Sunday, October 28, 2012

Book: Conversations With Maniratnam

Baradwaj Rangan has written a very good book titled 'Conversations With Maniratnam". Rangan has a lot of strengths which he has used to good effect in this book. Some aspects of this book pleasantly surprised me and some aligned with my criticisms of Rangan's work overall as a film critic. But lets start with the positives.

This book took me back in time and made me relive the joys of watching movies during my childhood years. While in college, my favorite movie director was Manirathnam. And this trait I probably share with  almost everybody else in my generation of Thamizh people. Manirathnam was the reason many urban madras Thamizh boys started tuning into Tamil movies as opposed to limiting themselves to just watching English movies. Rangan's book drills and explores deep into a lot of decisions that Manirathnam made in his career as a director. I so wanted to know those details. A lot of of the information revealed in the book was new to me. Rangan is definitely a thinker and has a taste that articulates how Madras boys felt about movies and Manirathnam in general. Usually in interviews the interviewer asks a lot of bland questions that have already been asked by several magazines and news channels. This leads to stock answers and sound bytes. To Rangan's credit he never asks whether Nayakan was lifted from Godfather (though Mani brings it up). He doesn't even mention Amorres Perros. I liked that.

Several times Rangan pushes Mani in a specific angle or direction. This actually brings out a lot of Mani's true opinions and thoughts that otherwise might not have come if he hadn't been pushed.  In those moments you realize that Mani is a sharp thinker and a remarkably balanced person. The chapter on Iruvar was the longest and my favorite (disclaimer: Maybe its my biased view - I have a special affinity to that movie). Every chapter had questions that weren't asked that I badly wanted to ask. But among those - Kannathil Mutthamittal is the most under-explored chapter.  Nayagan was before my time (i.e before  I learned to enjoy movies or appreciate a director's work in the movie), so I was unable to resonate with Rangan's viewing experience upon release. If I may be bold enough to say so - I wouldn't even rank Nayakan among Mani's top 3 movies. But I get the point behind the chapter and why people like it. A.R.Rahman's foreword was actually very impressive. It was a great start to the book.

Rangan's introduction piece could have very well ruined the book. It was very unreadable and made me think he was pulling his usual problem of writing normal English and then replacing all regular words with synonyms from Barron's wordlist.(there is sentence that goes "just as words bind themselves better to pristine parchment than to palimpsests.."). No one writes like this. at least not real people. Certainly no Madras boy uses words like 'peripatetic' in a real verbal conversation. I don't buy the whole 'this comes naturally to him'. Rangan also over-pushes the 'madras based movies' of Manirathnam. Mani had a perspective of a urban filmmaker that was absent then. But barring Agni Nakshathiram, I cant think of a Madras movie by Mani.

I remember reading somewhere that the easiest way to irritate a poet is to explain the poem to him. I guess this extends to movies and other creative streams as well. Rangan at many points in time tries to instantiate or interpret or explain scenes and other 'directorial touches' to Mani. Maybe I am over-interpreting this, which would be ironic, but I could feel Mani's rising irritation as he tries to respond to Rangan's line of questions on this angle. This lead me to another nit about the book. However, before going further one must appreciate Rangan's integrity in reproducing the content into the book in a honest way that allowed me to express the nit. Rangan, as his is style, overreaches for underlying message or subtext in movies. A few times he does catch what the director is trying to say between the lines. But many times he reads into things which simply aren't there (or wasn't conciously intended by the director). I don't think he overreaches because he wants to position himself differently from other critics. Its probably some over-enthusiasm to spot clues and artistic touches that he believes the director has left for us to pick up. Every time when he (a) tries to join different movies under a single theme or narrative or (b) over-interpret the use of color and costume choices Mani pushes back. There is a point where Mani says "if you see it that way I'll take it"..I also thought the 'nallavana kettavana' narrative that Rangan tries to arc across all Mani movies was slightly over stretched. This kind of ruined the last 3-4 chapters for me. In these chapters Rangan began to narrow down on the metaphor more than the real movie. I was very glad to hear Mani's perspective on Raavanan. Which as I had hoped was very different from Rangan's and many other's interpretations of the movie. Rangan for some reason liked this movie, which I thought was a really bad movie and kept pressing on  metaphors to the point where Mani had to stop him from doing so. Having said that Rangan did manage to squeeze out a confession from Mani that Aishwarya Rai wearing the white salwar was indeed a metaphor for purity ( I didnt think of that as any more than a good color for that kind of train shot). So he got one back from Mani there.

Overall, I enjoyed the book and would certainly recommend that people read it. It allows you to re-enjoy the moviesvia the eyes of a the film maker.


Karikala Cholan said...

I was wondering whether Rangan "wrote" the book. Barring the first few chapters, Mani's voice comes out strongly. It's only Mani talking. I felt Rangan's questions to be irritants. I just wanted to read Mani's remarkable clarity of thought, whatever is the question. If Mani had the motivation to do an "autobiographic" look at his movies, that would be the ultimate. Rangan's intrusions did not add any value to the book.

I said...

"Manirathnam was the reason many urban madras Thamizh boys started tuning into Tamil movies as opposed to limiting themselves to just watching English movies."

I think the default tendency for even urban Thamizh boys was Tamil movies; they also watched English movies. Even if not for Mani Ratnam, they'd have continued with their default tendency. But the narration, themes and style of Tamil padams would have been a lot worse if not for Mani. Illaya?

Like the Allelooya converters in Marina beach you make a strong case for buying the book!

Suvi said...

Been a while since i stopped by this blog although its bookmarked. The post on Manirathnam got my attention :) I almost belong to that generation,although i watched only the dubbed version so of his movies. Manirathnam is one of my very few directors too.

Thanks for the post,made me re-live my good old days of watching Roja 9 times bunking school :) Like(d) many of your reviews in the past on this blog, this one too! Keep it going.... Refreshing new look and feel of the blog, btw, although i don't like to see any change on my favorite blogs, it always usually kinda spoils it, but this blog is fine :)

Happy blogging!


Anonymous said...

Come on, where's the take on triangulating the book with the recent "karuthu" from Hassar & Muktha? Add a PS!


hari said...

On an unrelated note: how about an obituary for veteran comedian Loose Mohan?

madrasi said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
madrasi said...

If diro was such an English medium then why he had that Divya character in MR oppari-vechufying in that Delhi hospital speaking to front desk in Tamil, miming etc.

She didn't know Hindi -- she could have spoken English. Surely she was not studying Econometrics in Tamil.

Karikala Cholan said...


The standard answer you will get from Tamil Film industry is - "during moments of crisis, you will only be able to talk in your mother tongue".

We use cold logic, but Tamil Film industry uses the so called "emoshun".

Anonymous said...

ennavo pa -- I cannot say I liked the book.

Only amusing factoid for me was that kalpana Iyer acted as Anandam's mother in Iruvar.

madrasi said...

KC -- I too felt Rangan's questions to be irritants.

especially when the answers were lot shorter than the questions, at times.

madrasi said...

enna saar vazhagam polla comments-ku roundup kodukkamma new posts-kku nove on pannitenga

The Raj said...

After calling Rangan an idiot and fool for his 7am arivu review, Hawkeye mama is now singing his praises for the book. why buy and read a book written by a "fool"?

Hawk Eye said...


same reason why you criticize me and still come ready and comment on my blog regularly.

Basically nee oru vadikattina muttal'ngrathai evalavu dharava sonnalum purinjikka maatengara. naanum everytime remind panren. there is a reason why you leave anonymous comments. you want to shield your identity from your idiocy

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I am a ComplexNumber said...

I agree on the Nallavana Kettavanaa theme. It was really annoying.

I would rate it a Must-Read for Movie buffs. I also think Rangan went overboard on Subtext and on Madras movies. (Maybe he is talking not specifically about Madras, but about the urban mindset)

For instance, a lot of sujatha's novels are around urban (infact very much madras) issues (Nirvaana nagaram being one of the best)

I think Mani can move into making a Sci Fi movie in Tamil....(Watching sci fi movies dubbed into tamil suffices for the time being)

something on lines of En iniya yenthira for instance)