When his friend Ravi Shankar was making a Kannada film in 1979, the 56-year-old Ratnam had his first brush with the visual medium as he helped him in the script. "Up to that point in my life, except for writing a few letters occasionally to my father from the hotel asking for money, I had not done any form of creative writing," he recalls. This stint in script-writing proved to be career-changing for him as he decided to direct films. "That's when I thought I'd write a script, sell it to a director, work alongside and learn everything about direction, and then I thought I would be ready for a full-fledged career in films.
"In the worst case scenario, I could go back and get a job. But that was just insurance. Once you get bitten by this bug, you get seriously bitten," he said. His first film was the Anil Kapoor starrer Kannada film Pallavi Anupallavi in 1983. Striking a fine balance between art and commerce, he went on to make films in many south Indian languages and his Tamil classic Nayakan is among Time magazine's '100 Best Movies Ever' list.
Although some of his works like Yuva and Bombay have touched upon various issues affecting the society, Ratnam insists he is not attempting to give any messages. "I don't make movies to give messages. Films are about sharing an experience or sharing your angst or your concerns about something with a larger group of people," he said at the launch of a book titled 'Conversations with Mani Ratnam'. Offering readers a peek into the mind of the auteur, the book examines the evolution of Mani Ratnam's works taking one film at a time.