Thamizh Talkies: Behold the Mani Ratnam historical
The writer is a producer and art curator
The one thought in my head when I left the cinema hall after watching Ponniyin Selvan 1 was how Mani Ratnam has raised the benchmark in the genre of historical action dramas. Hereon, any filmmaker helming a historical film with real-life characters has to follow the path set by Ponniyin Selvan 1 in more ways than one. I foresee a new trend of making period dramas soaked in historical storylines, but this comes with a caveat. Mani Ratnam has made Kurosawa proud with his narrative and craft, and hereafter, filmmakers walking this path will look to make Mani Ratnam proud. Setting trends is not new to this filmmaker, of course—he’s been doing that for the last forty years. Like Nayagan paved the way for gangster dramas, perhaps Ponniyin Selvan will open ornate doors for a whole new genre of realistic historicals. A filmmaker should have a trait more than just ‘creative storytelling’ to make such a film: ‘creative discipline’, and this, Mani Ratnam has in ample measure.
I wonder if there’s ever been a director who can not only demand the best (from the best) but also give his best in terms of how he approaches his craft. I have had the good fortune to see how he worked on this film and what struck me most is his immense discipline in his daily schedule. He’s not driven by whims and fancies and has an in-depth understanding of how to put a budget to good use. He doesn’t ‘make do’ with what's available but asks for ‘specifics’, and as a man of few words, he commands thousands of his cast and crew members! As Karthi told me once, “Mani sir does this easily because he approaches his craft (and therefore, the people who are needed for it) with a lot of love. There’s so much love he gives us that we have no other choice but to surrender.” And love, when combined with self-discipline, is a superpower because you can lead the pack by being an example of what you stand for, and as a bonus, you also have the emotional rein to lead others to victory. And that’s what Ponniyin Selvan is!
His Madras Talkies has withstood the test of time, and this would not be possible without financial discipline and good people management. Ponniyin Selvan 1’s gargantuan box-office opening is comparable with the opening that the biggest heroes draw! The film’s victory has brought back respect and box-office acclaim to cinema’s real hero: The Filmmaker. For now, I’m still inside the ‘dark Pazhuvur corridors’ like Vanthiyathevan (a splendid Karthi) and listening to Nambi’s whispers (Jayaram is superlative). I’m left introspecting on the manipulative Nandhini (a bewitching Aishwarya Rai) and the political acumen of Kundavai (a majestic Trisha). But my heart went out to Aaditha Karikalan and his lament (Aditha Karikalan is one up on Vikram's Raavanan). His trance will linger for a long time! And finally, when Arunmozhivarman (what a royal presence Jayam Ravi is!) tears through the Indian Ocean, it felt like the word ‘komagan’ (Son of a King) was invented only for him!
Hear one and hear all! It’s time to move on from the Tamil historical film that relied on heavy sets, static frames, separate song sequences and lengthy monologues. Here comes the ‘Mani Ratnam Historical’ in which the camera moves with the characters! Roll out the red carpet for various aspects of filmmaking brilliance (Ravivarman, Sreekar Prasad, AR Rahman, Thotta Tharani, Siva Ananth, Eka Lakhanj, Brinda Master, Sham Kaushal, Anand Krishnamoorthy, and others in Madras Talkies...) that is possible to attain only when one shows the same level of consistent, affectionate discipline that Mani Ratnam does.
What a roar for September!