The first Mani Ratnam film I saw was Roja, filmed in the Nilgiris, the same mountains I would later idealize in my middle grade romp of a novel, The Grand Plan to Fix Everything. But the movie is set against the backdrop of another place altogether–Kashmir, a place too dangerous to film in, a place whose tragic history lives on in ever stranger and more explosive twists and turns. Beneath the sheen of Bollywood in a Ratnam’s films are the events of contemporary India, hard to confront in the headlines but essential to examine. He crosses borders as well, defining an India beyond the limits of its regional languages.
My disorientation was made worse by conversing in the language of my childhood, in which I hadn’t developed any self-protective filters, just as I had no emotional distance from the people I used to speak it with. Every story of loss recited in my mother tongue hit me as if told by my own mother.
Ah yes. Probably why I return to those films from time to time to reconnect with a lost place, a language incomplete in my competence but lodged securely in my heart.