January 9 2016
- NEWS: Bollywood blockbuster director Karan Johar announced on December 31 on Twitter that he is going to make a Hindi version of ‘OK Kanmani’ and will cast Aditya Roy Kapoor and Shraddha Kapoor in the lead roles.
Three films by one of India’s best known directors screened recently as part of the BFI Love Season…
“Bombay” – It’s easy to forget just how controversial and newsworthy this film was when it first came out in 1995.
Made just three years after the communal riots in Bombay (as it was then), the scars were probably still raw and tender.
The city had really burnt – with groups of Hindus and Muslims setting on each other.
Amidst this backdrop, director Mani Ratnam sets a rather typical Bollywood romance – but between a Hindu man and a Muslim woman who get caught up in the troubles.
The two meet in their home village in Tamil Nadu – very picturesque it is too and its adds to the romance of their unlikely coupling.
On the face of it, Shaila Banu (Manisha Koirala) is a traditional young Muslim girl, who wears a Burqa.
She catches the eye of aspiring journalist Arvind Swamy (Shekhar) who is at home from college in Mumbai to spend time with his orthodox family. In rather typical Bollywood fashion, he pursues (really stalks) Shaila despite advice from a good friend that he is stoking a fire in looking to romance a Muslim girl.
Shaila eventually sheds her suspicion, and warms to Arvind. It is still a bit of a stretch but her relative youth and inexperience give it credence and a certain cinematic warmth. Koirala’s beauty and charm hold the screen well and there is sympathy for them as two people naturally drawn to each other.
They fall blindly in love and sort of elope to Mumbai, much against their family’s wishes and where Arvind has been accepted onto a paper. Arvind is from an orthodox Brahmin family and they recoil from the very idea – at one point Arvind’s father even warns him off North Indian girls, telling him it would be a disaster if he was to find himself a Punjabi or Gujarati bride, so you can just imagine what happens when his son tells him he is in love with a Muslim girl (even though she is from the same village).
In Mumbai, the two live a happy life and it is further enhanced by the arrival of twins, Kamal and Kabir.
What Ratnam does is to take the politics and religion out of a very natural affair between two people and show it as simple, naturalistic and unremarkable. However, there are others who think differently – not least the two sets of parents whose estrangement and bad feeling continue to simmer back home.
The riots in Mumbai set off a spiral of events and the couple’s children’s safety is at risk.
There is terrific tension and during a second round of troubles, the parents visit and there is much in this section which reflect Ratnam’s own innate humanity and exasperation – after all they are all Indians – and it helps to build to a terrific climax.
AR Rahman’s musical score helps to serve the film well and drives it towards a heartrending conclusion.
Ratnam shows the power of love amidst huge tension and violence and the politics is ever light and what gives this film its intense power which continues to reverberate 20 years later.
ACV rating: **** (out of five)
*The film was the subject of a special 20 year anniversary screening at the London Indian Film Festival in July 2015. See below for more…
“Dil Se” – Regarded as a classic, director Mani Ratnam pulls off another unlikely tour de force.
Shah Rukh Khan (SRK) playing Amar, a radio journalist, falls for the mysterious and beautiful Meghna (Manish Koirala).
Set in the troubled north east of India, Ratnam’s skill is to show how a fairly well to do and ambitious young man comes to be caught up in terrorist activity – albeit not directly, but through the force of his romantic desire.
Amar chances on Meghna at a storm hit railway station platform and then, as is typical in Bollywood, is captivated and obsessed by her.
Finally, he manages to meet and talk to her properly. She remains enigmatic and shy, only further stimulating Amar, but we begin to understand that her aloofness has a strong basis in something more troubling and vexatious.
Yet Amar either is naïve or doesn’t care and Ratnam probably favours the latter interpretation.
For a time, Ratnam has Amar juggling his work with romancing Meghna – and one of the most famous scenes of all time in India cinema comes surprisingly early.
Ratnam has SRK dancing on a moving train along with a full entourage of extras and dancers. It is breath-taking and stunning and Malaika Arora as the item girl is fabulous. It’s a winning start to say the least.
The story’s move to Delhi and Amar’s home represents a significant shift in pace; suddenly it has real urgency. This time it is Meghna who follows Amar and pitches up with a female friend complaining that she has nowhere to stay.
Amar who has embarked on a marriage (in a typically ‘arranged’ manner) with another girl – star Preity Zinta in one of her earliest films – feels some level of obligation to his former romantic interest.
Forthcoming nuptials to Zinta’s character allow Meghna to be close to Amar and he entertains her intimacies, only dimly aware of her real agenda. He finds his former love interest an admin job at his place of work, All India Radio.
Ratnam shows a typically deft hand with relationships at the crossroads.
Zinta’s character is attractive, and is aware not all is as it should be – nevertheless her caution and good sense reassure Amar.
Again the movement towards a thrilling climax is beautifully laid.
Ratnam’s skill is to show that political (or religious) motivation can obscure a lot of things and that love itself can be sequestered for high ideals and even headier dreams.
If anything, this is an even more powerful film than “Bombay” – why? Because it makes terrorism look believable and furthers our understanding of this horrible phenomena.
ACV rating: **** ½ (out of five)
“OK Kanmani” – Modern and highly imaginative – using video game like animation too, this Tamil romance shows there is much heart and depth in Indian cinema, even when it still has classical Bollywood elements.
The romance in some ways is conventional, the leads, Dulquer Salmaan as Adhi, and Nithya Menen as Tara, are excellent and have real chemistry.
Set in Mumbai, Adhi has moved there to be a games developer and meets Tara and is intrigued by her. The opening scene is charming and memorable and shows Ratnam’s ability to put strangers together in interesting situations and see the results.
So far, so good, they begin courting – no, they actually sleep together – and decide they would like to be a couple but without getting married.
For many in India, this is still a huge taboo – sex before marriage is not acceptable or even in more liberal circles, ignored or barely acknowledged. Couples living together is also a rare concept and many remain opposed to it.
At first, the couple have to negotiate the situation, as Adhi lives in rented shared accommodation with a kindly uncle who was something of a mentor for Adhi’s oldest brother, a banker. The uncle’s wife suffers from Alzheimer’s and this allows the couple a way in…
Predictably enough the older man is horrified by the idea but Adhi’s charm and the juxtaposition of a wife in need of severe care, forces him to be less censorious.
Ratnam’s super kaleidoscopic script encompasses many elements where tradition and modernity are in argument and sometimes conflict.
From women having careers to the question of who will take care of the elderly, Ratnam addresses issues of importance and relevance.
The beauty of it is that it is all very subtle and within a natural story flow, while still keeping the couple centre stage.
AR Rahman’s music is pitch perfect and adds another sophisticated layer to this classy affair.
It’s a beautiful, intelligent film and shows that Ratnam has not lost of any of his edge as the years have rolled on and anyone watching the film would think it was made by someone half his age – he is 60.
Conclusion: It was great to see three films in close succession by one of the great masters of Indian cinema.
Ratnam is a rare breed indeed – combining popular Bollywood elements but with real intelligence and courage. His collaboration with music genius AR Rahman is yet further proof of his ability to spot talent and develop it (whether it be Koirala, Zinta or SRK, who have all enjoyed fantastic careers since working with Ratnam).
While these films screened during the #BFILove festival, there’s a case for Ratnam to enjoy a season devoted just to his films at the BFI.
It would also be good also to show that contemporary Tamil cinema has an independent streak and that its best films translate well.
Ratnam’s oeuvre is both an entry point into traditional Bollywood cinema and a reminder that directors such as him can appeal to an international (western) sensibility too.
Mani Ratnam was the subject of a masterclass this summer when he was chief guest of the London Indian Film Festival (LIFF) and attended a special 20th anniversary charity event. Read about the masterclass and watch our video from the charity evening (more on our youtube channel)