Terming the popularity of south cinema in the Hindi belt “a return gift”, filmmaker Mani Ratnam says it’s fantastic that films are now recognised as Indian and not as works from the “north, or south or a Hindi film”.
Ratnam, who mostly works in Tamil but has also done movies in Hindi as well as in other languages, including Telugu and Malayalam, hopes audience classification based on language will disappear one day.
”For years, India has been making films in Hindi and they have travelled down south. ‘Aradhana’ was a huge hit there and there have been several instances. It is only a return gift I think,” the filmmaker told PTI, referring to the 1969 Rajesh Khanna-Sharmila Tagore Hindi hit. ”It’s a fantastic sign that you can make a film in any language in India and it’ll become an Indian film, not necessarily a north, south Indian film or a Hindi film. So I think it’s good. I think people have become more open to it, and that will only increase the variety of films, variety of talent, and improve the overall standard of films,” Ratnam said.
In his view, the pandemic, unfortunate and tragic as it was, triggered the cross-proliferation of languages in cinema.
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”It brought films from different languages closer to all of us. Now, Malayalam films are seen all over. I think it’s really a healthy time… in the sense that a lot more different kinds of filmmakers will be seen across the nation,” the 66-year-old said.
Most known for ”Nayakan”, ”Roja”, ”Bombay”, ”Mouna Ragam”, ”Alaipayuthey” and ”O Kadhal Kanmani”, he is now ready to release the second part of his magnum opus ”Ponniyin Selvan II”, a dream project that took years to come to fruition.
He said he has a sense of ”satisfaction and fulfilment” to have finally realised a long cherished dream with the two-part saga, an adaptation of author Kalki Krishnamurthy’s hugely popular 1955 Tamil novels of the same name.
The movie, with a star-studded cast including Vikram, Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, Karthi, Jayam Ravi, Trisha, Shobhita Dhulipala and Prakash Raj, chronicles the story of the early days of Arulmozhivarman (Jayam Ravi), one of the most powerful kings in the south who went on to become the great Chola emperor Rajaraja Chola I.
The first part was released in September 2022 and the second part will be released in theatres worldwide on Friday in Tamil along with the dubbed versions in Hindi, Kannada, Telugu and Malayalam.
Ratnam said he first came across Kalki’s books at the end of his school years and has been fascinated since then.
”I’ve tried to make this film a few times before. Before me, there are quite a few big stalwarts who wanted to make this film… Maybe it was meant to be only now and meant to be this way,” Ratnam said.
M G Ramachandran and Kamal Haasan are among those who tried to make a film on Kalki’s epic story.
According to Ratnam, ”Ponniyin Selvan” parts one and two, considered one of the most expensive movies ever made with a reported budget of Rs 500 crore, could be possible because technology has improved a lot over the years.
”The Chola period has been the one that has been documented elaborately. So we have references, we have details, we have poems, we have cultures and temples, which gives us details. So to an extent, all those aided us,” he said.
Ratnam is known for working with long-time collaborators be it in front of the camera or behind the screens. On ”Ponniyin Selvan”, he joined hands with music composer A R Rahman.
Aishwarya Bachchan and Vikram worked with him in “Raavan”, Trisha in ”Aayutha Ezhuthu” and Karthi in ”Kaatru Veliyidai”.
It is all about finding people who share the same passion for the subject and are ready to ”walk the distance with you”, Ratnam said.
”When you make a film, you try to do what is best for the film… You cast whoever you think is right for the role, not because somebody’s your friend or you’re a friend of somebody, so you are absolutely selfish.” Amongst his most successful collaborations are with Oscar-winner Rahman, who began his movie career with “Roja” in 1992.
”He was fully evolved. He was absolutely a brilliant composer even when we did the first film, it just so happened that his first film was with me. If it was not for Roja, he would’ve come out with some other film, which would have been equally brilliant,” the director said.
Ratnam recently praised S S Rajamouli and said ”Ponniyin Selvan” would not have been possible without ”Baahubali” and ”RRR”.
”Baahubali”, he explained, helped filmmakers realise that a period costume film could be made on a large scale and still have a market.
”It kind of established that and also it established that you can do a story in two parts and still be commercially viable. It would’ve been very difficult to do it as one film but since I had a reference, I was able to convince producers to go this way,” he said.
After the release of ”Ponniyin Selvan II”, the filmmaker said he intends to take a small break and then sit and worry about his next.