With around 10 films (in all four major South Indian languages) under his belt and 3 National Awards to his credit, Mani Ratnam had become a big thing down South. Feroze Khan had officially adapted one of his films ‘Nayagan’ into ‘Dayavan’. And ‘Anjali’ as a children’s film also became popular among many families. However, the director was yet to become a household name outside the South Indian Film Industry. That’s when ROJA happened.
Mani Sir’s penchant for films revolving around terrorism and terror stricken families is not uncommon. From Kannathil Muththamittaal, Dil Se, to Bombay (not terror but Mumbai riot), he has dealt with the repercussions of violence with varied plots and intriguing storylines. And Roja was one of his earliest attempts at the same.
Everyone’s aware of the political turmoil that has been plaguing the Kashmir valley from time immemorial. For a regional film industry, dealing with national or internationally sensitive issues is itself a tough task, because you risk the chances of disconnect with the local audience. In that margin itself, Roja stands out as a brave film.
But that act of bravery is the least of the credible aspects of ROJA. For me, the factors that work majorly in favour of ROJA are:
1) the love story between Madhu & Arvind
2) the politics of language
3) Pankaj Kapur as the terrorist with a good heart
4) the MUSIC
1. Lets start with the Love Story.
I won’t talk about the plotline, coz I am sure everyone here is already aware of the same. I still remember the scene where Arvind Swamy chooses Madhu over her elder sister (of course there was a reason behind it) and her reaction about that. The man she adored at the first sight suddenly appears as the villain, for having chosen her for marriage. The coldness in her reaction continues till the revelation comes, just before they head off to Kashmir. Though the Hindi dialogue ‘main bohut bhola dikhta hoon na?’ [or something like that] sounded extremely cheesy, but the chemistry between Arvind & Madhu more than made up for it. Two more scenes that work brilliantly for the film:
a) When Arvind gets kidnapped – the entire scene is sudden and shocking. The way Madhu helplessly chases the cars for so long leaves me with goosebumps everytime I see the film.
b) The climax when Arvind is finally set free and he staggers across the bridge, with Madhu running in from the other end, with ‘Bharat Humko Jaan Se Pyaara Hai’ playing in the background. That scene never fails to moisten my eyes.
Of course, the entire passion in their love, her interactions with the temple guy, his attempts to flee and save the Indian flag – it would be very tough to segregate great scenes from a film, which has scores of those.
2. The Politics of Language
It is a rarely discussed thing in Indian cinema – which is almost always lost in its delusion of happiness. Especially, in a country like India, where every region is distinct in its choice of language, culture and traditions, the politics of language is a very big thing. We all know about the Hindi – non-Hindi divide that is still deterrent in a true amalgamation of South & North India. While the former thinks that Hindi has been pushed down their throats as a National Language, the latter ridicules the former for being non-conversant with it. Roja, in a subtle non-controversial way, presented this disparity in the conversation between Roja (the Tamilian girl who doesn’t understand Hindi) and the primarily Sikh army officers who don’t understand Tamil. The plight of the woman who is trying to convince the soldiers to help her husband and yet the inability to communicate the same was one of the masterstrokes of the film. Special mention is deserved by the actor who played the temple guy who acts as the mediator cum translator between Roja and the army men. What irked me about the Hindi version of Roja, was the fact that this entire aspect of the film got diluted. What was a Tamil – Hindi debate, became a Hindi – English thing, where the focus shifted from the language war to that of literacy and illiteracy. I know there was not much way out for the director when he wanted to come out with the dubbed Hindi version. Yet…
3. Pankaj Kapur as Liaqat
If Shahid were half as good an actor as his father, he would have been a superstar. There is no denying the fact that the film belonged to Madhu, who as the eponymous protagonist, put in an extremely earnest effort and did a fabulous job at portraying Roja. It was the role of her career and a dream-role for any actress to portray. Arvind Swamy became a sensation among women. And all the aunties went lusting about the soft faced, thick mustached, plump man (by Bollywood standards at least) who, no doubt, played the role of Rishi (the ideal husband – citizen – journalist) ably. But he hammed a bit too much in his emotional scenes, where he overacted (in my opinion) to express the pain and honour. Though I must mention that the scene where he risks his life to save the burning Indian flag is one of the highpoints of the film and Arvind Swamy deserves all the claps that he got for that scene. The Kashmiri girl, who serves food to Arvind and delivers a soft corner for him, left a strong impact even in that miniscule role. However, Pankaj Kapur as the terrorist with ideals – and trying to balance the counter forces running in his heart, is simply outstanding. The man has given several delectable performances and Roja is a reaffirmation of his standard. His respect for Arvind Swamy’s character, gradual dilemma over his own actions (especially after the death of his brother), staunchness of thoughts, every reaction is so balanced that you almost feel bad for him at the end. You know the mark of a great actor when he converses with his eyes, and you overlook his physical stature because his character rises way beyond it. While reminiscing Kapur’s performance in Roja, I cannot help but think of another extra-ordinary performance by this actor (of course he has many more) in Maqbool.
We all know that ROJA was the launchpad for the most revered musician of today’s film music – A R Rahman. Everyone knows Mani Sir prefers working with the best technician available in the industry. He had a long collaboration with the great music director Ilaiyaraja in his previous films. However, with ROJA, Mani Sir brought a new guy to the recording. And trust one genius to find another. Rahman came, Rahman saw, Rahman conquered. Every song in the album is a marvel – proudly reflecting the magnificence of the composer. Not only the debut of Rahman, ROJA also ushered the entire concept of digitally composed music into the Indian film fraternity. The fact that TIME Magazine has listed Roja’s album as one of the top 10 soundtracks of all time speaks a lot about the quality of it. However, the irony is that the weakest of the songs (though not weak by any standard margin) was also the most popular – Rukhmini Rukhmini with its corny lyrics and peppy beats became an instant hir. My favourites, however, are Dil Hai Chhota Sa and Yeh Haseen Wadiya.. The lilting melody coupled with Chitra and Hariharan’s voice spell magic even now.. (Yes, I am referring to the Hindi names for the songs because that’s how I have heard them, loved them and remembered them).. The background music is equally amazing with Bharat Humko Jaan as the only non-lip sync song being extremely effective..
What made the songs even more special were the visuals – whether it’s the lush green Tamil Nadu, the small boat floating over the river, or the snow capped terrain of Kashmir, Santosh Sivan’s camera enhanced the mood of every song. The DOP, one of the finest in the country, has produced some other great works with Ratnam as well, which include Dil Se and Raavan / Raavanan. His brilliance has already been elaborated in some of the previous posts in the Blogathon, so I won’t repeat the same..
Roja is definitely one of the current age classics, and will go down as a trendsetter for many reasons. Undoubtedly a technical wonder, with a strong political undertone (it had been rumoured that Roja became so popular that even the terrorists of Kashmir got a copy of it), what makes the film glitter the most is the strong humane element and the undying love (one of the most under-rated romances of Indian cinema) between the pair. At the same time, when a filmmaker creates a wonder like Roja, he has to live up to the burden of maintain such high standards everytime he sets out to make a movie. To an extent, Roja suffers from the successor syndrome. Though Mani Sir has created some brilliant film post Mumbai, none have come up to Roja. Though I can’t claim to have seen all his works, but of those that I have, Nayagan is the only one I can give a stature as high as Roja. Given the fact that Mani Sis is making a female protagonist film (KADAL) now, almost 20 years post ROJA, it would be very interesting to see if the director can make his forthcoming work match up to his previous films.
Read more reviews on MANI RATNAM BLOGATHON:
1. Pallavi Anupallavi (Kannada) 2. Unaroo (Malayalam) 3. Pagal Nilavu (Tamil) 4. Idaya Kovil (Tamil) 5. Mouna Ragam (Tamil) 6. Nayagan Tamil) 7. Agni Natchathiram (Tamil) 8. Geethanjali (Telugu) 9. Anjali (Tamil) 10. Thalapathi (Tamil) Take 2 Thalapathi (Tamil) 11. Roja (Tamil) 12. Thiruda Thiruda (Tamil) 13. Bombay (Tamil) 14. Iruvar (Tamil) Take 2 Iruvar (Tamil) 15. Dil Se…(Hindi) Take 2 Dil Se…(Hindi) 16. Alaipayuthey (Tamil) 17. Kannathil Muthamittal (Tamil) Take 2 Kannathil Muthamittal(Tamil) 18. Yuva (Hindi) 19. Aayutha Ezhuthu (Tamil) 20. Guru (Hindi) 21. Raavanan (Tamil) 22. Raavan (Hindi)