Born in 1956 in Madras, Mani Ratnam is a post graduate from the Jamnalal Bajaj Institute of Business Management. He worked initially as a management consultant before entering films. (His father was a producer - 'Venus' Gopal Ratnam and his brother late G. Venkateshwaran, a distributor-turned-producer).
Today Mani Ratnam is certainly one of the biggest directors in India and he has revolutionized the Tamil Film Industry with technically strong films that are beautifully photographed with well-picturised songs.
Ratnam's debut film was in Kannada Pallavi Anu Pallavi (1983). His initial films (both in Tamil and Malayalam) did not create any waves till Mauna Ragam (1986) and Nayakan (1987) happened. A take off from The Godfather, Nayakan was based on the life and times of the Mumbai-based gangster Varadaraja Mudaliar.
The film, with stunning cinematography by P.C. Sriram and music by Ilayaraja established Ratnam as the leading Tamil director of his time and won its star Kamalhassan the National Award for Best Actor.
Agni Nakshatram (1988), the story of friction between two step brothers with glossy camerawork using extensive backlighting and flare filters was much like a long slick music video. The film set a trend for a whole new visual style in Tamil Cinema.
Then came Geetanjali (1989). This was a touching love story between two people who both have less than six months to live. The film was mainly shot in the misty landscape of Ooty to give the film an almost soft and poetic feel.
Anjali (1990) was one of his best works as a director, in which he made a two-year-old girl play a child with Down's syndrome, capturing how she changed the life of her family and her neighbours in her apartment complex. Excellent songs featuring children and camerawork were the highlights of the film.
Soon came Dalapathi (1991) (starring Mammootty and Rajnikanth). On paper, the story is an excerpt from the Mahabharata. It stars Karna in the lead; Arjuna, Duryodhana and Kunti form the rest of the cast. On screen, you see multi-layered characters driven by different forces of emotions.
However it was Roja (1992), a patriotic love story against the backdrop of Kashmir terrorism that made Ratnam a household name all over India as it was dubbed and released in Hindi and proved to be a huge success all over the country.
This romantic thriller reinforced Ratnam's reputation as a filmmaker of style and substance. The film also marked a highly auspicious debut for young music director A.R. Rahman whose music contributed to the film's success in a major way. His next film Thiruda Thiruda (1993) failed, but Ratnam bounced back with his next film, Bombay (1995).
Bombay, was a love story between a Hindu boy and a Muslim girl against the backdrop of the Bombay riots of 1993. All the controversy around the film helped it to become a blockbuster at the box-office.
Then Ratnam made Iruvar (1997) about two friends etched in the background of their political struggle (strongly inspired by the lives of M G Ramachandran and Karunanidhi). Ego, prejudice, friendship and regard can co-exist between two people - this is shown so poignantly in this movie.
And then his first Hindi film Dil Se (1998) supposedly based on the North-East Indian problem that turned out to be a damp squib but once again the director hit back with Alai Payuthey (2000) a love story about a young couple who realizes that marriage is not the bed of roses it is made out to be.
And then Kannathil Muthamittal (A Peck on the Cheek) reaffirmed Mani Ratnam's return to form as one of Indian Cinema's best storytellers.
His latest film Aayitha Ezhuthu is releasing worldwide with an impressive star cast of Madhavan, Surya, Siddharth, Meera, Esha and Trisha with Bharathiraaja playing the negative character.
Memorable films of Mani Ratnam
Mouna Ragam (1986)
Agni Nakshatram (1988)
Alai Payuthey (2000)
Kannathil Muthamittal (2002)