'This novel, even after 1,000 years, is still relevant.'
'The politics and psychology is still relevant.'
'It is as contemporary as you can get.'
With the period action film Ponniyin Selvan: I, celebrated film-maker Mani Ratnam fulfills one of his most cherished dreams of adapting the cult Tamil historical fiction novel into a film.
"This is the film that (the late Tamil movie matinee idol) M G Ramachandran wanted to make, and he had a set of cast. Later when I thought of this, it was after a film called Nayakan that I had done with Kamal (Haasan). Both of us wanted to do this film," Mani tells Rediff.com Contributor Mohnish Singh.
How would you sum up the entire journey of PS-1 ahead of its release?
PS-1 has been a dream for a very long time.
From the first time I read the book, during my school days, it has been something I have seen on the big screen.
I never thought I would get into films nor did I think I would make it.
But it has always been calling to be made.
I think it was so spectacular as a story, as an adventure.
Several people have tried to make this before and they have not been able to for one reason: They wanted to leave it for me (laughs).
So I am so happy and glad that I get to make it at this time when technology has improved tremendously.
We are able to do it with a lot more comfort and authenticity, and with this cast and crew.
In fact, not only must you be right for the role, but you must also be right for the film, care about the film, and be willing to walk with me.
It is very special and I thank each one of them.
I also thank the producers who trusted us and gave us the money to go ahead and do it.
I have two people to thank from the Hindi film industry: One is Anil Kapoor; it was his voice in the trailer.
The other is Ajay Devgan, it will be his voice in the film.
The film is based on a book, which has five volumes. How did you adapt it into a film, releasing in two parts? How difficult was it?
It's difficult, but I am paid to do that.
It's my job to be able to extract a film out of this.
This book is really extensive and has so many characters and so many details.
There is so much history written in it. A lot of research has gone into it.
It's on a plate for me, so we could put it together.
There were some parts that had to be crunched, that had to be brought together and told in a cogent fashion that people would be able to follow.
In a democratic India, where the focus is always on looking into the future, what can society derive by going back to history?
I think you learn everything from history.
I think education itself is what you have learned and what new comes in and, you know, it builds up.
So everything is from the past, and the past is where the future comes from.
This novel, even after 1,000 years, is still relevant.
The politics and psychology is still relevant. It is as contemporary as you can get.
How did you put together such a massive cast? How did you decide who would play what?
I can't ask them to exchange roles.
I think when you approach an actor, you approach them with a character in mind.
You think he or she will be right for it and that is why you approached.
You approach them not for a film, but for a character. If they are able to be in sync with the character, if they like it, and if they have the time, it becomes perfect.
When you first wanted to make it, whom did you want to cast?
This is the film that M G Ramachandran wanted to make, and he had a set of cast.
Later when I thought of this, it was after a film called Nayakan that I had done with Kamal (Haasan).
Both of us wanted to do this film.
We started casting.
We just had Kamal Haasan as the hero and were working on the script, but it did not materialise because it was too big. We couldn't put it into a single film and we couldn't afford it.
So we left it.
When we make such big historical films, sometimes history is tweaked a little to satiate a certain type of audience. Have you done that or have you stayed true to the novel?
There are a lot of characters that are real, that existed, that have been recorded in history.
There are some characters that Kalki had written that were fictional.
I think the way he had blended the tools was fascinating.
That is what we tried to capture in the movie.