Mani Ratnam: The story of Kadal is universal
It's not often that one sees Mani Ratnam in Hyderabad. He was here in the plush HICC for the audio launch and the trailer release of Kadali, the Telugu dubbed version of Kadal.
He had arrived early and was supervising things for the event when he agreed to spare a few minutes for a chat regarding his new film, Kadal.
The backdrop of Kadal
Kadal is set in a fishing village but the story is universal. It's one of good versus evil and the story of an individual caught between sin and redemption.
Casting for Kadal
Sometimes it falls into place fast; sometimes we have to do more till we get it right. Casting is so important. It's like fifty per cent of my job becomes easier if I get the correct cast.
It's very crucial to make a character or a story believable. I don't do a casting coup for the sake of a coup. When I cast for a film, it's only with who is right for the role. Nothing else matters.
We did audition many youngsters before Gautham and Thulasi. Sometimes you do casting against the grain. Lakshmi Manchu's was one such. She is a small but significant character and we needed an earthy and different face.
Image: Movie poster of Kadal. Inset: Mani Ratnam
'Everything I see at any point of time becomes material for me'
Research done for the film
What kind of research would one do? You need to know the background and the dialect. It's not like you get a book and take the knowledge from that. You have to convert that knowledge.
It's not like these are the things that fisherman normally have in their house. I need to know where they have it in their house. What will they do if it rains? Where will the net be? How is the boat kept?
We have to be there, have people who are from that side on to your side and who will make sure that those things are right and you work in tandem with those people. Make sure you get it believable. You cannot get it 100 per cent, as it would then become a documentary.
What you try to do is to make it as closely right as possible. I take a lot of inputs as I go. I finish shooting and I go back, I see something, maybe a procession going on with a father walking by, and incorporate that.
Everything I see at any point of time becomes material for me.
The film was shot in Dhanushkodi, Rameshwaram Thoothukudi and one of the islands in the Andamans. Since it happens on the sea coast, the sea looks different at different times and it needs different settings for different people.
You need to create an ambience and a mood which doesn't jump out and look alien but still looks a part of it.
Image: A scene from Kadal
'It took me seven years to make Roja'
Making bilinguals and Tamil films
When I made Raavan (Hindi) Raavanan (Tamil), it was one of the rooted films I have done. It's just that bilinguals have certain drawbacks, certain compromises in terms of where you can shoot because it's two versions. If you do a film in one language you can be specific - perfect dialect wise, costume wise.
Ideas from reality
Some ideas have the ability to develop into a full-blown script, some look promising but remain an idea. For example, the thought of Roja was there for seven years before the film was made. It remained a thought, which I couldn't move further till something happened, and it became a film.
Sometimes it takes time to germinate. It remains with you and if you keep going back to an idea then there's something in that which appeals to you. I keep jotting down things. Sometimes they may be very ridiculous (laughs).
Image: A scene from Roja
'I don't want the actors to please me but to also please themselves'
Extracting performances from actors
When I did my first film and worked with actors, I had an idea of what I liked and didn't like. When I finished the film, I thought I have exhausted everything I wanted to see in the actors and for the next film I don't have anything.
But when you go to a different story, different characters, different setting then you just try to create that character. A character is created on paper or a laptop but is done in the four walls.
You take that scene out and put it in a real situation with people playing that, it takes on a different shape and for that you need these persons to invent also. I don't want the actors to just imitate me but also to put something in. I don't want the actors to please me but to also please themselves.
Yes, it is tough, nagging, fascinating, troublesome, exciting; it comes, it doesn't come and when it comes and promises to be exciting, it disappears. But it's a high.
The high is when the idea comes, as you are writing you don't know where it was and suddenly it appeals and it comes out and that's the best. From there it's execution - writing the scenes out.
Image: A scene from Kadal
'I don't believe it is necessary to be mainstream to be entertaining'
Going strong after so many years
Oh, I feel as if I just came yesterday (laughs).
I like to make films that reach people. I want to communicate with people. The only thing I don't believe it is necessary to be mainstream to be entertaining.
You have to be foolish, you have to be a buffoon, to sell. You can be sensible, logical and aesthetic and still work within the mainstream. That is what I've tried to do.
I'm not scared to try. If it doesn't work, it doesn't. I get up and try again.
Other interestsOnce the film is complete and out, I start reading newspapers and become normal again (laughs). I play golf, travel and catch up with reading.
Image: Movie poster of Kadal