In the interests of full disclosure, I must state upfront that I have interviewed both Baradwaj Rangan and Mani Ratnam for my forthcoming biography of Rajnikanth, that is also being published by the same company as the book under review.
Rangan says in his beautifully rendered introduction that he belongs to the generation that came of age with the films of Mani Ratnam. I too belong to the same generation, and have also grown up with his films and remain a faithful follower of his work, though I may not like some of it. Since I first became aware of Rangan’s writings on cinema, I have followed it with the same zeal with which I follow Ratnam’s work. In my considered opinion, he is one of a handful of people writing on cinema in India who can lay claim to the exalted position of ‘film critic’, as opposed to a mere reviewer, given that he not just expresses his opinion, but also provides a detailed analysis of a film, even if the work in question is so much dross.
Conversations with Mani Ratnam is one of the finest books on Indian cinema ever. It follows the Q&A format employed in Hitchcock: A Definitive Study of Alfred Hitchcock by Francois Truffaut and Conversations with Scorsese by Richard Schickel and can take its rightful place alongside those paragons of the genre. Ratnam has the reputation of being an introvert, but that’s mainly because he does not suffer fools gladly. Ask him a stupid question and he’ll give you a brief stock answer, thus cementing this reputation. Rangan’s questions are anything but that. He starts off by treading the water lightly and circles around Ratnam by asking some general questions. The questions make for as much delightful reading as Ratnam’s answers, given that they are incredibly informed and analytical. When Rangan dives in and throws in the occasional bouncer, Ratnam is more than equal to the challenge, choosing either to dead bat it or knock it out of the park. Too many reviews of this book have reproduced some of these delicious exchanges and I’m not going to spoil your reading pleasure by reproducing them here. The book does demand a fair knowledge of Ratnam’s work. On the other hand, for the uninitiated, it’s a great starting point for Ratnam’s brand of cinema.
(Naman Ramachandran’s biography of Rajnikanth is out in December)
What is amazing is that 'Tango Charlie' is a Mani Ratnam movie. Nothing can say anthing more about his association with movies. 'Roja' is a markedly Tamil movie, and I appreciated a Tamil movie, in that language, without understanding the movie.
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