Need Javed Akhtar back as screenwriter: Mani Ratnam

Ratnam’s remarks come days after Animal makers on X slammed Akhtar for criticizing the Ranbir Kapoor-starrer.

Indian film director, screenwriter, and producer Mani Ratnam (Photo by SUJIT JAISWAL/AFP via Getty Images)

Mohnish Singh

At a time when movies have become all about box office collections, the Indian cinema needs Javed Akhtar back as a screenwriter, filmmaker Mani Ratnam said on Wednesday.

Ratnam’s remarks come days after Animal makers on X slammed Akhtar for criticising the Ranbir Kapoor-starrer.

Akhtar is a rock-solid man who has set the writing in the Indian film industry to a “structured high standard”, Ratnam, 67, said.

“Sir, I have a request, I think we need you (Akhtar) back writing screenplay. It will help us a lot, especially in these times when we just talk about numbers. I think we need Javed Sahab,” he said at the CNN-News18 Indian of the Year 2023 event here.

Seventy-nine-year-old Akhtar, who is also a lyricist, presented the Indian Of The Year Award (Entertainment) to Ratnam, who was accompanied by his actor-filmmaker wife Suhasini Ratnam.

Akhtar, who along with former writing partner Salim Khan, is known for penning films such as Zanjeer, Deewar, and Mr India, recently said that the commercial success of films with problematic scenes was a “dangerous” trend.

While he didn’t mention the name of Animal, the screenwriter cited the example of the film’s controversial bootlicking scene featuring Ranbir and Triptii Dimri, who play Ranvijay and Zoya.

Directed by Sandeep Reddy Vanga, Animal was one of the most divisive films of 2023 for its poor portrayal of women, misogyny, and graphic violence. The film, however, has earned more than Rs 900 crore at the ticket window.

In response to Akhtar’s remarks, the Animal team on X tagged him and wrote: “Writer of your calibre cannot understand the betrayal of a lover (Between Zoya & Ranvijay) then all your art form is big FALSE…”

At the event, Ratnam also quipped that he will direct a film in Hindi when Akhtar writes a script for him.

The lyricist said the filmmaker is relevant even after all these years.

“World is a conveyor belt. People come and go. The film industry is also like a conveyor belt, but it moves a bit faster. Very few people turn this conveyor belt into something solid… an immovable stage. They stand under the limelight as others are coming and going,” Akhtar said.

“Success stays with those who remain like someone who draws respect and admiration with their work… someone who has brought something that was not there,” he said.

Akhtar said the film industry in Mumbai was “complacent” and “convinced of our superiority” till Ratnam arrived.

“Suddenly, a director came from Tamil Nadu and slapped us hard on our face with the kind of work we had never seen. It was unprecedented. We were sure of our superiority and he made us feel like illiterate children,” he added.

Ratnam is next set to work with Kamal Haasan in Thug Life.

The director said it took him almost four decades to reunite with his Nayakan star as he didn’t have the right script for Haasan.

Later, Ratnam presented the Youth Icon Award to music composer Anirudh Ravichander, known for films such as Jawan, Vikram, Maari, and Vikram Vedha.

The filmmaker, who is credited with giving a break to AR Rahman with 1992’s Roja, called Ravichander a “musical genius”.