Mani Ratnam© HelloIndia

HELLO! 100 Most Influential: Mani Ratnam

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As Told To Nayare Ali

Why he matters: From his earliest Kannada films like Pallavi Anu Pallavi, to this year’s epic Ponniyin Selvan, he’s a master of visual storytelling, a filmmaker whose longevity in the volatile entertainment industry has impressed cinemagoers across generations. Suhasini Maniratnam, actor and wife of this cinematic genius, invites us into his inner universe.

I don’t think Mani has transformed at all except for the way he looks, and Ponniyin Selvan took all his hair away, particularly in the four years since he’s been making this series! But he’s still young at heart.

In fact, he wanted to make this film way back in 1988, when we met at my home in Chennai. This has been his dream project, finally coming to fruition now in 2023.

The Two Sides Of Life

In our household, we have a neutral approach to both success and failure. When any film releases, we maintain a low profile for the first three days. And that’s exactly what Mani and I did for the first three days after Ponniyin Selvan: 1 hit the screens.

But on the fourth day, when it sank in that the movie had, indeed, done well, Mani quietly mentioned to me, “I think we should celebrate now.” When we achieved the same kind of success with PS:2, we decided to call the entire team from both films for a biryani lunch at home!

Humble & Hands-On

Despite all his success, Mani always packs his own bags ahead of a trip. Irrespective of the army of help waiting at his disposal.

This simplicity comes from his boarding school days at the Besant Theosophical Society in Chennai. Here, students lead a life of discipline, sleeping under thatched roofs, make their own beds and even learn how to weave their own towels. Perhaps that’s where his sense of idealism was ingrained. He’s also very passionate about our politics and culture and always wants to contribute to society.

The Meet-Cute Story

We first met through my father, Charuhasan, and my uncle, Kamal Hassan.Mani had done his MBA from Jamnalal Bajaj in Mumbai and had worked with a consultancy firm for a year. However, his heart was always in cinema.

Mani had approached me to play the second lead in his Kannada film, Pallavi Anu Pallavi. But my first movie as a lead had already released by then. So I turned down his offer.

Mani became an established director after his Tamil flick, Mouna Raagam, became a big hit, and we didn’t meet each other until years later, at the premiere of Nayakan. Later, he told me he was looking for my reaction to Nayakan, and that he found me sitting at the edge of my seat. That was the moment, he said, he just knew the film would do well.

A Man Of Integrity

In 1988, my dad was unwell and wanted me to get married. When I went to visit him at the hospital in Chennai, he gave me Mani’s number and asked me to call him. And Mani never forgets favours. He remembered that my father had introduced him to many people in the industry during his days of struggle, so he came over to meet him at the hospital.

Neither of us had any intention of getting married; it was more to appease the family. But once we met, it felt right. I remember... It was June 8, 1998. I was dubbing at some theatre in Chennai, when the manager told me that Mani Ratnam was on the call for me. They thought it was some offer. He had called to ask me what scene I was shooting, and when I told him it was an emotional one, he responded by saying, “How stupid can these people be on an important day like this? Why would they make you cry?” He then said, “Pack all your tears and come home. I want to see you.” And that’s when he proposed to me.

Of course, Mani, being the liberal that he is, wondered why women couldn’t propose to men and why it should always be the other way round. But I was firm and told him that I wouldn’t do it!

This month, we complete 35 years of marriage. While Mani is the more traditional one, we respect each other.

Mani, Behind The Scenes

One could attribute his success to how he’s clued into the pulse of the youth. He’d rather go out for a beer with his young crew than hang out with his peers. For instance, if he’s dining at a rooftop restaurant with his assistant directors, it means they are talking about all the problems in the script.

I worry about his health, but I know his happiness lies in his work. These days, he’s very sensitive to criticism from me. And, sometimes, there have been major problems after a film’s release. I ask him, “How do we go through this?” and he says, “We have done it in the past, and this too shall pass...”

To see who else is on the list, grab the copy of HELLO! India’s August 2023 issue right here!