I was born in the year 1990, at a time when India was starting to grow up, yet chose to stay under the blanket for just a little longer like we all did when we didn’t want to go to school. It was a time before the Internet took the world by storm, yet giving us just enough exposure to the West and the rest of the world. It was a time before cellphones promised to get us all a little closer, yet a time when we communicated much more than we do today in 2017.
The television screens were small, but what they emitted onto our eyes and hearts was much larger in impact and warmth.
Cassettes and CDs occupied a quarter of our small homes, but there was more music to listen to than ever before or ever after.
We made greeting cards instead of posting ‘HBD’ on Facebook, laughed heartily instead of writing ‘lol’ with a straight face, wrote letters instead of texts, took embarrassing yet unforgettable photographs instead of perfect yet instantly forgotten selfies and actually lived moments instead of ‘creating’ moments on Snapchat.
While we used to walk and let the moment guide us, today we’re all racing towards something without knowing what it even is.
However, like every cloud has a silver lining, there are just a handful of things that haven’t changed entirely. And it all started in 1992, the year a legend brought a genius into the world.
Whenever a Mani Ratnam-A.R.Rahman film is announced every once in a couple of years, there are a few things that happen. An increased sense of heartbeat here, a heightened sense of longing there. A few months later, if we’re lucky, we get a ‘first look’ that along with its freshness, releases a copious amount of dopamine within our bodies. And then we get a teaser that is meant only to tease, but does much more by taking away the remaining oxygen in our systems.
Lack of sleep.
Wanting to love.
A series of emotions and bodily symptoms until the spectacle finally makes it to the screen, and it still doesn’t end there.
But couldn’t this be true for any film, by any director-music director that we individually adore? Yes, it could be. But no, not always.
There is just something about the coming together of Mani Ratnam and A.R.Rahman that does what all cinema is supposed to do: speak to the soul. Fuck technicalities. Fuck YouTube views. Fuck box office numbers.
When Karthik’s eyes meet Sakthi’s, even if they’re on opposite trains.
When Tara and Adi ride through the chaotic streets of Bombay.
When Tamizhchelvan shows Anandhan the first glimpse of his power.
When the estranged Shyama refuses to hug Amudha, but gives in eventually.
Or when Michael places his hand on Selvanayagam’s shoulder.
When the two of them work together and we get to witness it on a screen in the midst of hundreds of people, we get sucked in to their world. But not quite. Several films offer an immersive experience, but there’s something different at play here.
The greatest strength in my opinion that the synergy of Mani Ratnam and A.R.Rahman possess is their ability to transport me to the time I described in the beginning, irrespective of whether the film is actually set in the 90s or not. There is this feeling you get when you think about your childhood, or any happy moment in the past, or when you look at an old photograph. That is the exact feeling that is induced when these two come together…a feeling of finding the extraordinary in the absolute mundane.
The feeling of having communicated so much without having spoken a single word or sent a single text.
The feeling of getting lost in the silences of our human selves, and the quaint sounds of the world around us.
The feeling of actually ‘living’ life and ‘experiencing’ the world, rather than seeing it through a 4-inch screen.
And no, it doesn’t solve the crisis in Syria or the state’s water problem or the tyranny of the American president, but just for a while, a little, while, makes you forget about the terrible world we live in and be surrounded only by its goodness even if you’re witnessing hardship. Like a hot cup of coffee in a freezing winter. Like a soothing balm on a wound from yesterday.
I’m not quite sure about you, but other than the few people who are close to me, Mani Ratnam and A.R.Rahman are the only people I can count upon to remind myself that life’s not all that bad, and to trust your memories to be your only saviour in times when you feel the world is collapsing around you. It's been 25 years since the day they worked together, but it still always feels like the first day in the early 90s, when life was...life.
Here’s to a better time in the realms of your mind.
Written by Raunaq Mangottil, co-founder and Director, Fully Filmy