Couples in Mani Ratnam’s movies

In the show ‘Mani Matters’ on CNN-IBN, talking about Alaipayuthey, this is what Mani Ratnam said,

“To me, that’s where a love story starts. After hard facts of life of having to get up every morning, not just when you are trying to impress somebody, where you can be on your best behaviour, when you can charming, when you can be intelligent.

The relationship grows when it is faced with reality, when it is started…the milkman coming in, I mean, that’s where the real relationship starts.”

Hearing these lines, I started thinking about how not just in Alaipayuthey, but also in many of his movies, Mani Ratnam has portrayed the ups and downs in the relationship between a husband and a wife. His lead pair, in most of the films, has always been a married couple and not just lovers. His lead pair gets married in the course of the movie and he has always shown an equal share of romance as well as the complexities involved in the relationship.

At a time when most movies ended with the hero and heroine getting married (don’t we remember the ‘subham’ or ‘The End’ which flashed at the end of every movie, with a scene of the hero tying the thali around the herione’s neck?), along came his movie, Mouna Raagam, in which the love story started only after the hero and heroine get married. Mouna Raagam, till date, remains an evergreen, beautiful love story and even after 25 years down the line, it still seems to be a contemporary story!

As Divya (Revathy) gets over her initial reluctance to share her life with a stranger the moment they decide that they will just live under the same roof till a year gets over, the way Mani Ratnam traces the bonding that develops between CK/Chandrakumar (Mohan) and her from that moment on is simply brilliant. CK’s accident almost marks the end of the honeymoon period and as their relationship starts becoming strained, the emotions and vulnerabilities of the characters are brought out into the open, with both of them thrown deep into the confusion of whether to let go of their relationship or not.

If Mouna Raagam was all about an arranged marriage where an unwilling wife goes on to later fall in love with her husband and finally takes the initiative to admit it to him and saves their relationship, a good 15 years later, came Alaipayuthey in which the lovers are head over heels in love with each other, get married and start leading a happy life together when tragedy strikes and their marriage starts to crumble.

From happy, feel-good romantic scenes, the movie switches to scenes filled with heated dialogue exchanges, anger and tears. And that’s when enters another couple, Ram (Arvind Swamy) and Meera (Khushboo). Though they make an appearance in just a few scenes, Mani Ratnam shows that they are an ideal couple. He doesn’t portray both of them to be perfect. Ram does get angry at his wife, shouts at her, but at the end of it, he does go on to console her.

It is not just in Mouna Raagam and Alaipayuthey, even in movies like Anjali, Bombay and Kannathil Muthamittal the central theme of which wasn’t really the relationship between a husband and wife, Mani Ratnam, the expert that he is in portraying the relationship between even those characters whose screen time is only a few minutes in the movie, does explores the relationship between the lead couple.

In Anjali, for the first time, Mani Ratnam dealt elaborately with the relationship between parents and their children. As a husband who doesn’t want his wife to undergo the suffering when their daughter dies after a few days of her birth and tells his wife that their baby is not alive, as a husband who struggles to keep the secret from his wife that their daughter is still alive and is not well, as a husband who has to console his wife when she comes to know that her daughter is mentally challenged, as a husband who has to comfort his wife when she gets upset that their daughter doesn’t even come near her, Shekhar (Raghuvaran) is a perfect husband in every sense. And he is also a perfect father and Mani Ratnam shows that he is a perfect citizen too.

Bombay is a movie where you don’t see the couple fighting ever. Even after the wedding, they both continue to follow their respective religions and religion remains a slightly uncomfortable factor between them as indicated by the scene in which some Hindus come to their house to ask for donation and Shekhar (Arvind Swamy), with an uncomfortable look in his face, takes them out. But that doesn’t affect their love for each other in any way. From the beginning when he stops reading his father’s letter loudly and instead starts telling imaginary lines to his wife and through all the tragic, tough times, Shekhar, who, though not really an ideal son, remains a good husband.

Right from the initial courting days till the end of the movie, Kannathil Muthamittal traces the relationship between Indra (Simran) and Thiruchelvan (Madhavan) beautifully. Despite both of them having different opinions on important things like if they should tell their daughter the truth that she was adopted or if she should be allowed to meet her real mother, and not to forget the thoughts that Indra has to constantly deal with about whether their daughter is more important to her husband than herself, Indra and Thiru still remain a perfect couple without any fights.

In Thalapathy, more than Deva (Mammootty) and his wife (Geetha) who is just shown as a happy couple, it is Kalyani (Srividya) and her husband (Jaishankar) who seems to be ideal with the husband being so understanding and sensitive to his wife’s feelings.

Roja is not a movie which deals with the daily lives of the couple since they stay together only for a short while and a few happy days later, the husband gets abducted. At that point, their first argument is still fresh in the mind of the wife and she is still in the stage where she is cursing herself for mistaking him. It is the characters of Roja (Madhubala) and Rishi (Arvind Swamy) that is explored more and not their relationship as such.

Moving away from all the ideal husbands that most of the heroes of Mani Ratnam’s are, in Aayitha Ezhuthu/Yuva, Mani Ratnam goes on to explore the relationship between a husband and wife in a rural setting with the husband being a bad guy. Reminding you of the many stories that you get to hear from that strata of society where the husband is a drunkard and often beats the wife and yet the wife continues living with him, in Aayitha Ezhuthu, from the beginning, there is a constant fight between Inba (Madhavan) and Sasi (Meera), yet they continue to get back to each other.

In Guru, though the main reason behind the hero agreeing to marry the heroine is the dowry that he will get, they soon fall in love with each other and that is why when the wife comes to know the truth later, it upsets her only for a while before they soon get back together. And she remains a solid support to him through all the ups and downs in his life.

Not all married relationships that Mani Ratnam has shown are ideal ones. In Agni Natchatram, he shows a man with two wives and the effect that this has on his family. While the relationship between the half brothers is more in focus, he does show the dislike that the man has to face in both his houses and also shows him trying to bring peace between his sons.

As I come to the conclusion of this post, I can’t wait to see what kind of a couple are Dev and Ragini of Raavan!

P.S.: Reading and watching so much about Mani Ratnam’s films almost every day during the last couple of weeks, I just HAD to write something on his movies! The inspiration was too much to resist.

12 thoughts on “Couples in Mani Ratnam’s movies

  1. Bharath

    Very well written… He’s spoken about his portrayal of love and romance in another interview as well – Talks about how he likes to portray love after marriage in a lot of his films.

    How can you forget Nayagan? Or the relationship between Rajni and Bhanupriya (?) in Dalapathy?

    Of course after Raavanan / Raavan I think this is his best film exploring relationships – More because he’s chopped and cut the film to suit contemporary cinema (2 hours and 6 minutes!) and even with so much editing, he’s shown the Ragini -> Dev (and vice versa) and Veera -> Ragini (and vice versa) relationships beautifully. A lot of reviews say there is no character buildup in Raavanan, but I think he builds up all three characters with much more ease than any of his previous movies..

  2. Kartik

    Awesome!!! Can’t say anything else about a person who loves to write, and who’s crazy about ARR, Mani Ratnma, Guitar Prasanna & Chennai! If only you were a huge fan of Kamal & Ilaiyaraja (which I’m sure you are!!), I’d be pitching for a Bharat Ratna for you!

    Great job on the post. Stepping on the toes of your point about peripheral characters, even the minutiae of the relationship between the landlord and his wife in Alai Payuthey, and one magical scene in Guru which shows Madhavan & Vidya Balan in idyllic domestic bliss, were masterpieces.

  3. Madhu

    I agree that he portrays relationships very well, in fact, I strongly believe that is his forte. But I am put off how he portrays the act of falling in love. It’s more like falling in love in a hurry, and then spending time to actually understand each other.. and that’s probably where real love starts. His ‘initial love’ is probably more inclined towards infatuation or physical attraction – I mean, how did they fall in love in Alaipayuthey? Dil Se? Bombay? Comparing to these other movies, I think Mouna Raagam is a gem. Even though Revathi’s attraction for Karthik in Mouna Raagam is a little like that, fortunately, they show that those two actually spend time with each other to understand each other.

  4. Aparna

    Deepak, Martina & Shobana,
    Welcome to my blog! Thank you


    Though I agree that he has shown the relationships in a few scenes itself, Raavan didn’t leave such an impact on me! Looks like I have to see it a few more times.

    His recent earlier films were all 2 hrs 15 min or less.

    Welcome to my blog! Thanks. I am not a fan of Kamal.

    Welcome to my blog! Alaipayuthey wasn’t just about physical attraction and so was Revathy & Karthik’s. Doesn’t she get to see the good things that Karthik does for others?

  5. Shalu

    Love it when you write about Alaipayuthey. It is among the best movies ever produced in Tamil cinema.

    Raavan has a different kind of feel. I enjoyed it, anyhow.

    But – Alaipayuthey…. wowwww, after all these years. Thanks for flooding me with the memories. Cheers and Deepavali wishes.

  6. ulag

    A very very good post!! Im a huge Mani Ratnam fan myself but i hadn’t thought about this aspect of relationships that he shows in his movies. It was an insightful read.

  7. Babu

    The other great point with him(Mani) is if you look through the lens, the character in his movies will not be an outright Honest/Hero or Dishonest/villain, it will be a mix of both, that is where he stands tall among others.
    That is how we are all too, sometime we behave like fool and other time not so bad.
    The way you narrate a tale and how much possible the realism you can input will leave much significant impact on the audience.


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