In a conversation ranging from Pallavi Anupallavi to Raavan, acting to editing, Ilaiyaraaja to AR Rahman, Baradwaj Rangan leads us deep into the thinking of one of India’s greatest mainstream auteurs ever
This is a truly delicious book. Like your favourite Mani Ratnam films, it tickles the taste buds sometimes with sun-kissed sweetness and sometimes with tart ambiguity. Bursts of sensual fullness are balanced by doses of asceticism. In a country where a century of cinematic riches is compromised by the poverty of its archives, Baradwaj Rangan’s Conversations with Mani Ratnam feels path-breaking.
Rangan has followed the recipe of Hitchcock/Truffaut, wherein the man who launched the French New Wave and auteur theory had a series of extensive interviews with his favourite director. As Phillip Lopate’s famous tribute goes, “With hindsight, one realises that Truffaut performed a tour de force of tact in getting this ordinarily guarded man to open up as he had never done before (and never would again). The interviewer’s generosity now seems tempered by a surprising amount of frank criticism, which Hitchcock generously meets with honest, balanced self-appraisal.”
Some sceptics challenge the above recipe by asserting meaning-making at the audience end. But this is not a zero sum game. You many vehemently disagree with what Rangan or Ratnam take away from a particular scene or song, but if both red and blue run through your fan blood, you will find their deep and wide-ranging discussion about the cinematic method very, very satisfying.
When Raavan opened to hysterical reviews in the north, Rangan says he offered a considered one, which attracted his publishers to moot the idea of this book. “And I said yes for two reasons, first as a man of science, then as a man of faith. I wanted to embalm in amber the fingerprints of a film-maker who is, in a sense, a dinosaur, one of the last of a dying breed in India: the mainstream auteur. Secondly, I was intrigued by the opportunity to record the deliverances of a film-maker who was, at some point to us, a golden god.” It was slow going at first, with two fairly introverted and reclusive people full of anxiety about the conversation they were having.
In a note in the book, Ratnam explains what bothered him: “I often find it very difficult to watch my own films. Five minutes in, and I start seeing only mistakes, and I desperately