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 Ratnams 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 directors 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 cant 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. Id 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 Ill still make this story some day.
Are you afraid of your ideas being stolen?
(Laughs) Im afraid of ideas being stolen when theyre in the conceptual stage. If theyre stolen after Ive finished a film then Im flattered.
From the look of things, Dil Se seems to be a mix of Roja and Bombay.
Its probably that. Its 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 wont be the subject of my next script. I dont 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? Thats an idea, so dont accuse me of stealing it. But seriously, Id love to make films of every genre. India is capable of making those blockbuster disaster movies too though Im not fond of them personally, unless they have a sub-text like that tidal wave episode in Akira Kurosawas 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 Im getting there. The snag is that you have to work in form thatll reach a large audience. Im 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 movies over.
Was the no-show of Iruvar at the box office a step back for you?
In a way, its a no-show allowed me to start all over again on a clean slate. It did hurt when it didnt do well commercially. Still Im extremely proud of Iruvar, I think its my best film to date. I thought Mohanlal came up with an amazing performance. Frankly, I was disappointed he didnt win the National Award for it.
Jayalalitha has stated you made a hash of Iruvar.
Everyones 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
Im 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) Im 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 havent 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.