3 Mani Ratnam social experiments on celluloid - Set 2- The 'lovers-in-strife' trilogy

Three tales. Three wars. Three classic films.

Roja (1992)

Mani Ratnam's movies often explore the reaction of characters taken out of their comfort zone, like a Ragini in Raavan or an Amudha in Kannathil Muthamittaal. In one such instance, Roja (Madhubala), a charming village belle, is forced to marry Rishi (Arvind Swamy), a city man after a series of unexpected events. The film uses imagery like a herd of sheep cutting across the path of a car, to show the strangeness of this marriage between rural and urban settings.

After finally overcoming her anger towards Rishi on coming to know the true circumstances that led to their marriage, Roja's subsequent love for Rishi is displayed in an adorable sequence of scenes,the best of which involves her asking her mother-in-law to insist that Rishi take her on his visit to Kashmir.


Every one who has ever played with a kid, remembers the game of dangling a toy in front of its hands and moving it away just as it reaches for the toy, and revelling in the child's exasperation and renewed attempts at reaching for the prize. Mani Ratnam plays this game with us as he sets the stage up for a brilliant love story and suddenly takes it all away with the kidnapping of Rishi by a terrorist group fighting for the liberation of Kashmir. Words cannot express the agony that Roja feels, and with language a handicap, she is up against the odds in her attempt to retrieve her husband. In an age where cinema often portrays the innocent as gullible, the greatest quality of innocent people, which is their lack of fear,comes to the fore in Ratnam's story telling.

Roja's boldness in the face of hardship is brilliantly juxtaposed against a broader theme of Jihad and patriotism. Rishi prefers to die and lose love, rather than be saved while compromising his country's security. In classic scenes involving the Colonel (Nasser) and Roja, there are more questions raised than answers supplied on the self vs country debate. There are choices and/or compromises to be made. The terrorist makes the compromise of releasing his captor, who in turn was ready to compromise his life for the country. The Colonel was ready to compromise his hard work by releasing the terrorist leader to retrieve Rishi. Roja? The only one who never thought about a compromise. She just wanted her husband back. Ratnam solves this quandary of patriotism against personal interests with the overriding concept of universal love.

Bombay (1996)

Sometimes, Mani Ratnam's typical lack of interest in the 'chasing', that is so often glorified as the most exciting part of any love story, can make one skeptical as it fails to give the necessary build up to the coming together of the two lead characters. His leads always effortlessly fall in love and he cuts to the chase, and inadvertently ends up cutting the 'chase' itself. His focus is seldom on the formative stages, but more so on the stages where situations serve to fortify the
relationship. More than once, this unique trait has given him the platform to spin a yarn with the lovers and an overriding concept/setting at a gradual pace.


Bombay (1996) is one such story where Shekar (Arvind Swamy) and Shaila Banu (Manisha Koirala) have no trouble falling in love despite being from different religions and orthodox families, albeit from the same village. They leave behind their families (who are at each other's throats) to settle at Shekar's workplace, Bombay. They are soon blessed with twins, who are named and brought up in a manner embracing both religions. All is well until the demolition of the Babri Masjid sparks religious riots and Bombay is torn apart.

Ratnam uses the kids as a symbol of their unassuming love in telling this tale. The kids lead to their grandfathers setting aside their differences. The kids stand as the sole hope of living as one big happy family. As the riots lead to the kids being separated first from the parents, and then from each other, Mani Ratnam incorporates what can be perceived as a meta-story on Hindu-Muslim relations. The two brothers Kamal Bashir and Kabir Narayan are like people of the two religions. They were born together, and raised together. Certain external factors lead to them being separated. They come together in one moment, where all they can remember is that they come from the same mother (India, in the religions' case).This movie does not focus on the lovers per se, but on what their marriage stands for, through scenes involving the kids.

Complex stories are best told simply. Scenes like the orthodox-Hindu dying while retrieving the Koran from a fire speak for themselves. In what was probably the most sensitive of his three terrorism-based movies, Mani Ratnam just shows reality on screen, eschews wordiness and lets the love shine through in a movie that was the need of the hour back then.

Uyire (Dil Se) (1998)

Mani Ratnam's tales of love are often like stretched rubber bands. He so artfully pulls away the ends, contriving ingenious ways to separate lovers, while what he actually does is build up potential energy for their coming together with that 'moment of release', in emphatic fashion.


Uyire (Dil Se) is a classic story of two lovers, who in their own ways, believe that some goals are so worthy that it is okay to fail chasing them. Amar (Shah Rukh Khan), an All-India Radio employee, runs into Meghna (Manisha Koirala) in a deserted railway station. And at a mountain market. And several other places. He is so smitten that despite losing her several times, he keeps striving to find her. Their romance, dominated by the mystery surrounding Meghna (whose name is not known to Amar ast that time), reaches its peak when Amar lists three things that he likes and dislikes about Meghna, and they are the same things. The poetry in that scene results in a crescendo, but, in typical Ratnam style, the plug is pulled on the romance as Meghna disappears. A crestfallen Amar returns home, and a sequence of events leads him to agree to marry the bubbly, talkative Preeti (Preity Zinta).

In an age where lyrics are hardly discernible and largely irrelevant to the plot, lines from a song in the film serve as a brilliant description of the situation. Meghna listens on the radio to Amar's talk show as the song 'Poongatrilae' plays.

'Kaatrin Alai Varisai Kaetkindrathaa?'

Yes, she heard his channel.

'Kaetkum Paattil Oru Uyir Vidum Kanneer Vazhikindrathaa?'

Yes, she felt the tears.

'Kavithai Chendaenai Ootri,Kannae Un Vaasal Saerthaen'

Yes, her favorite poetry was being door-delivered to her.

'Oayum Jeevan Oadum Munnae Oadoadi Vaa...'

Almost as if in response to his call, Meghna reappears even as his marriage preparations are underway, asking him for a job in All India Radio. The mystique is still intact. Meghna is later shown to be from a revolutionary group fighting for its independence. In a surprising twist, Amar is suspected by the CBI of abetting this group and all evidence points to this. It dawns on him finally that Meghna is a terrorist too but he is confident that their love can make her see light.

In a potboiler of a climax, Amar fights the misled CBI, the militants and Meghna's conscience single-handedly, to avert a potential multiple bomb attack. In the final confrontation, Meghna realises her intense love for Amar. Amar asks her to either leave her ways, or take him along too, in a belligerent statement of his love.He doesn't fail in love, but ends up giving his life for it.

This Mani Ratnam rubber band, was stretched till it snapped.

Read Part 1 of this series on Mani Ratnam here !

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