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Dil Se - The Biggest movie to Hit India In 1998

Mani Rathnam Interview

From the Deccan Herald 

Courtesy: Lakshmi (The Shah Rukh Page)

At high noon, Mani Ratnam’s showered and scrubbed in his “club select” Juhu hotel room. He looks the way he always has: blue jeans, striped handloom shirt, keds, and a bemused smile dancing on his face.

An assistant is jotting story ideas on paper sheets. Evidently a potential plot is already percolating. I detect and errant crease on the ace director’s forehead. Could he be a tad anxious about the impending release of his first Hindi film Dil Se? Or am I just imagining the stress pangs? Ergo, the first question…

Hello, are you trying to look cool when you're actually quite hassled?

Hassled? Who me? No, way, I'm fine. I always feel relieved on completing a film. You're excited when you start a project, but three-fourths of the way, you're desperate to reach the shore. Like it or not, although hands-on film-making is the priority, you also have to be something of a marketing and business person. You have to ensure that enough money is made to survive and bankroll your next film.

Did you opt for a Hindi film because your Tamil film Iruvar didn't fare well commercially?

No, there weren't any trade pressures at all. I opted for Dil Se because the story is set in the north. Earlier, I had to devise ways and means to place Tamil-speaking characters in the north, like Nayakan, Mouna Ragam, Roja and Bombay. (Laughs). Since I'd exhausted my bag of tricks, now I've gone for a straight Hindi film. In any case, it's not as if I've shifted bag and baggage to Hindi cinema...my next project will be in Tamil once again. I didn't have to grapple with the Hindi dialogue. Though I can't speak the language fluently, I can understand it. I could also place my trust in the Hindi-speaking actors and let them come up with their own inputs.

What was the kick-off point for Dil Se?

I can’t put my finger on the kick-off point. Usually a story starts off with a random thought, a germ. You can spend a year rejecting hundreds of ideas and then reach a crucial decision when you know, yes, this is it. I’d worked on another script for a sort of slice-of-life romantic film which starts where other love stories end. A couple fall in love, get married, and what happens. Maybe I’ll still make this story some day.

Are you afraid of your ideas being stolen?

(Laughs) I’m afraid of ideas being stolen when they’re in the conceptual stage. If they’re stolen after I’ve finished a film then I’m flattered.

From the look of things, Dil Se seems to be a mix of Roja and Bombay.

It’s probably that. It’s the last of a trilogy on personal relationships against the political backdrop of India today.

What is the India of today?

I wish I knew. No one can define it, you can just reflect on the conflicts. What bothers me most are those nuclear tests. But no, it won’t be the subject of my next script. I don’t want to get stuck on topical themes. For a film-maker to remain alive and kicking, variety is essential.

Would you make a sex comedy then?

(Laughs uproariously) Why not? That’s an idea, so don’t accuse me of stealing it. But seriously, I’d love to make films of every genre. India is capable of making those blockbuster disaster movies too though I’m not fond of them personally, unless they have a sub-text like that tidal wave episode in Akira Kurosawa’s Dreams. As for Titanic, what can I say? It was just a lovely Hindi film.

Can you truly make the kind of films you want to?

Not always, but I’m getting there. The snag is that you have to work in form that’ll reach a large audience. I’m trying to give up some of the safety elements like the conventional format of story-telling where everything have to be explained and underlined. I still enjoy incorporating songs though. The solution is not to be apologetic about them but to let yourself go.

Like shooting Chhaiya Chhaiya for Dil Se atop a moving train?

Sure! I felt absolutely liberated shooting that song. A song sequence by its very nature is absurd…so you might as well enjoy yourself while it lasts and make others break into a jig to your tune. I break into a jig too, but only after the movie’s over.

Was the no-show of Iruvar at the box office a step back for you?

In a way, it’s a no-show allowed me to start all over again on a clean slate. It did hurt when it didn’t do well commercially. Still I’m extremely proud of Iruvar, I think it’s my best film to date. I thought Mohanlal came up with an amazing performance. Frankly, I was disappointed he didn’t win the National Award for it.

Jayalalitha has stated you made a hash of Iruvar.

Everyone’s entitled to his or her own opinion. In this case, the rest of Tamil Nadu also agreed with her.

Okay, are you satisfied with the way your casting turned out for Dil Se

I’m thrilled. Shahrukh Khan was thoroughly involved, treating the project like his own baby. And any other actress besides Manisha Koirala is unthinkable in her role. Yes, I did approach Kajol but that was for the earlier slice-of-life script which I abandoned.

Finally, how do you estimate yourself as a scriptwriter?

(Laughs) I’m fantastic! I love the struggle of creating a story which starts with one word on a sheet of paper and then starts flowing. I write my own scripts because I haven’t found anyone who thinks and feels the way I do. A perfect rapport has to be established with the writer, which is as difficult as finding the right woman to marry and live with happily every after.