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A Film Making Masterclass with Mani Ratnam

*Parts of this article have been transliterated from an interview video originally posted on Jamuura

The Bengaluru International Film Festival, or BIFFES, is one of India’s premier destination for films of both Indian and international renown. This year saw the BIFFES celebrate its 8th edition, which saw the coming together of some of the most eminent film personalities, and the screening of the best work on offer from both India and Asia in general. This included over 200 films and close to 30 documentaries from more than 200 countries.

The festival was backed by a colossal budget of Rs. 4 crore as per the Times of India, and big names from Indian cinema such as Jaya Bachchan and Sanjay Leela Bhansali were in attendance at the inauguration. As The Hindu reports, Raam Reddy’s Kannada film Thithi and Under Heaven, a submission by Dalmira Tilepbergen of Kyrgyzstan, were the joint winners of the Asian BIFFES award. Gajendra Ahire’s The Silence, a Marathi film, won the Indian competition, and P. Sheshadri took home the award for best Kannada film with Vidaya.

Amid all the screenings and awards, a legend of India’s film industry also took the time out to address the attendees, providing deep insight into the world of film making.

Mani Ratnam – a man who needs no introduction. Honored by the Indian Government with the coveted Padma Shri, this leading light of Indian cinema is widely recognized as one of the most prominent film makers and has won the hearts of millions with his politically-charged trio of Roja (1992), Bombay (1995), and Dil Se… (1998). The 61 year old has won a plethora of awards for his work.

For students interested in (or enrolled in) film making courses and fans in general, this interview with the maestro is just what the doctor director ordered! The Jamuura blog uploaded a video of the entire interview, but to make things easier, we have transcribed the most interesting bits for you!

Mani Ratnam at BIFFES 

  • On Nayagan and influences: “Some films just happen Nayagan was one such film. I had a set of fantastic artists and technicians, young technicians who were all hungry. We were very clear that we were making mainstream cinema, but always felt that it is possible to do mainstream cinema with sensibility. There have been several forerunners for us, in terms of detailing, in terms of getting it believable and authentic. I think Shyam Benegal has been a big influence on all commercial filmmakers in India of that time, and earlier of course Mr. Ray and in Tamil, Balachander, who have told you that you can tell interesting dramas but still keep it realistic.”  


  • On the use of steady cams in Roja: “Regarding the technology, steady cam had been around in the South maybe six-seven years before that and it had been used very extensively. I think the best use has been by Ram Gopal Varma. So I had not touched, for the sake of using it, till I had a story to tell with it.”“Beyond that, the technique is like language. It is what you’re familiar with. Good language is accepted and appreciated, but what you say is a hundred times more important than how you say it. For me, I like it this way, so I make the effort, and the group of people I have worked with are all on a similar wavelength.”


  • On the language of storytelling: “Cinema is a language and if it can be used beautifully, it kind of generates the next bunch of filmmakers to make it much more artistic. It is a tremendous blend of a visual art and with other mediums of art.


  • On the struggles of his early days: “I think if you have decided into come into cinema, if you want to make films, you can’t be afraid of pain. You can’t be afraid of criticism. I feel that you have to learn to ignore appreciation, face criticism, and not be afraid of pain. The way people in the industry used to treat newcomers is that when you come in, in the beginning they think you know nothing. They will tell you what is right, what is wrong. Till you manage to have one film which is successful, then they’ll think that you know everything and they don’t know anything. It takes a little bit of conviction within yourself. You should believe. Some of us have to struggle, have to face difficultly after difficulty, but those are stepping stones, you learn something from it, once you have gone through that initially, anything that happens through your career, you are ready for it.”


  • On actors and their roles: “When cast and pick the actors you want them to become very familiar with the role. So you bring them over and go over the film as many times as possible. It helps both of us. Because all said and done, we sit on a table and write our script, but when you take it with people, with somebody who becomes the character, then you’re able to make sure that it flows naturally for that person. What you have written is not the bible, it is the basic graph so we make sure that the actor also invests their time, their effort their character into the character that’s being written. So I always tell them that the two of us – the actor and the filmmaker have to discover the character that we are trying to portray on screen.


  • On how to handle failure: “No one needs to teach you how to handle failure. They will come, and you will learn. The only thing I would say is to teach people to handle success, I think that is a difficult thing. If you know what you are, don’t get carried away by everything else and what everybody is saying.”


  • On exhausting your creativity: “With each film you feel you rediscover yourself. You as a writer or a filmmaker have this ability of being in someone else’s shoes and to think like that person. Good, bad, ugly, terrible, woman, man – all those shoes you can be in and you can kind of reinvent yourself. Sometimes I feel that as you grow, you thin yourself down in terms of the periphery. You look at characters more than you look at the plot. You look at the honesty of that character more than the number of twists and turns.”


  • On the versatility of cinema: “You use every tool to tell the story, it’s not just words. Cinema is such a versatile medium that you can’t depend on only words to tell you what is happening. Whether it is the costume that the people wear, the ambience where it is set, a wide-shot, close-up, the music that is going on in the background, with exaggeration of sound, the way in which you cut, everything adds to the storytelling. And I feel, as a filmmaker, you have to use it. It is there for you to use it to tell that story better. Maybe they don’t like the story but that doesn’t mean you can’t say it well. Give it a shot, give it a chance.”


Are you ready to give it your all like Mani Ratnam Sir did? Visit the Jamuura blog for more such brilliant interviews and explore the whole gamut of film making courses Seamedu offers.



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