Article Tamil

25 years of Roja: How the film was almost called Irudhi Varai

The National Award-winning film, which turned 25 in August this year, was directed by Mani Ratnam and produced by K Balachander.  

Sonal Pandya

Inspired by real-life events, Mani Ratnam’s Roja (1992) starring Arvind Swamy and Madhoo (credited as Madhubala) was a landmark film in many ways. It introduced a young music composer, AR Rahman, who would not only go on to win national and international acclaim, but also struck a chord with audiences across the country with his music in the film.

The Tamil film was first dubbed in Telugu and then later in Hindi owing to popular demand. Swamy and Madhoo play newly weds Rishi and Roja who are still getting to know one another after a dramatic arranged marriage. Rishi, a cryptologist, is sent to work at an army communications centre in militant affected Kashmir and Roja accompanies him.

However, he is kidnapped by militants and held in ransom as they want their jailed leader to be set free in exchange. Now Roja, in an unfamiliar land and facing a language barrier, takes up the task to fight the authorities to get her husband back home.

Roja was the first in a trilogy of films, with Bombay (1995) and Dil Se... (1998), that dealt with love amidst the backdrop of terrorism and violent politics. In the book, Conversations with Mani Ratnam, authored by film critic and writer Baradwaj Rangan, Ratnam reveals that veteran filmmaker K Balachander came to him and asked him to make a film for his banner, Kavithalayaa Productions. Of course, Ratnam could not turn him down.

He tells Rangan, “He was one of the reasons I took up film-making. So, when he asked me to make a film for his banner, I wanted it to be one of the best films they have produced.”

The next day itself, Ratnam gave K Balachander the outline of Roja. Surprisingly, he didn’t like the film’s title, Roja, as it could be mistaken for a local brand of crushed betel nuts. Ratnam thought the rose in the title represented the state of Kashmir — “something beautiful but with thorns”.

So Ratnam came up with another title for the film, Irudhi Varai (Till The End). But, since they felt the word ‘irudhi’ wasn’t grammatically correct, K Balachander agreed to go with Roja as the title. A decade later, he used 'Irudhi Varai' as a book title in the film Kannathil Muthamittal (2002), starring R Madhavan, PS Keerthana and Simran.