Mani Ratnam consistently chooses realistic, contemporary themes and complex plots for his movies in an industry often accused of making commercial, fairy-tale-like, formulaic movies. With a career spanning over two decades, he has been praised for handling serious issues whilst retaining a high entertainment factor in his films. Familial and marital hardships, terrorism, love, class and religious conflict, war, politics, adoption, history and disability are just some of the socio-political issues to have been featured in his films. His movies are generally made in the Tamil language, but are usually also dubbed into other languages like Telugu and Hindi, owing to their national appeal. He has also made films in other languages like Hindi, Malayalam, Telugu and Kannada.
Widely known for his ability to tread the middle way between artistic cinema and commercial cinema, working out a perfect recipe for all kinds of audiences, Ratnam's movies are further noted for their brilliance in technical aspects like art direction, cinematography and background score. His work has come to be recognised nationally and internationally, and in 2002, he was awarded the Padma Shri.