and titled Villain. The film was released worldwide on 18 June 2010.[84] The film is loosely based on the Hindu epic Ramayana; its narrative occurs over 14 days when a revolutionist named Veera, who lives in a forest, kidnaps a policeman's wife to avenge his sister's death. The Tamil version received positive reviews from the critics compared to its other versions.[85] The New York Times called the movie a "critics' pick". However, the reviewers of the Hindi version panned the film; Rajeev Masand said it was "a crushing bore of a film, a disappointment on virtually every count"[86] The Tamil version was declared a box office success.[87]

Ratnam's next film, Kadal was released worldwide on 1 February 2013 to mixed reviews from critics and became a box office failure. Later the distributor of the film filed a police complaint against Ratnam on account of the huge losses suffered by him.[88]

Film craft and technical collaborations[edit]

Like most of his contemporaries, Ratnam handled screenplay for a majority of his films. Right from the beginning of his career, his works were noted for their technical expertise in areas such as cinematography, art direction, editing and background score. For his debut film, he managed to handpick Balu Mahendra, Thotta Tharani, B. Lenin and Ilaiyaraaja, leading craftsmen in their respective fields.[89] As Ratnam's career progressed, he worked with P. C. Sreeram and continued his collaborations with him till Geethanjali. In 1991 for his film Thalapathi, Ratnam chose Santosh Sivan and Suresh Urs—both newcomers to the Tamil film industry—to do cinematography and editing respectively.[90][91] Both would later go onto become a part of his regular crew.[92] While working on Raavan, Santosh noted "any cameraman can hone his skills just working with [Ratnam]" and described Ratnam's films as difficult to film.[92] From his debut project till Thalapathi, Ilaiyaraaja was Ratnam's regular composer.[93] The duo split due to some creative differences after the film. For his next film Roja, he collaborated with debutant A. R. Rahman.[93] He has also worked with other cinematographers such as Rajiv Menon and Ravi K. Chandran while also switching between Sreeram and Santosh Sivan.[94] Starting with Alaipayuthey, Sreekar Prasad has been his regular film editor for all his films till date.[95][96]

Awards and honours[edit]

Ratnam is highly credited for having revolutionised the Tamil film industry and altering the profile of Indian cinema.[6] He has made films with a variety of genres and a majority of his films are characterized by a string of Socio-political themes.[97] It was mainly because of this most of his films have garnered both critical acclaim and commercial success.[97]

With his idea of combining art and commercial elements, Ratnam was referred for bringing new dimension to the South Asian film industry.[97] Many of his films have taken inspirations from real-life incidents such as Nayagan, Bombay, Iruvar and films like Thalapathi and Raavan were based on Indian epics.[2] He is lauded for his casting in each of his films—he said in an interview, "I am not a director who performs and shows. I discuss the role, the scene with my actors and let them bring life to it".[2]

Ratnam is also well recognized outside India with a retrospective of his films held at various film festivals around the world such as Toronto International Film Festival, Pusan International Film Festival, Tokyo Filmex and Birmingham International Film Festival.[58] His films are being screened regularly at many film festivals such as Venice Film Festival, Rotterdam Film Festival, Montreal Film Festival and Palm Springs International Film Festival.[58]

Ratnam's aspiration towards films grew up watching films of K. Balachander, Guru Dutt and Sivaji Ganesan.[98] His is greatly influenced by the film-making styles of Akira Kurosawa, Martin Scorsese, Krzysztof Kieślowski, Ingmar Bergman and J. Mahendran.[98][99]

The Government of India honoured Ratnam with Padma Shri in 2002.[100] He has won several National Film Awards, Filmfare Awards, Filmfare Awards South and state awards. Apart from these awards, many of his films have been screened at various film festivals and have won numerous accolades. Geethanjali, directed by him won the Golden Lotus Award for Best Popular Film at the 37th National Film Awards. Other films like Mouna Ragam, Anjali, and Kannathil Muthamittal have won the Best Regional Film awards at the National Film Awards. Two of his films, Roja and Bombay have won the Nargis Dutt Award for Best Feature Film on National Integration. The former was also nominated for Best Film category at the 18th Moscow International Film Festival.[101] In 2010, Ratnam was honoured with Jaeger-Lecoultre Glory to the Filmmaker at the 67th Venice International Film Festival.[28][102]


Year Film Director Producer Writer Notes
1983 Pallavi Anu Pallavi Yes Yes Kannada film
Karnataka State Film Award for Best Screenplay
1984 Unaru Yes Malayalam film
1985 Pagal Nilavu Yes Yes
Idaya Kovil Yes Yes
1986 Mouna Ragam Yes Yes National Film Award for Best Feature Film in Tamil
Filmfare Award for Best Tamil Director
1987 Nayagan Yes Yes
1988 Agni Natchathiram Yes Yes
1989 Geethanjali Yes Yes Telugu film
National Film Award for Best Popular Film Providing Wholesome Entertainment
Nandi Award for Best Story Writer
1990 Chatriyan Yes Yes
Anjali Yes Yes National Film Award for Best Feature Film in Tamil
1991 Thalapathi Yes Yes Filmfare Award for Best Tamil Director
1992 Roja Yes Yes National Film Award for Best Feature Film on National Integration
Tamil Nadu State Film Award for Best Director
Nominated—Golden St. George for Best Film at Moscow International Film Festival
1993 Dasarathan Yes
Gaayam Yes Telugu film
Thiruda Thiruda Yes Yes
1995 Bombay Yes Yes Yes National Film Award for Best Feature Film on National Integration
Filmfare Award for Best Tamil Director
Special Award at the Political Film Society Awards
In the Spirit of Freedom Award at the Jerusalem Film Festival
Gala Award at the Edinburgh International Film Festival
1995 Aasai Yes
1996 Indira Yes Yes
1997 Iruvar Yes Yes Yes Best Film at Belgrade International Film Festival
Nerrukku Ner Yes
1998 Dil Se.. Yes Yes Yes NETPAC Award (special mention) at Berlin International Film Festival
1999 Taj Mahal Yes
2000 Alaipayuthey Yes Yes Yes
2001 Dumm Dumm Dumm Yes Yes
2002 Kannathil Muthamittal Yes Yes Yes National Film Award for Best Feature Film in Tamil
Filmfare Award for Best Director – Tamil
Tamil Nadu State Film Award for Best Director
Best Film Award at Jerusalem Film Festival
ITFA Best Director Award
Audience Award for Best Feature Film at Indian Film Festival of Los Angeles
Audience Choice Award for Narrative Competition at RiverRun International Film Festival
Best Picture Award at Zimbabwe International Film Festival
Audience Award, Jury Award and a Special Award at Film Fest New Haven
Best International Film at Westchester Film Festival
Saathiya Yes Yes Filmfare Award for Best Screenplay
2004 Yuva Yes Yes Yes Filmfare Critics Award for Best Movie
Filmfare Award for Best Screenplay
Nominated—Screen Award for Best Director
Nominated—Screen Award for Best Screenplay
Aaytha Ezhuthu Yes Yes Yes
2007 Guru Yes Yes Yes Nominated—Filmfare Award for Best Director
Nominated—Filmfare Award for Best Screenplay
Nominated—Screen Award for Best Director
Nominated—Screen Award for Best Screenplay
2010 Raavan Yes Yes Yes
Raavanan Yes Yes Yes Nominated—Vijay Award for Favourite Director
2013 Kadal Yes Yes Yes
2015 O Kadhal Kanmani Yes Yes Yes Filming.[103][104] Bilingual in Tamil and Malayalam.

See also[edit]


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