When Mani Ratnam got the best out of these actors
It's a proven fact that actors give their best and more, when it comes to a Mani Ratnam film.
As we wait for his latest offering -- a bilingual (Raavan in Hindi and Raavanan in Tamil) to release this Friday, we take a trip down memory-lane and track down some of the actors who turned in legendary performances under his direction:
Kamal Haasan in Nayagan
By the time Nayagan appeared, Kamal Haasan was already an established actor and star. He'd already won National Awards and portrayed roles that his peers didn't dare attempt.
Not many expected Nayagan to be much different. But when Velu Nayackar appeared on screen, he quite blew everyone away.
As the film progresses, he sheds his youthful image. The years roll on; Velu becomes Velu Nayackar, there's a slowness to his gait, his hairline recedes, his voice cracks and he's an old man. The body language is perfect; his dialogue delivery, changing according to every phase of his life and showcasing every emotion in the acting, is spell-binding.
Nayagan is considered by many to be Kamal Haasan's best performance to date. Not surprisingly, he won a National Award for his work.
Image: A scene from Nayagan
Mohanlal in Iruvar
Mohanlal's credentials as an actor were in place for years, before Iruvar rolled around which was perhaps why Mani Ratnam chose the actor to play Anandan, loosely based on Tamil's actor and politician, MGR.
Mohanlal shared few physical characteristics with the Tamil actor, but when it comes to acting a part, he transformed himself so completely into the character that those who saw him almost thought they saw MGR himself.
Mohanlal brought a touch of vulnerability to a strong character, making you empathize with him, even if you didn't agree with all his decisions.
Particularly touching is the scene where he portrays defeat and despair, relegated to playing an ordinary policeman in a movie; also well-done are his meetings with Prakashraj and his confrontations with Aishwarya Rai.
Also his performance in the climax remains unequalled.
Image: A scene from Iruvar
Prakashraj in Iruvar
The man debuted under the golden aegis of K Balachandar, but Mani Ratnam's films gave him a recognition that was unexpected.
In Mani Ratnam's Iruvar, a movie based on the lives of Tamil Nadu's legends, M G Ramachandran and M Karunanidhi, Prakashraj played the latter's part to perfection.
In the first half, he's an idealist, a man with a sparkle in his eyes, perfect Tamil diction and the drive to win the world. As the movie progresses, his look changes; so do his accent, gait and body language. He's older, wiser, shrewder and willing to change the dynamic of his friendship with his long-time friend.
It was not Prakashraj on screen, but Thamizhchelvan, and in the climax, when he breaks down upon his friend's death, is one of his best performances. Unsurprisingly, Prakashraj won the National Award for Best Supporting Actor, for his work.
Yet another refreshing role was that of Wickramasinghe, in Kannathil Muthamittal.
Image: A scene from Iruvar
Rajinikanth in Thalapathy
Those who'd seen superstar Rajnikanth's movies and performances before this, were conscious of a distinct change in his work: his was still an action-oriented role, but it was portrayed in a way that hadn't been seen before.
There was a restraint to his acting; his usual flamboyance was in abeyance, a move that suited his role, that of a taciturn young man who looks calm on the outside, but conceals a tumultuous heart.
For Rajnikanth, it was the role of a lifetime; he knew it, and played accordingly, becoming the character and leaving behind his superstar persona.
Image: A scene from Thalapathy
Revathi in Mouna Ragam
This diminutive beauty who made her debut in Bharathiraja's Mann Vasanai entered the industry with a splash but her performance in Mouna Raagam raised her from just another heroine to a feisty spitfire who could deliver knock-out performances when they were needed. Mani Ratnam's movie demanded more than a conventional heroine from her.
Her slender frame and expressive eyes served Revathy very well in the film: the young girl grieving for her lover, the furious wife forced to be happy with her marriage, her veiled insolence and outright insults -- and then, the change of heart as she realises how good a man her husband really is.
Revathy nails it all effortlessly. The scenes where she tries to convince her mother of her happiness, and the climax, where she struggles with her pride and love are still considered classic.
Image: A scene from Mouna Ragam
Baby Shamilee in Anjali
People couldn't stop raving over Baby Shamilee's performance as an autistic child whose days were numbered because of a terminal illness, in this child-oriented film by Mani Ratnam.
For a very young girl to fully take instructions and turn herself so completely into a silent child, living in a world of her own, was nothing short of a marvel.Shamilee's vacant, rather puzzled eyes and jumbled words brought an autistic child to life. Small wonder that she won the Silver Lotus Award for Best Child Artist (along with two others), for her performance.
Image: A scene from Anjali
Shalini in Alaipayuthe
Shalini was one of the few who broke the myth that very successful child artistes don't usually grow up to be successful actors.
Having acted with every top star in her childhood, she knew all about being in front of the camera and if she was an ebullient, rather syrupy child artiste, no trace of that was to be found in Shalini, the young woman.
In Mani Ratnam's movie, paired with debutant R Madhavan, she was calm, cool, every inch an accomplished young woman who knows that she's desired, and on the cusp of marriage.
She brought a whiff of freshness that was a far cry from the artificial sweetness of other heroines. Her lack of self-consciousness was a definite asset; she was earthy and natural; a perfect fit for the role.
Image: A scene from Alaipayuthe
Prabhu/Karthik in Agni Nakshathiram
Both Prabhu and Karthik, scions of yesteryear film legends, had inherited a good deal of talent. Mani Ratnam's film yanked them out of their comfort zone and threw them into an urban milieu that changed their image almost overnight.
Prabhu, known for playing stocky village youths becomes an urbane, restrained police officer, was at his suave best. Karthik was an emotional young man, seething under his father's supposedly cavalier treatment of his mother and Prabhu's status as the son of his father's first wife.
Both vied with each other for the top spot in acting. Their individual romantic encounters; Prabhu's bubbling emotions about his father and unexpected assistance for his half sister; Karthik's sudden realisation that blood is thicker than water and abrupt turn to responsibility, brought the house down.
Both were doing roles they'd never done before, both finally emerged from their respective fathers' shadows and created a classic that still remains unbeatable.
Image: A scene from Agni Nakshathiram