Exploring nine emotions: Mani Ratnam, Jayendra on upcoming Tamil anthology ‘Navarasa’

Veteran filmmakers Mani Ratnam and Jayendra Panchapakesan chat about the thought behind Netflix’s nine-part Tamil anthology ‘Navarasa’

Cinema is emotion. Upcoming nine-part Tamil anthology film, Navarasa, seeks to throw light on the nine human emotions: anger, compassion, courage, disgust, fear, laughter, love, peace and wonder.

Set to stream on Netflix next month, the anthology brings together some exciting collaborations: Suriya getting back with Gautham Menon for Guitar Kambi Mele Nindru and Priyadarshan helming a segment starring Yogi Babu titled Summer of 92. It will also see actor Aravind Swami turning director with Roudhram.

Excerpts from a chat with filmmakers Mani Ratnam and Jayendra Panchapakesan, who spearheaded the project:

How did Navarasa start out, and how has it shaped up?

Mani: After the pandemic hit us, a lot of daily wage workers in the film industry were without jobs and money. As a team, we were thinking of how to help them, and that’s how the idea of Navarasa, a Tamil anthology done for the welfare of the industry, came about. The proceeds from this project will go towards the well-being of film workers.

Jayendra: Life is all about navarasa; more so during the pandemic when people go through all kinds of emotion. It was difficult to handle nine productions at once. But we ensured everyone was safe, and at the same time, did not compromise quality. That so many people in the Tamil film industry have come together for Navarasa is amazing. Bhumika Trust, which was set up for disaster relief, has been actively involved with delivering relief for workers and their families.

Do you think the nature of scripts will change due to the pandemic?

Mani: Given the situation, it’s difficult to predict what will happen. I’m sure it will get reflected in the future, with several filmmakers giving a cogent view of this crisis and phase of life. At this point in time, we just want to cross over with minimal damage and as quickly as possible.

From the 1980s to now, you have seen several winds of change in films. How do view the OTT boom in the last year or so?

Mani: It’s the future and growing. It’s a big plus for filmmakers; there are a lot of ideas that do not need to fit into a two-hour format as a feature film. We can have long-format stories and anthologies. It opens up different ways of storytelling, big and small. Filmmakers henceforth will not only have more subjects that they handle but also a lot of variety in their making.

Jayendra: There is cinema, there is television and there is OTT. Everything has its own space. What the filmmaker wants to deliver on an OTT platform can be different from what they want to conceive on the big screen. Ultimately, these are all looking at satisfying the consumer and giving him/her a variety of choices.

A still from the ‘Guitar Kambi Mele Nindru’ segment
| Photo Credit: Netflix

Which of the nine navarasas is the most difficult to cinematically portray?

Mani: All of them! We have been trying to do that genuinely in all the films. Anger doesn’t work without calmness; in Navarasa, each segment depicts a particular emotion, but it will be in contrast with the rest of them.

Jayendra: What took us more time than the others was the emotion of ‘disgust’ and finding the right story that would appeal to all.

Your first film released in 1983 (Pallavi Anupallavi) and you’re still at it. What explains this longevity?

Mani: Luck (laughs). There have been many masters; Kurasowa did films till his last days. Clint Eastwood is still making great films. In India, we had Yash Chopra and many others. It’s a question of your desire as a director. If you want to say something and if you have the hunger for it, you’ll find a way.

With OTTs came a set of anthologies, Navarasa being the latest. What are the strengths of this format?

Jayendra: Everyone is in a hurry today. Anthologies come in the right packaging; you can watch just for half hour, and get a complete package. At the same time, you also have the opportunity to binge-watch the entire film. Also, stories that do not lend itself to the feature format have potential to be great films here.

As a viewer, what have you been watching since the pandemic?

Mani: Once you are a film bug, you are always one! Two things that occupy my mind when there’s this kind of a gap: working on an unfinished script, or continuing the unfinished love story with films I watch. Both happened.

Aravind Swami, your protege, is turning director with Navarasa

Mani: Everybody has to start somewhere. The last time I spoke to him, he sounded not so keen on acting, but on direction… I think the bug has caught him!

What’s the status on your magnum opus, Ponniyin Selvan?

MR: It’s tough doing these times, as we need to ensure all precautions are in place. We still have one more stretch to complete, and hopefully, we will finish it soon. The scale of Ponniyin Selvan is bigger than my previous projects, but a small film is as difficult to do as a big film.

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