The year was 2004. I rushed into the cranky, old pathetic excuse for a theater that we used to have in our hometown after I managed to get a ‘premier’ ticket despite the last-minute buy.
My Mathematics book dangling by in my little bag, and the image of my bald tuition teacher getting ready to kill me played again and again in my head. Yet, at that moment, all I did was to thank God for getting a ticket upstairs and not downstairs. It was a matter of pride. Poor people watch movies from downstairs, which is only RM1 cheaper, and where you need to tilt your head upwards all the time to watch the full movie screen. From upstairs, you can relax your head whichever way you want. Until some uncivilized baboon decides to go ballistic during a scene in front of you, and starts jumping and shouting at the sight of his favorite hero.
We did not buy any drinks or food, we had decided to bunk our Mathematics tuition even though our teacher was obviously the fiercest man in the whole of the town (there is a big love affair between him and the habit of caning, twisting people’s ears, just to name a few).
And when the title credits of the movie I came to watch begun playing, I forgot all the hassle and troubles. Frozen on the spot, I did not know that will be the moment which will change my life forever- the moment when Mani Ratnam’s Aayitha Ezhuttu played its opening credits- with a slow haunting music accompanied by sounds of cars whizzing by in a highway.
Prior to this title credit, I always wanted to do something meaningful with my life. By that I don’t mean losing count of my As, going to a freezing atmosphere to study medicine, get stuck with science and chemistry for the rest of my life, earn good money, marry someone for the sake of it, and drive a posh car. No, that wouldn’t surprise anyone. I needed to surprise people. I was always the odd one out among my friends. That small Ram, that little Ram. If an oaf wants to brag about how many As he’s got, I would be the obvious target. Whether it was for my size or my cheesy smile or my soft heart, I never knew. Very few thought I was strong.
Of course I’d never win a fight with any of them. I didn’t bother getting into a fight when my friends were busy piling up on each other, clenching their fists, or bragging about slapping another heart. Strength is in the heart- or so I said for my own convenience. But I was never more right in life. I heard countless of times people saying I would not make it big, that I’m nothing but a ridiculous day-dreamer. I wouldn’t have blamed them- we were all living in Sitiawan, a place from where you can only dream and nothing more.
But that moment changed everything. The next a friend asked me what do I wish to become- pilots, engineer, doctor all went flying out of the door.
“I want to become a film-maker.”
Jaws dropped. Some laughter emanated from behind me. And I was aware of all that. Not once was I so lost that I was oblivious of what people thought of my ambition. But those title credits sparked the confidence in me, it gave purpose for a young man who was searching for a purpose. Something major was missing from my life- and that was discovering what my dream was- having a concrete ambition. The moment I knew what I wanted to do with my life, rest became history.
This article perched here on this website is a testament to how far I’ve come, even though I might still have some distance to cover before I cross the coveted finishing line.
But I never turned my back on one name, which played an instrumental role in sparking my dreams- Mani Ratnam.
Whether or not he revolutionized the Indian film industry, he definitely left a timeless impact in my life and dreams. With a parchment of honesty attached to every story he narrates, this man always represents a curious perfectionist- someone who always tries something new without having a formula to tell him whether it will work or not work.
He has had an equal share of successes and failure in his glittering career, but while people will be busy talking about Roja or Bombay, I know there is one work he never got proper recognition for- and that is Iruvar.
A film with no traditional ending or a beginning, portraying the ego of two talismanic personalities is no easy task. But to do so while providing entertainment and an engaging screenplay will go down as one of the greatest cinematic achievements in India- one that was never spoken widely about.
Now celebrating his 55th birthday, Mani Ratnam stands at a crossroads of sorts- he hasn’t, in the eye of the masses, produced a masterpiece ever since Kannathil Muthamittal nearly a decade ago. He had one hit and two major box office duds, and many had written him off as someone who is on the wane.
But sometimes in life you reach a stage where you don’t need people telling you whether you are doing the right thing or the wrong thing. We don’t have to tell him whether he had produced a good work or not- be it Raavan or Yuva, because we were the very same masses who outright rejected his Iruvar many years ago.
Today, it is hailed as one of the best films ever, and I know for a fact that Iruvar is Mani’s personal favorite. Similarly, Mani’s legacy will only live on if he continues doing things as he please and not give in to demands of the audiences. No matter how much we demand, we are not the ones breaking our sweats to make a film.
People may write you off today, but tomorrow they will be eating their words because you can do one spectacular work that would amaze all those who thought otherwise. This has been the story of my life- and Mani, who is no stranger to amazing people and triggering adulation- definitely will deliver one big bang that would shake everyone before he takes his final bow.
It could be next year, the year after, or a decade from now, but talent is one thing that never wanes. And you can never put a good man down.
My celluloid guru,
Gopala Ratnam Subramaniam Iyer.
Mani Ratnam had, in career spanning nearly three decades, become the guru for Academy Award winning composer AR Rahman, actor R Madhavan, Aravind Swamy, national award winner Saranya Ponvannan and India’s most famous female celebrity Aishwarya Rai- to name a few.