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66 things you probably didn’t know about the living legend Mani Ratnam

As the auteur turns 66 on June 2, 2022, here’s a list of interesting facts about the Tamil director

  • Ryan Gomez, Arya Harikumar, Avinash Mudaliar, Kunal Guha

Last Updated: 06.06 PM, Jun 02, 2022

66 things you probably didn’t know about the living legend Mani Ratnam

Indian cinema has an excellent history of producing some of the finest filmmakers the world has seen, from the ingenuity of Satyajit Ray to the finesse of Adoor Gopalakrishnan. Mani Ratnam falls into this category of auteurs who have revolutionised filmmaking, often redefining conventional styles to render engrossing stories with their signature flourishes that have left an indelible mark on India’s cinematic landscape.

Predominantly known for his work in Tamil cinema, Mani Ratnam has worked in Hindi, Kannada, Telugu, and Malayalam film industries as well. Even though he found success hard to come by early in his career, the 1986 film Mouna Ragam established him as one of the leading filmmakers in the country at the time. But it was his follow-up film Nayakan, released in 1987, starring Kamal Hassan, that cemented his place as a force to be reckoned with in Indian cinema. He would soon be associated with creating characters and storylines that are relatable and epic in equal measure. However, his greatest strength is his ability to find the right balance for drafting compelling and thought-provoking narratives which were also grand cinematic spectacles.

Films such as Iruvar, Kannathil Muthamittal, Thalapathy, Roja, Guru, Yuva and Raavan, have explored several socio-political themes, often serving as social commentary. However, Mani Ratnam has always maintained the ‘Indian style’ in all of his films with some of the most memorable songs ever produced for Indian cinema. He has also showcased his ability to adapt to any genre from crime thrillers, war, and romance.

To celebrate his 66th birthday, we have listed 66 facts about the versatile filmmaker and his films.

  • Mani Ratnam, whose official name is Gopala Ratnam Subramaniam, was born into a film family. His father S. Gopala Ratnam was a film distributor and his uncle ‘Venus’ Krishnamurthy was a producer. But despite his lineage, the elders in his family forbade him from watching movies which they felt were inappropriate for him.
  • Ratnam is a management graduate from Mumbai’s premier B-school Jamnalal Bajaj Institute of Management Studies.
  • Ratnam initially worked as a management consultant before venturing into filmmaking. He began his film journey as a crew member for an untitled film starring Vishnuvardhan, Srinath, Ambarish, Lakshmi, and Roja Ramani. However, the project didn’t take off.
  • Ratnam then wrote a script in English and approached several producers but was met with rejection. Later, his uncle Krishnamurthy and T. Govindarajan of Venus Pictures agreed to finance the film but they had a condition: The film should be a low-budget Kannada film and not Tamil, as originally intended by Ratnam.
  • Ratnam made his directorial debut with the Kannada film Pallavi Anu Pallavi which was produced by his uncle Krishnamurthy and T. Govindarajan. Bollywood actor Anil Kapoor was cast as the protagonist in the film, which marked the actor’s first movie as a conventional hero. The film revolved around a relationship between an older woman and a younger man.
  • Ratnam wanted Kamal Haasan to play the lead role in his debut film. The actor later claimed that he didn’t take up the role due to other prior commitments.
  • For the female lead, Ratnam wanted to cast Suhasini (who later became his wife) but couldn’t do so due to date clashes. Later, Kapoor recommended Kiran Vairale, his co-star in Ek Baar Kaho.
  • Pallavi Anu Pallavi was also the last movie which featured the Julie pair Vikram-Lakshmi. In fact, it was Lakshmi who suggested Kapoor be cast in the film.
  • For Pallavi Anu Pallavi, Ratnam managed to put together a team comprising B Lenin for editing, Thota Tharani for art direction, and Ilaiyaraaja for music.
  • Legendary music composer, Illaiyaraaja met Mani Ratnam through a mutual friend while the latter was working on his directorial debut Pallavi Anu Pallavi. Despite Mani Ratnam’s lack of resources to hire Illaiyaraaja for the project, the composer agreed to work on it for one-fifth of his usual fee. The songs would eventually go on to be considered among the composer’s greatest hits. Interestingly, both Illaiyaraaja and Ratnam celebrate their birthdays on the same day, June 2.
  • Despite receiving rave reviews from critics and winning several awards, including Best Screenplay award at the Karnataka State Film Award for Ratnam, Pallavi Anu Pallavi received an underwhelming response at the box- office.
  • After making his debut in Pallavi Anu Pallavi, Ratnam was offered the chance to direct a Malayalam film by producer N. G. John, who had backed commercially-successful films such as Ee Nadu (1982) and Iniyengilum (1983). And thus Ratman made his debut in Malayalam films with the political drama Unaru which starred Mohanlal, Sukumaran, Balan K. Nair, Ratheesh, Sabitha Anand, and Ashokan.
  • Ratnam’s Agni Natchathiram (1988) ran in theatres for 200 days and marked the debut of acclaimed actress Nirosha.
  • When N G John and Ratnam decided to collaborate, the latter had pitched the original script of Mouna Ragam (1986). However, John wanted to make a political film and they eventually began working on Unaru, which focused on the corruption in the labour union movement in Kerala.
  • Unaru is Ratnam’s only feature film in Malayalam and is widely regarded as a cult classic.
  • Unaru translates to awaken or rise, and it is symbolic of the awakening of the working-class man from the oppression of large corporations.
  • Later in his career, Ratnam admitted that he had to overcome several hurdles to complete the production of Unaru. The fact that the film explored very different aspects and narrative structures from his previous films and the sheer size of the ensemble were some of the factors that made the ordeal tedious.
  • T. G. Thyagarajan, Ratnam’s childhood friend, insisted on creating an action film when Ratnam pitched the story of Mouna Ragam. This would lead to the production of Pagal Nilavu, Ratnam’s first Tamil movie. The film featured an ensemble of Sathyaraj, Murali, Revathi, Raadhika, and Sarath Babu,
  • Despite making Tamil films such as Pagal Nilavu and Idaya Kovil his major breakthrough came with the release of the 1986 movie Mouna Ragam, starring Revathi and Mohan.
  • Mouna Ragam was remade in Hindi as Kasak (1992) and in Kannada as Chandrodaya (1999)
  • Mouna Ragam earned Ratnam his first Filmfare Award for Best Director
  • Mouna Ragam also won the National Award for Best Feature Film in Tamil.
  • Mouna Ragam ran in cinemas for 175 days and was a blockbuster hit at the time.
  • Mani Ratnam gained national prominence through the film the 1987 movie Nayakan. Starring Kamal Haasan, the film is loosely based on the real-life story of underworld gangster Varadarajan Mudaliar.
  • Nayakan has also taken inspiration from Francis Ford Coppola’s 1972 film The Godfather. Lead star Kamal Haasan said that he had a discussion with Ratnam about reimagining the stereotype surrounding the idea of a Tamil gangster. They took inspiration from Mario Puzo and Coppola’s version of a gangster to depict more sophisticated and complex underworld characters through Nayakan.
  • Nayakan was a universal success, smashing box office records whilst also bagging three National Awards —Best Actor, Best Cinematography, and Best Art Direction at the 35th National Film Awards.
  • Nayakan was India's official entry to the Oscars at the 60th Academy Awards for Best Foreign Language Film. However, it failed to receive a nomination.
  • Geethanjali, starring Nagarjuna and Girija Shettar, released in 1989 is the only Telugu film directed by Ratnam. It won the National Film Award for Best Popular Film Providing Wholesome Entertainment in 1990.
  • The 1992 Hindi film Yaad Rakhegi Duniya is a remake of Geethanjali.
  • Anjali, the 1990 film, starring Baby Shamili is about an autistic child who touched and inspired the lives of those around her. It was a critical and commercial success and was India's official entry to the Oscars in the Best Foreign Language Film category at the 63rd Academy Awards.
  • Anjali also marked the 500th film for ace composer Ilaiyaraaja who is credited for the film’s score.
  • Thalapathi was the most expensive South Indian film at the time of its release in 1991. The film featured Rajinikanth and Mammootty in lead roles, and it is loosely based on the friendship between Karna and Duryodhana in Mahabharata.
  • Thalapathi was Arvind Swamy's feature film debut. He would later go on to play the lead in the hit film Roja
  • Malayalam film director Joshy was instrumental in Malayalam screen legend Mammootty accepting the role in Mani Ratnam’s Thalapathi. Mammootty was shooting for the movie Kuttettan in Madras at the time and was urged to take up the role as it would make him more popular amongst the rural Tamil population.
  • Rajinikanth’s character Surya dies at the end of Thalapathi, a reference to Karna in the story of Mahabharatha, who dies in the Kurukshetra war. But fans of Rajinikanth were enraged that their beloved superstar was killed off and so they rioted, burning down theatres. Therefore Mani Ratnam was forced to change the ending and Mammootty’s character Deva was killed off instead.
  • Thalapathi was also Ratnam’s last collaboration with music composer Ilaiyaraaja.
  • Ratnam first collaborated with A R Rahman in the 1992 Tamil film Roja. Rahman came to Ratnam’s attention at an awards ceremony where the latter was awarded the Best Jingle Composer. The rest as they say is history.
  • Ratnam and Rahman have collaborated in up to 17 films.
  • Roja is the first film in Ratnam’s trilogy of films called the ‘Terrorism trilogy’. Bombay (1995) and Dil Se (1998) are the other two.
  • The 1995 film Bombay was to be released at a time when the socio-political landscape of Maharashtra was at a delicate balance after the Mumbai riots of the early 90s. The Central Board of Film Certification were reluctant to clear the film for release as the film’s narrative dealt with inter-faith marriages, and they feared it would incite further communal discord.
  • The film’s controversies did not end there. Ratnam was attacked at his own residence while he was having coffee outside on his patio. Crude bombs were thrown at him by alleged Islamist fundamentalist groups and he sustained injuries.
  • Bombay was ranked among the top 20 Indian films by the British Film Institute’s rankings. It also earned several accolades and honours including a National Award for Best Feature Film on National Integration.
  • Mani Ratnam had reportedly considered Aishwarya Rai Bachchan initially for the role of Meghna in the 1998 film Dil Se. The role eventually went to Manisha Koirala after Rai Bachchan was dropped for unknown reasons.
  • Unlike its predecessors Roja and Bombay, Dil Se did not live up to its expectations at the box office in India. But it became the first Indian movie to climb to the top 10 charts at the UK box office charts.
  • The iconic 1997 film Iruvar is based on the lives of former film stars M. G. Ramachandran (MGR ) and J. Jayalalithaa, and screenwriter M. Karunanidhi - all three went on to become Chief Ministers of Tamil Nadu. It stars Mohanlal as MGR, Prakash Raj as Karunanidhi, and Aishwarya Rai Bachchan as J Jayalalithaa.
  • Aishwarya Rai Bachchan made her feature film debut in Iruvar.
  • There was speculation in the mid-90s that Mammotty would essay the role of Karunanidhi in Iruvar. In 2018, Mammootty all but confirmed this on Facebook when he wrote a tribute for Karunanidhi’s passing, claiming that he regrets not taking up the opportunity to play the character in Iruvar.
  • Alaipayuthey was released in 2000, and it was the Tamil feature film debut for R Madhavan and is widely regarded as one of Ratnam’s best films.
  • Alaipayuthey was remade in Hindi as Saathiya. It was directed by Shaad Ali who had previously worked with Ratnam in Dil Se.
  • Ratnam’s 2002 film, Kannathil Muthamittal, won six National Awards and premiered at the 2002 Toronto International Film festival. It film stars Madhavan, Simran, Baby Keerthana, and Nandita Das,
  • Acclaimed Tamil director Karthik Subbaraj told in an interview with Film Companion that he was in college when Mani Ratnam’s Kannathil Muthamittal was released in 2002. At the time he assumed that the film would be a romantic movie considering the cast and the fact that it was released on Valentine's Day. He added that he was surprised that the film featured a nuanced narrative that dealt with social issues., and that helped him become the director he is today.
  • Bollywood star Abhishek Bachchan has collaborated with Mani Ratnam for three films - Yuva (2004), Guru (2007), and Raavan (2010).
  • It is common knowledge that Abhishek Bachchan and Aishwarya Rai Bachchan fell in love during the sets of Guru. He even reportedly used a prop from the film to propose to Aishwarya.
  • Abhishek Bachchan in an interview said that while he was in New York shooting for a film he would stand on his balcony and would daydream about marrying Aishwarya. Coincidentally he would return to the same balcony for the premiere of Guru with Aishwarya by his side. He took this as a sign from the universe and proposed to her right there.
  • Ratnam has had an illustrious career spanning over 39 years. He received several honours and accolades including six National Awards, four Filmfare Awards, and six Filmfare Awards South. He was also honoured with the Padma Shri in 2002 by the Government of India for his contributions to film.
  • For the 2015 OK Kanmani, the romantic comedy starring Dulquer Salmaan and Nithya, Mani Ratnam wrote the lyrics for a song in the film. It would be the only time in his career that he has written the lyrics for a song.
  • Balakrishna Doshi, a legendary Indian architect makes, an appearance in Mani Ratnam's 2015 film 'Oh Kadhal Kanmani'. Doshi is widely regarded as one of the pioneers of modern Indian architecture.
  • Ratnam admitted in an interview that despite his experience he too suffers from the occasional writer’s block. In order to free up his mind, he would take up other responsibilities with his assistants, such as deciding on the title and casting.
  • Despite earning a reputation for being careful and meticulous in his filmmaking, Ratnam admitted in an interview that he does not micromanage his actors. Instead, he gives them enough freedom to make adjustments to their performance depending on the demands of the screenplay.
  • Actors Gautham Karthik and Thulasi Nair made their feature film debuts in Ratnam's 2013 crime drama Kadal. Gautham is the son of noted actor Karthik, and Thulasi Nair is the daughter of popular actress Radha. Interestingly, both Karthick and Radha made their feature film debuts together in the film Alaigal Oivathillai in 1981.
  • Ratnam’s Kadal revolves around two characters Bergmans and Sam, who both seek the soul of a boy named Thomas. According to the scriptwriter Jeyamohan, Kadal narrates the “story of a wounded boy who is transformed or elevated to a higher spiritual plane when a girl named Beatrice enters his life. The film’s central message is that it takes just a step to turn man into God but it takes several to turn a man into a devil. The film derives its name from Dante’s Beatrice di Folco Portinari who was an Italian woman who inspired Dante Alighieri’s Vita Nuova.
  • Mani Ratnam is married to actress Suhasini who was born to actor–lawyer Charuhasan and Komalam in Paramakudi. She was the middle child of three sisters. Her elder sister Nandhini is a doctor, while her younger sister Subhashini teaches English literature. Several family members including her father’s younger brothers, producer Chandrahasan and actor-politician Kamal Haasan, have been a part of the Tamil cinema industry. Her paternal cousins Anu Hasan, Shruti Haasan and Akshara Haasan are also actresses. Suhasini has turned down the offer to feature in three Ratnam films – Pallavi Anu Pallavi and Mouna Ragam, and the role of Velu Nayakar’s daughter in Nayakan. When Mani Ratnam met Suhasini Hasan for the first time, the filmmaker was 33 years old and had just made his foray into the industry. At the time, Suhasini was an established actress with a promising career ahead of her. In an interview, Suhasini revealed that when Ratnam had first approached her with the idea of a relationship, she had turned him down. The actress had clearly stated that she is a traditional girl and is only interested in marriage instead of relationships. Ratnam was very certain of his feelings for her and decided to take the marital plunge in 1988 and had their first born Nandan Maniratnam in 1992.
  • Ilaiyaraaja and A R Rahman are the only two music directors Ratnam has ever worked with. And since 1992 A R Rahman is the only music director who has collaborated with the acclaimed director.
  • Ratnam and cinematographer P. C. Sreeram are childhood friends. Both struggled in the 80s together to gain a foothold in the Tamil industry.
  • Ratnam has collaborated with ace cinematographer Santosh Sivan in films such as Thalapathi, Roja, Iruvar, Dil Se, Raavan, and Chekka Chivantha Vaanam. In an interview with Firstpost, Sivan said that Ratnam is a director who approaches every film as his first film. He further added that they were able to finish the shoot of a multi-starrer like Chekka Chivantha Vaanam in less than 60 days because of Ratnam who is always high on energy.
  • An FIR was once filed against Ratnam and other filmmakers after they had written a joint petition to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, raising concerns against the rise in communal violence against minorities.