Mani Ratnam Top 10 - Part 3

The top five on my list is a bit of an indulgence. It was a good exercise to play around with the list and finally I couldn't choose certain movies over another. So, I've crammed seven movies into the top five.



Thalapadhi/Agni Natchaththiram

Agni Natchaththiram

I've always maintained that Agni Natchatram was a party that Ratnam threw for the technicians of Nayagan. A character driven vehicle, AN, remarkably, had no plot. Step brothers expressing their angst at regular intervals and reconciling over some common interest finally. A remarkable 90% of the movie was shot indoors. It looks like an attempt at segment narration . There are five to six capsules - each with an even dose of AN

  • brothers clash
  • interaction with other family members
  • brothers with respective love interests
  • song and dance
  • comedy track
  • villainy track

A well packaged movie with a lot of commercial elements and it was only years later when I noticed the swift adaptation of the Godfather hospital sequence. Why is it in the top five? Think about Naerukku Naer from one  otherwise talented director in the form of Vasanth. NN had the same elements driving it as AN but see the movies and you will know the difference in treatment. NN was surprisingly a Mani Ratnam production - what were they trying to achieve?


I didn't hear a single line of dialogue the first time I saw this movie in the theatre. The crowd was hysterical. The Arivu Kalanjiyam that I am, I did not see it as a Rajini movie like the rest of the sane junta but as a Ratnam movie. This made me realize that this was essentially Agni Natchatram enhanced. Step brothers clashing (the common parent is their mother this time around) amidst havoc caused by a common enemy. Enhancement came in the form of scale and extra characters. The Mahabharatha influence was visible in the character names and general plot. The last half hour is a blur - Ratnam is tying up all loose ends in a hurry. There is a rumor that the MammooDalapathi 181ty character is not killed in the Kerala version. Again, a huge momentum for this movie was given by its stars.

Thalapadhi was criticized for glorifying violence. I am not sure if it is still there but when you go down to Kutraalam there is a big banner ad for Arasan beedies near the main falls with the iconic image of 'Thalapadhi' Rajinikanth smoking a beedi. You will be hard pressed to believe that it is hand drawn and not a photo blow-up.  Thalapadhi influenced many people in many ways.

It is also significant for being the last collaboration between Ratnam and Ilaiyaraja.




This was brand Mani Ratnam's first movie in my opinion. With very little star power, Anjali hit the marquee as a Mani Ratnam film and won the masses over. Prabhu had a cameo which was lost amidst really bad lighting. Raghuvaran and Revathy were cast as young parents which was somehow refreshing to watch - a new mature pairing. There was a pattaalam of child artistes - as actors and as playback singers - most of whom are the new gen of filmi people. A dash of E.T. was thrown in for good measure.

The adults were at the mercy of the kids for most parts in this movie. Did they have acting coachgall_big_image1752006104256es and boot camps like they do for Hollywood movies? How was shooting done during school days or was it shot exclusively during the summer holidays? Where is the apartment complex? What is Anu doing these days? She was my personal favorite in this movie.

Anjali, Arjun, Surya are some of the favorite names for Ratnam. The actor Surya too got rechrisitned from Saravan in his debut film Naerukku Naer also a Mani Ratnam production. After oru lee, rendu lee... in Agni Natchatram - here Anjali is the titular character. Arjun was used here and in Thalapadhi.

This is probably what can be called a personal film. The fact that it paid box office dividends was due to his mastery of the craft.


Mouna Raagam/Alai Paayudhey

Mouna Raagam

My cell phone's ringtone is the polyphonic title track of this movie.

MounaRaagamMusic carried this movie through songs and interludes. A clean film with reality challenged only towards the end. The house in Delhi was so chic and modern with everything from the bedding material to the lighting so exquisite that it could only be assembled by an expert art director. Did Mani Ratnam deliberately name this movie just to share his initials? Mani Ratnam's Mouna Raagam has a lilt of its own.

I remember the poster of this movie - it had Revathi in the folksy dress with pallu over her head and peeping out of a palanquin. I do not remember any other movie of that era whose poster was bereft of the male characters. Nor do I remember any other movie with such exquisite stills in the poster. It stood out in every wall it was plastered on.

When I first met my wife her cell phone ringtone was a midi of the title track of this movie. Spare me a blush but this was the first DVD we bought together.


Alai Paayudhey

alai_blackI wouldn't have included AP this high in the list but for one crazy nut. Raama can recite all the dialogues in this movie sometimes when the movie is still running. Sometimes he would pause the movie and start a monologue of some incident (fictional for sure) that mirrored the scene. One day he will praise the Swarnamalya character to the skies and the other day his oratory would be reserved for the Mallu landlord. If your roommate bugs you to this extent you have two choices - you take interest in the movie or you take interest in the movie.

My Ratnam meter was on the decline since Bombay. The vicarious pleasure that this guy's antics brought me gave me time to pause and appreciate the soft story of a medical student and how her life influences a software engineer.

The repeat viewing made me realize that this is another of Ratnam's 'train' movies - how I didn't realize it earlier beats me. It is my belief that many landmark movies have the train/train station stage an important part of the movie. Sholay - Moondraam Pirai - 16 Vayadhinile - DDLJ all had train sequences at the climax. Ratnam used the train in the climax of Mouna Raagam, he used it in course of the script for Thiruda Thiruda, Dil Se , the use of the train whistle as an instigator of raw emotions in Thalapadhi and of course Alai Paayudhey.

If I am not mistaken, AP was the first movie with a dedicated website. Launching that website was when I first heard the strands of Pachchai Niramae.



I love the way a Mani Ratnam movie creeps into my psych. At first, there was the rudimentary curiosity generating poster for the movie in an obscure bus stand. Then there was the distant strain of the movie's soundtrack from somewhere. Then your friends mention it in some matter of fact fashion. In this case, a friend of mine told me that he wandered into a theatre that was screening this Thamizh movie set in Kashmir and it was really good and there were very few people in the theatre - so we can walk in any time. We planned to do it that weekend and it was only the day before that I'd learned it was a Mani Ratnam movie - his first since Thalapadhi. 

Apparently, many others had realized this before I did and I coudn't get a ticket for the next three weekends. The new soungall_big_image175200611239d that was A.R.Rehman was now playing with our senses. We were at a science fair where our school booth played this movie in the background and people were lingering just a little longer in front of our exhibits. We played it on and on all through a group excursion to the tea estates of Maancholai. There was so much news coming about this movie that the wait was becoming unbearable. Kavithalya had officially parted with Ilaiyaraja and had three movies release that year from their production house - Vaanamae Ellai (Maragadhamani), Annamalai (Deva) and Roja (Rahman). They achieved success in escalating degrees with all three.

I finally saw it on a weekday - worth the wait. The bird's eye view of the coconut trees at the start of 'Chinna Chinna Aasai'...



A whole generation remembered exactly where they were when JFK was shot or so the saying goes. It is a popular notion that a global event always defines that generation. Billy Joel's "We didn't start the fire" beautifully captures all significant moments in pop culture for his generation. In the entertainment parlance, there should be one movie that captures the collective appreciation of a whole generation. I would like to think that Sholay was that movie for most Indians in the 70's. If you narrow it down to Tamil Nadu, that movie would be Nayagan for the 80's crowd. The comparison with Godfather does not justify the effort put into this movie.

Then paandi cheemaiyilae

Thaerodum veedhiyilae



I've trained myself to hum these lines when I have those 'main aur meri thanhayee' moments. It is such an effective background score for introspection.

(I am yet to understand the whole salt sacks funda... in the smuggling sequence. Knowledgeable junta please enlighten me)

The following lines are etched in Thamizh movie goer's consciousness.

Naalu paerku nalladhu panna edhuvum thappilla

Avana nirauththa chollu naan niruththarein

Naan adichchaen nee seththuruva

Neenga nallavaraa kaettavaraa?

Naayagan will always be my number one movie - for introducing me to movies in a whole new way.




A plug for fellow Ratnam followers - check out the group at facebook's MR club

Check out the top ten round up

Part 2


Part 1


  1. There you go! A very nice post to end the trilogy.

    AP - isn't it MR enhanced?

    I liked your Agni Natchatram-Dhalapathi comparison. Do you also get the same impression about Mouna Ragam and Alai Payudhey? To me, they are like the two sides of the 'marriage' coin. Both are unconventional 'love' stories... while the former portrays how a failed marriage turns into a beautiful love story, the latter depicts exactly the opposite case.
    (Sadly, both have unconvincing climaxes!!!)

  2. Nice succinct review. Would be great to have other MR movies (new ones) also reviewed with respect to his older classics.

  3. Vicky,
    There is a school of thought that the story of AP germinates from a what if scenario of MR. What if Mano and Divya do get married in MR? It would probably be something like AP.

  4. Alaipayuthey, Roja and Mouna Raagam are a few movies that I can't stop raving about :)

    Good series of posts!

  5. Anonymous10:53 AM

    Collection of Actor Surya -Vaaranam Aayiram Songs

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  6. Anonymous4:16 PM

    I guess the Mouna Ragam theme music is one of the most popular ringtones in TN.

    and hey,nice analysis of MR movies.


  7. Thanks Nishanth.
    If only we had royalty for all the ringtones...

  8. Seshasayee1:27 PM

    Till date, it is my opinion that only Ilaiyaraaja's scores could convey the heart of ManiRatnam.