Saturday, April 12, 2003
M A I N   F E A T U R E

Married to the medium

Mani Ratnam and Suhasini
Mani Ratnam and Suhasini

WHAT brings this couple together is a love of a different kind, a love for cinema. And between them they exhaust all the possibilities the medium has to offer. For Suhasini and Mani Ratnam, films are home.

A cinematic courtship

Think Mani Ratnam and you're instantly transported to lush valleys juxtaposed against simmering passions, if not smouldering ammunition. Be it Roja or Dil Se, Nayakan or Bombay, Ratnam spells class. Think Suhasini Haasan and think cinematographer-turned-actress-turned script writer/editor-cum-mother. The National Award winning actress' biodata lists 150 films, Southern awards, seven Filmfare awards and a National Award.


A Bombay wedding

Mani Ratnam was 33 when he met Suhasini. Suhasini was already an established actress in Tamil films, cinematography being her true passion. "I was conservative and traditional and didn't want to be linked with a man I wasn't married to. So I told Mani that I wasn't interested in a relationship, only marriage," she says. To which Mani retorts, in jest, "She left me with no choice!"

Mani Ratnam's film, Bombay, aptly depicted a suburban family snuggled together in their miniscule living space. Though Suhasini and Mani and their 12-year-old son live in their plush residence in Chennai, Suhasini reveals that "the resemblance to the Bombay family is uncanny." And her relationship with her husband is "not the usual clean-my-cupboard-and-cook-my-food kind of affair", says the acclaimed actress and TV producer-director (her serial Penn successfully highlighted women's issues).

But there are times when techno-savvy director Mani insists on silk saris (which make Suhasini cringe "because of the slaughter of silkworms") and flowers in the hair (another idea which doesn't appeal to her). But much like Manisha and Arvind in Bombay, the couple work out their differences without much fuss.

Ratnam vs Ratnam

Cinema played the unlikely matchmaker between Suhasini and Mani, and all they really discussed were films in all their variety. But after marriage, when Suhasini decided to pursue her career, she did meet with resistance, however subtle. "I chose not to say anything to Mani at that point and just continued with my work."
Elsewhere, she states, "Mani is the best thing to have happened to me," while the filmmaker reveals that his wife is the kind of person who can "turn his life upside down every now and then", much like his other passion, cinema.

But does their common interest in films make them dangerously competitive? On the contrary, the two have collaborated on several projects, and when she isn't contributing to the script, dialogue or editing of Mani's films, she serves as his harshest critic. Suhasini is also the inspiration behind such characters in Ratnam's films as the small-town, earthy Roja and the sharp-tongued Shalini in Alaipayude.

The dream team

What does an Iyenger girl from Paramkudi, brought up on traditional values look for in a man? "He shouldn't be too religious," is Suhasini's surprising qualification, apart from him being a teetotaller, and not expecting her to cook non-vegetarian food. As an afterthought, Suhasini adds, "He should be a good human being ... I was lucky that Mani qualified on all these grounds."

At his end, Mani is full of tall claims about being the ideal match for his dusky, curly-haired wife. "I am tall and handsome, I pretend to be short only to complement you," he teases. What comes as a surprise is Suhasini's admission, "Mani is very romantic." And his ideal woman is the one who "runs when she has to walk." Suhasini believes that, "he has got instead, someone who flies when she has to crawl!"

Here's a high flying couple that's amazingly grounded to reality! LMN