I think it was 1987. One summer night, I lifted my head from my home work to see two see two men on television, talking in a strange Tamil-English tongue, about a national award their film received. I was just a kid, but even then I was quite militant about the correct pronunciation of my mother tongue. But something about these guys was very endearing and I remember going back to my homework, thinking that they were probably from a different state.
That was Mani Ratnam and GV, talking about ‘Mouna Raagam’. I saw the film eventually after many years, on VHS. Thats how we normally watched film at the Nagarajan household. Going to a theatre was pretty close to a vice for a student and the only exceptions were Kamal Haasan and Balachander – our ‘white list’. You see, my dad was regimental about his views on cinema, but he did have taste.
1987 was a strange year. I was in 6th Standard and my world was rapidly changing in front of my eyes. We lost the World Cup. I finished reading the best book ever written (I was quite convinced at that time!) – ‘Detective Dog Ranjha‘. I fell in love with Keerthana. I saw ‘The Last Emperor‘ and decided I wanted to make films for a living. I scored my first 100% in Maths (It will also be the last time). Quite a year for a sixth grader, no?
The year was not quite done yet. On a stormy monsoon night, I came out of Devi theatre with tears in my eyes. Velu Nayakkar had just been killed. Both me and the skies were bawling. And my stone-hearted dad was pulling me along to the bus stand, with my mother and sister trailing. Dont these people have a heart? Such a good man has just been killed so needlessly and they want me to board a crowded 17A with water pouring in from every hole on its roof?
I have seen Nayakan about a million times after that and strangely, I was not surprised when Time magazine decided it had to be among the best 100 films on the planet.
I think The Ritual started about that time. My family did not miss watching a single Mani Ratnam film in theatre for many years after. He slipped in with ease into the white list. The Ritual usually began with me and my sister listening to the advertisements on All India Radio – the 30 mts slot that was sponsored every Sunday night at 8:30 PM. Later on in life, when the Nagarajan household became economically liberalized, we even started buying the soundtrack before hand and let Ilayaraja soak our senses in his symphonies.
Then came the posters. Ah what posters! Finally, a man who appreciated white. A man who understood that a poster is not about what you fill it with – It is about what you dont.
Then came the anticipation. During the bus rides to college, the morning run, minutes before u sleep and other times when you let your mind be. What is it gonna be like? How would be have shot this song? who is this new girl? why is this Madhu Ambat and not PC?
Then the film happened. The seat that was carefuly bargained for, with the box office assistant. The biscuits from home. And then the multiple emotions.
Then the reviews on Ananda Vikatan. And then, the hangover.
I am no more a 6th grader. I dont think Maniratnam will feature in my list of top five film makers. I have matured enough to hate him – some times. But he is an inseparable part of a generation of film goers. Their psyche and their taste. My psyche and my taste.
Even today, as I get ready to watch Raavanan in a couple of hours from now, I am living the ritual. And I know that a Maniratnam film is not measured in hours, but in weeks and months.