REVIEWS IN THE MAINSTREAM MEDIA
- A review by Sanjukta Sharma, in Mint, is here. An excerpt:
Last year’s Conversations With Scorsese by Richard Schickel is an example of how the [interview] format works. So is this year’s Conversations With Mani Ratnam, just released by Penguin India…. This is an essential read for film lovers. Through 300 pages of detailed conversations, Ratnam’s works, something of a personal genre, come alive in vivid detail.
- A review by Sandhya Rao, in Business Line, is here. An excerpt:
The book sparkles because we have an insightful film critic who can write, and an introspective film-maker who is articulate… As Rangan and Ratnam journey across the years and experiences of making films, they recall, analyse, clash, but most importantly, make connections that even lay readers, with only a superficial interest in watching films as momentary entertainment, can relate to with the knowledge of their own lives… In a sense, the book even works as a primer for those seriously into films.
- A review by Kaveree Bamzai, in India Today, is here. An excerpt:
Conversations with famous people tend to be straightjacketed by too much respectfulness on the part of the interviewer and barely concealed boredom on the part of the interviewed. Rangan’s fine book, thankfully, has neither.
- A review by K Hariharan, in The Hindu, is here. An excerpt:
Part fan, part critic Baradwaj bravely steers himself on this extensive journey avoiding all the bumps and potholes to provide us a well articulated trip… For me the best chapter is the one on ‘Iruvar’. Baradwaj takes us through the contrast between naturalistic drama and the stylised staging in a well orchestrated Q&A.
- A review by Partha Basu, in The Telegraph, is here. An excerpt:
Picking up Rangan’s book, I knew I must not intuitively begin to assess Mani Ratnam’s work instead of addressing Rangan’s book… However, this was easier said than done, given that two gifted and intellectually stimulating men had been interacting for long hours, with a meticulously prepared Rangan probing relentlessly and Ratnam providing the answers and sometimes the questions themselves, like the true auteur.
- A review by Deepa Gahlot, in Hindustan Times, is here. An excerpt:
Rangan hits on a tone between fan and critic and gets Mani Ratnam to reminisce about the making of all of them. He gently provokes the director, but is never abrasive. The director, in turn, is honest, modest and precise. He is able to explain with remarkable accuracy, what he did in his films and why.
- A review by Arul Mani, in Tehelka, is here. An excerpt:
The contest is productive, nevertheless. Ratnam opens up to talk expansively about how these films came to be made, and Rangan stays on the ball, and prods and pokes his subject when he senses that further revelations may be nigh. These interactions can turn snappish now and then — Ratnam seems to disapprove strongly of any attempt at reading the subtext in his films and his dismissal of these attempts usually features the word ‘intellectualise’, but Rangan, to his credit, gives as good as he gets.
- A review by Renuka Bisht, in The Financial Express, is here. An excerpt:
Some sceptics challenge the [Hitchcock/Truffaut] recipe by asserting meaning-making at the audience end. But this is not a zero sum game. You many vehemently disagree with what Rangan or Ratnam take away from a particular scene or song, but if both red and blue run through your fan blood, you will find their deep and wide-ranging discussion about the cinematic method very, very satisfying.
- A review by Madhavankutty Pillai, in Open, is here. An excerpt:
The first half of the book is quite a riveting melange of anecdotes like these. Rangan mixes simple questions like ‘What was the first scene?’ with more complex ones which try to understand how Ratnam approaches character and plot development… The book gets monotonous and academic in the second half when it comes to the later movies of Ratnam. The anecdotes get sparser as Rangan gets obsessed with deconstructing and analysing scenes and songs threadbare.
- A review by Naman Ramachandran, in Outlook, is here. An excerpt:
Ratnam has the reputation of being an introvert, but that’s mainly because he does not suffer fools gladly. Ask him a stupid question and he’ll give you a brief stock answer, thus cementing this reputation. Rangan’s questions are anything but that. He starts off by treading the water lightly and circles around Ratnam by asking some general questions. The questions make for as much delightful reading as Ratnam’s answers, given that they are incredibly informed and analytical. When Rangan dives in and throws in the occasional bouncer, Ratnam is more than equal to the challenge, choosing either to dead bat it or knock it out of the park.
- A review by Aniruddha Guha, in DNA, is here. An excerpt:
Reading the two discuss Ratnam’s films is like listening to a director’s commentary that helps you understand why the films were made the way they were. Ratnam describes what went into recreating Bombay in a Chennai studio for Nayakan, how Alaipayuthey came out of a desire to make a film about a relationship before and after marriage (he wanted Shah Rukh Khan and Kajol in the lead and eventually cast R Madhavan and Shalini. In the Hindi remake, Saathiya, Khan made a special appearance) and speaks candidly about technical details, like why certain movies were shot the way they were.
- A review by Jemima Raman, in Millennium Post, is here. An excerpt:
The ‘conversations’ could have been overbearingly patronising, if not for Rangan’s mastery over his chosen subject – Mani Ratnam and his films (he must have watched Ratnam’s films zillion times and could recall even a shadow featured in them). Sometimes, the master concedes and says that he has to go back and watch the film (that he made). With all due respect, Rangan holds his ground. But only wish he ventured a bit further and prodded a bit more. And with all due respect to Ratnam – for he is undoubtedly one of the finest filmmakers in India – he’s a wee bit too defensive of his decisions, specially the ones that fell flat on the box office.
- A review by Ken Ford-Powell, in Paste magazine, is here. An excerpt:
It may be difficult for Westerners to appreciate just how ground-breaking this approach really was. Asian countries are largely communalist—in Bangladesh, 70 percent of the population lives directly from the land. Rural village life, strongly hierarchical, discourages the concept of individual identity. When a community spends every spare moment trying to gather enough food from the fields, forests and rivers to feed families for even a day … and to overcome the many and varied natural disasters that ravage the nation each year … to be an individual means to be alone. And to be alone means to risk starving.
- A review in Indian Express is here. An excerpt:
Like your favourite Mani Ratnam films, the book tickles the taste buds sometimes with sun-kissed sweetness and sometimes with tart ambiguity. Bursts of sensual fullness are balanced by doses of asceticism.
- A review by Khalid Mohamed, in The Asian Age, is here. An excerpt:
The usually reticent Ratnam opens up with the interviewer like he has never before in any published text. A stellar achievement that, but again I wish Baradwaj had been inquiring rather than hagiographic. No filmmaker can take criticism, particularly Ratnam as I am aware from personal experience. If a sliver of doubt is expressed in the questions, it is countered by the predictable retort that critics tend to read meaning where there is none. Also, “intellectualisation” is employed as a bogey word by Ratnam. How you want to ask him what his notion of “intellectual” is anyway?
- Another review by Sandhya Iyer, in The New Indian Express, is here. An excerpt:
The book is essentially for film buffs or those who follow cinema with a certain scholarly intensity. For the rest, not everyone might summon up patience to go through painful details of the craft. Yet, in the end, the book is a worthy one, written by a reviewer most competent for the job, and for a filmmaker who deserves the attention.
- A review by Praveena Shivram, in Biblio, is here. An excerpt:
TThe entire tone of the conversation goes against the grain of its nature, mostly following the cadence of a rehearsed performance… where Rangan has watched Ratnam’s movies, deconstructed and analysed them in his head, and then gone with a set of questions for the filmmaker, when it would have made for much more interesting reading had he gone with his instinct more than his intellect.
REVIEWS IN BLOGS
- A review by Satyam, in the blog ‘satyamshot’, is here. An excerpt:
But these ‘conversations’ also offer vignettes into the mind of the formidably insightful Baradwaj Rangan, really the peerless Indian film critic. From his own charmingly presented autobiographical raison d’etre for this work’s inception to his unmatched familiarity with the Ratnam corpus and perhaps most significantly his lucid interventions in every chapter Rangan is simply the ideal man for the task. To read these conversations is to hear a fascinating set of questions and responses but equally a series of comments pregnant with suggestion. If, and to paraphrase from somewhere, words are meaningful sounds stolen from silence, Rangan’s encounters with Ratnam provide both kinds of music, the strains less heard and those unheard.
- A review by Gradwolf, in the blog ‘Confessions of a Magnificent Mind’, is here. An excerpt:
[We] never raised an eyebrow with casting choices in Anjali because for us, the real hero was Mani Ratnam. And that’s the idea behind the book. It’s about his creations, his decisions on paper and the sets and some people… The book gets better and better as you read… A very notable aspect is how Rangan knows when to painfully (not for us!) persist on some of his questions and when to let it go and let it be hanging there. It gives a very listening/watching quality to this book.
- A review by Raghav, in the blog ‘Ticker Talks Film’, is here. An excerpt:
Mani Ratnam and Baradwaj Rangan, both stay clear of any scandals and name callings during their conversations. That for me makes the book stand out, for it remains true to the art of cinema… The conversations flow so seamlessly between the director and the author that it doesn’t matter too much which film is being discussed because the reader is just immersed in the power of cinema being discussed by two avid fans.
- A review by Tanul Thakur, in the blog ‘theW14′, is here. An excerpt:
The questions are so pointed that they corner Ratnam to be perspicacious, and allow him to be profoundly reflective, rather than just dole out generic, calloused answers. And it is also to Ratnam’s credit that he respects Rangan’s questions; by doing justice to their insight. Ratnam’s answers are not only thoughtfully crafted, but more importantly, they don’t read like haphazardly condensed dreary bullet points. In fact, majority of his answers are in the same enthusiastic vein as Rangan’s questions are. Most of his answers also have an arc to them; they are not just a list of ‘and then this happened, and then that happened’. There’s a sense of completion to them, a sense of reaching somewhere. It makes for a fascinating journey — Rangan being both the direction-sign and the milestone, guiding Ratnam, and eliciting insightful answers from him. And for the most part, Ratnam complies.
- A review by Ashwin Sundar, in the blog ‘Cogito Ergo Cum’, is here. An excerpt:
What Rangan does best is put his ego aside so that the questions and answers blur into one another as a series of discussions between two people who love cinema… It also helps that Rangan’s insights into scene settings, compositions, music, screenplay are at such a high level that Ratnam is forced to give exquisite answers which makes you fall more in love with the man’s work. The latter stages of the book have a more free flowing feel to it as both of them have warmed up to the topic but the tension seems to never cease between them. Case in point – Mani’s deadpan response of “We were trying to make a film” to Rangan’s question of what he and Rajeev Menon were trying to do during a specific situation. What comes here is Rangan 2.0 who brushes off the wisecrack very sternly and gets what he wants. May be this constant source of tension, which is a very good thing in itself is the reason why some chapters like Thiruda Thiruda and Raavan have an abrupt ending. I think there is only a limit to which even Rangan can push.
- A review by Vijay Ganesh, in the blog ‘Musings of a Wandering Witty Guy from Chennai’, is here. An excerpt:
Negative comment or things which could have improved the book: a. No personal details of Mani Sir is shared. Some two pages of summary could have been added like his favourite movies, or his eating habits or travel places or about how he handles personal vs professional life.
- A review by Hawkeye, in the blog ‘Lightning Strikes Everyday’, is here. An excerpt:
Some aspects of this book pleasantly surprised me and some aligned with my criticisms of Rangan’s work overall as a film critic… Rangan’s introduction piece could have very well ruined the book. It was very unreadable and made me think he was pulling his usual problem of writing normal English and then replacing all regular words with synonyms from Barron’s wordlist.(there is sentence that goes “just as words bind themselves better to pristine parchment than to palimpsests..”). No one writes like this. at least not real people. Certainly no Madras boy uses words like ‘peripatetic’ in a real verbal conversation.
- A review by Goodfella, in the blog ‘satyamshot’, is here. An excerpt:
At the heart of Baradwaj Rangan’s first and very special book is a calm but tightly focused tug of war that, at its core, wonderfully dramatizes what is possibly the most important conflict within mainstream film studies and film writing in India. Put plainly, I’m talking about the debate between those who take an analytical approach to the movies, and those who resist the very same as a purposeless, overly ‘intellectual’ pursuit.
- A review by Raja Satish, in the blog ‘insidethecelluloid’, is here. An excerpt:
Following a different approach, the interviewer never really tries to pull YES or NO answers from the interviewee by placing him on a shaky terrain, and as the author traverses through the inner pages, a congenial casualness grows between the two.
- A review by Anuradha Goyal, in the blog ‘anureviews’, is here. An excerpt:
Rangan and Ratnam talk about a film at a time, sometimes they do jump here and there for comparison but more or less they stick to one movie in one conversation. Rangan has grown up watching Mani Ratnam’s films, he identifies with his characters that he finds very real life. He somewhere expects the director’s characters to grow with him, but the director has moved beyond Chennai with his work and hence his subjects and characters. This leads to many interesting questions in the conversations and a lot of insights into how the cine-goers relate to the works of the filmmakers and how they engage with films beyond just the entertainment factor…
- A review by Ramsu, in the blog ’24 frames per second’, is here. An excerpt:
The conversations are further enlivened by gentle tug-of-war between a critic’s intellectual viewpoint and a filmmaker’s refusal to let his work be mined for subtext. But this is not to say that Mani Ratnam is a purely instinctive filmmaker who doesn’t think in layers — his closing remarks in the chapter on Iruvar, and his comments on micro- and macro-conflicts in Kannathil Muthamittal are cases in point. His viewpoint, I suppose, comes from the fact that the final product we see is a function of what he originally conceived as well as what transpired on set.
- A review by Shweta Parande, in the blog ‘bollywoodlife’, is here. An excerpt:
Ratnam is surprisingly honest in the book. He accepts mistakes and discusses cinematic liberties he has taken. He is very clued in to his subjects and the story he is telling. He speaks of the depiction of love in Dil Se and many of his other films, showing he has deep insights into relationships and human psychology. Here, even though the writer is clearly in awe of Ratnam, he challenges and questions him, urging him on to share his rich experience. Rangan digs deep for answers – sometimes providing replies he expects in the question itself, to the point of irritating the master filmmaker. But it’s all worth the debate.
- A review by tharkuri, in the blog ‘Thinking Tamil Cinema’, is here. An excerpt:
Rangan is obsessed with a few things that keep coming up again and again – there is annoying part where he talks about MR having betrayed the youth of the generation by making Roja – a responsible film. Then, in practically every chapter he brings up the nallavana kettavana reference. Perhaps because it’s structured as conversations about each film – Nayakan, Guru, Raavanan all bring up nallavanaa kettavanaa that by the time you get to Raavanan you are tearing hair when you see it… In the second half, the book does take off – Iruvar, Aaytha Ezhuthu, Raavanan make for some interesting conversations indeed. However, by no means is this a manam thirandhu pesugiraar interview. There is tangible awkwardness, in some chapters Rangan speaks more than MR does and topics that could have made for great conversations become inane exchanges.
- A review by Srikanth Srinivasan, in the blog ‘The Seventh Art’, is here. An excerpt:
Throughout the conversations, Rangan keeps tracing auteurist strains in Ratnam’s work, deftly pointing out consistencies in plotting, character sketches, filmmaking style and world view across the movies. There appear to be three typical ways in which Ratnam reacts to these critical reflections. At best, Ratnam’s acknowledges these observations with no acknowledgement. Alternately, he would downplay Rangan’s remarks with peripheral comments that replace artistry, voice and authorial intention with accidents, logistical and functional necessities. At worst, like John Ford, he plainly denies the obvious.
- A review by Dinakaran, in the blog ‘Being Dinny’, is here. An excerpt:
Completed ‘Conversations with ManiRatnam’ ,was interesting to know thought process behind every movie/scene. No controversy,pure cinema.
- A review by Raja Satish, in the blog ‘Inside the Celluloid’, is here. An excerpt:
Right from the word go, the author and critic Barawaj Rangan prefers the tale to the teller, and he chose conversations format to know film director Mani Ratnam better. Rangan reinforces the distinct position of the director by saying “marry what you want to do with what the audience may be willing to accept”— this book has a rehearsed impulse. Following a different approach, the interviewer never really tries to pull YES or NO answers from the interviewee by placing him on a shaky terrain, and as the author traverses through the inner pages, a congenial casualness grows between the two.
- A review by Amar Nath, in the blog ‘The Argumentative Indian’, is here. An excerpt:
Considering the many questions I had and the many details I would have loved to know about all those delightful movies he churned out over the years, it is not practical for me to get satisfied with the book. But then, getting the reticent filmmaker to talk itself is a huge achievement.
- A review by Balaji Sivaraman, in the blog ‘Lost in Tranquility’, is here. An excerpt:
This marriage of one of my favorite filmmakers with one of my favorite critics was probably the singular reason I picked up this book, and one of the things that drew me to it was the conversational style… I was extremely interested in reading the dynamics of these conversations… In the initial phases, Rangan poses straightforward questions to which Mani provides straightforward answers. There’s a distinctly professional vibe attached to them. But as we proceed into the book, the conversations become much more relaxed, and Ratnam begins to share a lot more of his personal experiences.
- A review by Sandhya Iyer, in the blog ‘The Summing Up’, is here. An excerpt:
Mani Ratnam during the conversation seems at times impatient with Rangan for reading too much into individual scenes and situations in his films, and you smile knowingly. However, as you read further, you realise that much of what you see in his cinema is indeed well-thought out, with sub-text and so on. So him chiding Rangan for it seems amusing.
- A review by Oorvazi, in the blog ‘madaboutmoviez’, is here. An excerpt:
Sometimes as an audience or critic we might misunderstand the intentions of the director and its interesting how Baradwaj brings up particular instances to address this aspect like the question of the aspect of the director’s apprehensions about ‘crossing the line from patriotism to jingoism’ in regards his film “Roja” and Mani Ratnam’s response is revealing.