He's made the long journey from Madras to Bombay but has held on to his filmmaking sensibilities with a firm grip and produced masterpieces direct from the heart, Dil Se. Indian audiences need to thank Mani Ratnam for not just the treasure of cinematic gems that he has bequeathed on to eager movie lovers, but for the invaluable discovery of A. R. Rahman. It's certainly a day for film fans all over the country to rejoice as the National Award-winning filmmaker turns 55 (2nd June).
Born as Gopala Ratnam Subramaniam Iyer to Tamil Brahmin parents in Madurai, Mani completed his schooling in Chennai and graduated with a degree in Commerce from Vivekananda College, University of Madras. He then shifted base to Mumbai to pursue his MBA from Jamnalal Bajaj Institute of Management Studies.
Mani's film career was launched with the help of his brother G. Venkateswaran, a film distributor turned producer. His maiden directorial effort was the Kannada film Pallavi Anu Pallavi and starred Anil Kapoor in the lead role. Though the film itself failed to set the cash registers ringing, the musical score by Ilaiyaraaja was an instant hit and it was the start of a long and fruitful collaboration between Mani and the musical maestro.
His breakthrough film was Mouna Ragam with dealt with the issues faced by a newly married urban couple. The Tamil film starred Revathy and Mohan and won the National Film Award for 'Best Feature Film in Tamil'. Mani followed it up with the highly successful Kamal Haasan starrer, Nayagan, which was later included in TIME Magazine's list of 'All-Time 100 Greatest Movies'. The underworld saga was also India's official entry to the Academy Awards in the 'Best Foreign Language Film' category in 1987.
Three years later, Mani's Anjali was also chosen to represent the country at the same awards and also earned him his second National Film Award for 'Best Feature Film in Tamil'. His Tamil film, Thalapathi starring Rajinikanth and Mammooty was also a huge hit.
Mani made his foray into Hindi cinema with the Arvind Swamy-Madhoo starrer Roja. The film tackled the issue of terrorism and kidnapping against the scenic backdrop of Kashmir and was Mani's premiere collaboration with the young A. R. Rahman who made his debut as a music composer with Roja.
Bombay and Dil Se were the next two parts of Mani's 'terrorism trilogy'. The former was an Arvind Swamy-Manisha Koirala starrer set during the religious Bombay riots and bombings of 1993 and won many prestigious international awards. Dil Se was not an immediate commercial success, but has attained a cult status of sorts over the year and is still remembered for Rahman's scintillating musical score.
His romantic drama Alaipayuthey starring R. Madhavan and Shalini was a huge hit and was even remade in Hindi as Saathiya. Mani won his third National Film Award for 'Best Feature Film in Tamil' with Kannathil Muthamittal, which once again featured Madhavan.
In 2004, he simultaneously made two films in Hindi and Tamil titled Yuva and Aayutha Ezhuthu respectively. His Abhishek Bachchan-Aishwarya Rai starrer Guru allegedly based on the life of Dhirubhai Ambani was greatly appreciated by audiences and critics alike. In 2010, Mani made Hindi and Tamil versions of the same film, Raavan and Raavanan. While the former starred Abhisek Bachchan in the titular role, Vikram Kennedy essayed the same character in the latter.
As the ace filmmaker turns 55, we'd like to wish him good luck for his next project as a writer-producer, Bloody Paki, and hope that he continues to keep audiences riveted to his prized pieces of cinema.