Well, Guru was released recently (ok, ok not that recently, but I have been busy!). And it has been a trend since Dil Se that every time a Mani Ratnam movie is released, it is that time of the year again, the time for Mani Ratnam bashing. The main stream media usually carries positive toned articles on his latest effort and on the man himself. And the artistes he works with praise him to high heaven (for example see the cast of Guru rhapsodize about him here). So those normal people who are analytical and critical of all things take it upon themselves to do the bashing. And I spent a whole lot of time reading these bashings.
This little note here is my rebellion against those critics. First of all, let me address the question, why do I feel the need to rebel? Those that were doing the bashing had genuine reasons to do so and I even agreed with their point of view. Well, I have to rebel because I am Tamil and am a fan of Tamil Cinema. And you have to be a Tamil to know that Tamil Cinema as a social phenomenon revolves around icons. We, the Tamils have icons of all different kinds. We had MGR, the Puratchi Thalivar, man above all reproach. We had Sivaji, the Nadigar Thilgam, wizard of acting. We had Balachander, the starmaker and the man with strange stories to tell. We had Bharathiraja, the man who understood the villager. We have Rajnikanth, the Super Star. And we have Mani Ratnam, the master film maker who gets the urban youth. I want to take a few moments of your time to explain to all non-Tamil folks (bloody “Anniyargal”!:)) how we the Tamils view our cinema.
In order to view the movie of an icon the way the promoters of the movie want you to view it, you have to take the tagline associated with the icon in question as a given. For example take the Super Star. To be even more specific, let us take a particular movie...mmm…let’s see, the one that comes to mind for me is Baasha. If you have seen this movie, you will have to agree with me that it is a good “bad movie”. But, if you consider the fact that Baasha/Manickam is the Super Star as a given, change your mindset and then watch the movie then Baasha is a very good Super Star movie! And for those of you who do not know, this is how a Super Star movie works. Super Star plays this ultra nice guy, do-gooder, some bad things happen to him, but in the end good triumphs over evil. And in the background, there is some pretty girl that falls for our hero and pursues him till he yields, facilitating some of the songs. Sounds like most of the good “bad movies” around right? But what sets a Super Star movie apart is that he does all of this in a way that has “style” written all over him. And one of the ways this is accomplished is by giving him a “punch dialogue” that is repeated many times through out the movie. In Baasha it was “Naan oru tharava sonna, nooru tharava sonna maadiri!” (roughly translates to “if I say it once, it is like having said it a hundred times”) delivered with a special effects swish added to his movements when he says it. And if you are Tamil, you know how that rocked J! And if you are not, check out the youtube clip here (it is a bad choice in that what I want you to see is at the very end of this five minute clip, but could not find a better example).
And we Tamils take the tagline and icon status very seriously. And if the icon dares to deviate from his given image we punish him by not watching his movies our usual five times. An example of this is Super Star’s Baba (it is a bad “bad movie” about Rajni’s philosophical confusions). It was the first time in a long time that a Super Star movie bombed at the box office. Another example would be Bharathiraja’s Taj Mahal. A villager in the movie dared to wear pants throughout the movie! No dhothi? No cookie! It was one of Bharathiraja’s few utter failures.
And after that long tutorial into the psyche of Tamil cinema, let me get back to the man I started talking about in the beginning, Mani Ratnam. The problem with this guy is two fold. Firstly, his fans even among us Tamils are the so called “intellectual” part of the society. The characteristic of this part of the society is that the logical part of their mind tells them that icons and such don’t have any meaning and it should be beneath them to take icons seriously. On the other hand, the part of their mind that is a slave of social conditioning craves for the sense of …I am not sure what, security? Familiarity? Something like that, that icons provide to the movie going public. So, when they watch a Mani Ratnam movie that is not quite right (and in retrospect, all his movies have been not quite right in the recent past, except Dil Se, but I have to take a separate post to justify this), they want to criticize it. And they do, but mildly, for the part of their mind that is subject to social conditioning prevents them from going full blown.
Then comes the second part of the problem. The guy chooses to make movies in Hindi, to an audience that is not Tamil and hence has no idea what Icons are! And us Tamils have to be subject to the analysis of these non conditioned (and therefore more objective) folks! And what an existential angst this causes in the Tamil fan…his or her logic inclines the person to agree, but then the conditioning forces him or her to rebel! Oh Mani, why do you subject us to this torture? Stick to an audience that loves you irrespective of what you do and that way spare us all this torture! :))