Tamil anthology Navarasa releases on Netflix on August 6. Mani Ratnam and Jayendra Panchapakesan, the producers and presenters, talk about how they put together the massive project involving the biggest directors and actors, whether any two actors wanted to play the same rasa, and if theatre and OTT experiences are vastly different, in this interview with Anupama Chopra and Baradwaj Rangan. Edited Excerpts…
Navarasa is a film on the nine emotions. Did you always plan to make it a massive project so the proceeds can go to people impacted by pandemic in the film industry?
Jayendra Panchapakesan: The need was really big. We have one of the largest workforces compared to many industries. And we haven’t been working for the longest spell. The cost was big and so we had to think big.
Mani Ratnam: In fact, Jayendra was considering adding a couple more rasas too (laughs).
The list of directors is interesting. There’s Vasanth and Priyadarshan from the 80s and 90s, there’s Gautham Menon from the 2000s and also later directors like Karthik Subbaraj. Was this consciously planned?
We needed different kinds of directors though it was not consciously planned. We wanted to work with people who were keen to do it. We wanted a good product to be brought out. People had to be able to put time and effort in these difficult times.
Jayendra Panchapakesan: We were thinking of people whom we could invite into the initiative. Of course, there were people who were enthusiastic and came readily on board too. We were also looking for people and people were also looking to participate.
How did you match artists to each rasa? Did two actors want to play the same rasa, for instance?
Mani Ratnam: Every director had their own choice, and if they needed us to help them out with it.
Jayendra Panchapakesan: Some people had their favorite rasas. And then some rasas are difficult to conceive or execute. A lot of people wanted ‘courage’ and ‘anger’ with ‘disgust’ finding the least takers.
Didn’t you want to direct a rasa yourselves?
Mani Ratnam: We made the decision early to only produce and not get into directing. It was a pleasure seeing nine other guys struggle (laughs).
How did you manage such a complicated project? What if you didn’t see eye to eye with a director or actor?
Mani Ratnam: I think it’s true for any situation. You make a film and you don’t see eye to eye with an actor. You have to convince them in a way that’s right for the project. There are small difficult moments to cross that are part of the challenge and excitement.
Is there a fundamentally different way you would make a film for OTT when compared to films made for theatres?
Mani Ratnam: The first rule that comes for a theatrical release is that the film should be around two hours. It defines how you tell a story. You have a choice of doing an anthology with nine different things put together. You also have the choice of doing long format stories with seasons. It opens up a huge format to which you can tell your stories. I think it will be very liberating. There’s also a little more space for niche films that will find their audience on OTT.
After restrictions are lifted, do you think the audience will be excited to go back to theatres?
Mani Ratnam: I look at myself as a member of the audience first. So, I would definitely go to a screen and watch a film. I would also expect it to be something that holds me completely, because I’m not watching it at my own pace; I’m committing myself to it. At least until we settle down into a new normal, the sensibilities could be slightly different.
You are making Ponniyin Selvan which is perceived to be a big screen film. But Game Of Thrones worked exclusively on the small screen and not theatres. Do you think people are becoming platform agnostic?
Mani Ratnam: I am saying Game Of Thrones couldn’t have been made as a feature film so easily. It works best on OTT. It depends on the story you want to say. I don’t think it’s that different an experience in OTT or theatre as long as the content delivers. If someone does Ponniyin Selvan as a web series, I’m sure that will work as well.