Why am I concerned about the films of Mani Ratnam? I didn’t watch even his latest ‘Kadal’ or even bothered to buy this critically acclaimed book about his filmography, style and circumstances of his success as a film-maker through interviews by the ever articulate and one of the many Indian film critics, who restore the faith in Indian film criticism, Baradwaj Rangan, though a friend persuaded me to almost buy that. This post was inspired by two songs I saw back to back in a YouTube playlist last week. Those two songs were ‘Rakkamma kaiya thattu’ from Mani Ratnam’s cult classic ‘Thalapathi’ and ‘Rukkumani Rukkumani’ from his National award-winning drama ‘Roja’. What is so special about these songs? Till now, I was and always get mesmerized by the music of both of them and the way the transition of different instrumental interludes that very well suits in the context of the film through the emotions it brings out in its subjects participating in it. But the unique thing I noticed last week (or maybe a known thing for many) was that at least a single song in all his films (From ‘Pallavi Anu Pallavi’ to ‘Kadal’) brings out the best and beauty of twilight. And when I searched for all the famous songs from all his films, each of them brought a different perspective of twilight not only in the songs, but also the situation of it, that invokes a feeling of calmness and awe among the audience, which can’t be expressed in words, most of the time.
This can very well be partly (or even more than that) credited to the cinematographers he usually collaborated with throughout his career. And no wonder, all the cinematographers he has worked with, are the great names in Indian cinema. Starting his career in ‘Pallavi Anu Pallavi’ with ace cinematographer/director BaluMahendra, collaborating many times with Ramchandra Babu, Rajiv Menon, Santhosh Sivan, and my favorite P.C.Sreeram, he had brought the best in them as well as in his films. And all the songs that were shot in twilight portrays the feeling of longing, loneliness, celebration, romance and happiness in some way or the other. Also, in most of the songs, the song starts with a sunrise or a sunset and the time space of the song gets related to the actual time phase resulting in the shots of night or the bright sunshine morning. And at the end of this post, you would feel the wonderful transition of the color palette in the songs and also the evolution of his taste in shooting them. Enjoy.
(Disclaimer: This can be an exhaustive list and may get monotonous at times. And I have divided the post into two parts as ‘Before 90’s’ and ‘After 90’s’ (Which was by far, his heydays where he literally made a style and name for himself, thereby making his works accessible to a pan-Indian and international audience). And if you have survived my writing till here, then its a cake-walk for you with the rest of the post. Also, bear with me for the low quality screenshots and videos for his yesteryear films.
Pallavi Anu Pallavi (1983, Kannada): This debut brought Mani Ratnam and Anil Kapoor much-needed critical acclaim at the early start of their respective careers, though it wasn’t a commercial hit back then. Though, I have a vague remembrance about the film (As I watched it one of the Doordarshan’s ‘Regional Cinema Retro’ back then), I really loved some of its songs, which can be attributed to the fact that the music was composed by maestro ‘Illaiyaraja’. (Who became the automatic choice as music director for Mani Ratnam’s films till Thalapathy and then, A.R.Rahman became one for the rest of his work till now) The famous song ‘ Naguva Nayana‘ brings out the candidness in the relationship between Anil Kapoor and Lakshmi as they hangout from morning to the evening, with the closing shots providing some brilliance in the form of images.
Unaru (1984, Malayalam): Though I haven’t seen this film, I listened and saw the songs from this film and there is one song that is beautiful visually and musically. The song ‘Theeram Thedi‘ gives us the impression of lovers getting united after some misunderstanding, and expressing the emotions in their walk along the calm sands of Kerala.
Pagal Nilavu (1985, Tamil): The song ‘Poo Malaye‘ is an awesome rendition by the stalwarts of Tamil cinema, Ilaiyaraja and S.Janaki. The best part in the song is when both of them continue the lyrics from where they left before and it appears to be a recitation of a poem. The brilliant composition by Ilaiyaraja is an icing on the cake.
Idaya Kovil (1985, Tamil): Those were the days when, whatever song Mohan appears, it becomes a hit and now almost all of his songs has attained a cult status among the people. The song ‘Vaanuyarndha Sollaiyile‘ is one among them. Though the starting of this song resembles pretty much like his other song ‘Naan paadum mouna ragam‘, both of them are pretty good ear-worms, I should say. Coming to this song, I love the way most of the time, Mohan appears to be in the silhouette with the sun setting in his backdrop in the course of this song. (Once again, sorry about the quality)
Mouna Ragam (1986, Tamil): Hailed to be one of the best works in Tamil cinema by Mani Ratnam in the genre of romance, this film has aged well over the years, yet keeping its legacy in tact. Looking up for the visual traits in all the songs from this film was difficult. Because, chances are that you end up admiring its brilliant music and the performance by Mohan (yeah, once again) and ever beautiful Revathi. I have taken couple of songs from this film, the first one being ‘Chinna Chinna Vanna Kuyil‘, the song that is so close to my heart and the my favorite in this film and after a lot of struggle, I had to view the song for its visual perspective. Revathi, visualizes this song after she develops an affinity towards Mohan after their not so smooth marriage relationship. This may be an overly used motif in Tamil cinema (And Indian cinema as a whole) to visualize the happiness in the form of dancing together with a group of people, which may be weird for someone who views Indian cinema for the first time. But the fact is when you are happy in life, you don’t wish to celebrate alone, do you?
(And my suggestion, is to listen to this song fully, especially for the flute interludes near the second stanza and of course, S. Janaki, giving us the much-needed calmness)
The next song in this film that we are going to see is the soothing track ‘Pani Vizhum Iravu‘, which literally meaning ‘Foggy Night’ (What? I get confused with Fog, Mist and Snow, as I come from the region which has neither of it to offer, so bear with me) and the song happens as a metaphorical reference to the feeling exchanged between Mohan and Revathi as they look at each other, while there is one group that dances to this song. And there is another flute interlude that comes in this song, which is, in my opinion, the high point of this song.
Though I searched a lot of this visual motif in his Godfather-sque ‘Nayakan’ and his revenge saga that has developed a cult status for the lighting, ‘Agni-Natchatram’ , I couldn’t find much (if you know some of the songs with this patter, let me know). But I have to say all the songs in both the films are brilliant. Give it a listen, even if you can’t find this pattern.
Geethanjali (1989, Telugu): I have a vague memories about this film, which I had a one time watch as a kid and I always kept forgetting the hero’s name (Who is Nagarjun by the way). And the only song in this film that I liked, remembered till now is ‘Oh Paapaa Laali’. Another song from this film ‘Aamani Paadavey‘ is under this pattern. This song which starts in the early morning sunrise (hint given by the chirping of birds) shows the protagonist wandering through the woods and secretly followed by a group of girls and as most of the songs you have seen till now, this also ends with the lingering shots of sunset, which compress the time-space relation and give us a view of the actor walking the whole day. (well, poetically correct)