Category Archives: Indian Interviews

Interview: Neeraj Pandey #Profile #OpenMagazine #MSDhoni

Neeraj Pandey: Captain Cool

A big budget feature film on India’s most successful captain is a different kind of thriller for Neeraj Pandey.

Note: This piece was written by Nikhil Taneja (@tanejamainhoonfor Open Magazine. An edited version of the piece can be found here: https://goo.gl/55CBEJ
In two weeks, National Award-winning filmmaker Neeraj Pandey will face the biggest test in his (roughly) decade-long Hindi film career. On September 30, his fourth feature film as writer-director, MS Dhoni: The Untold Story, made over a period of two-and-a-half-years, on a reported budget of Rs 80 crore, will release worldwide in four languages.
A biopic on the life of arguably India’s greatest cricket captain, Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Sushant Singh Rajput-starrer MS Dhoni will be Pandey’s first film since A Wednesday! to feature a lead actor other than Akshay Kumar (he starred in both Special 26 and Baby), in a genre other than a thriller, on a story not his own, and on a canvas far bigger than anything he’s ever played with.
But over an hour-long afternoon conversation in the meeting room of the office of his production outfit, Friday Filmworks, which he co-owns with producing partner Shital Bhatia, you could very well pass off Pandey as ‘Captain Cool’, the moniker deservingly earned by Dhoni for his ability to stay unfazed, especially at crucial junctures of any match.

If the film is a critical moment in his own journey, Pandey doesn’t betray any sign of nerves. He is visibly unpretentious, laidback and genial during the interview, and for a man fresh off a Rs 100 crore plus box office hit that he produced in August with Rustom, he is self-deprecating to the extent that he answers every other question first with a joke on himself, before grappling to find an earnest response, but only to satisfy the demands of the query itself.

Because, just like Dhoni again, Pandey seems conscientiously focused on the prize, and everything else in between is something he’d rather get through with, so he can do what he loves doing, his ‘9 to 5’, as he calls it. And for this reason, giving interviews, going to Bollywood parties or even being ‘visible’ for anything other than actual work is a task. “I love what I do, there’s no denying that,” he says, “but this is not my entire life.”

“My passion is pre-configured and I have a lot of respect for my ‘9 to 5’ or ‘9 to 12’ sometimes, so I don’t feel the need to display it. I have never felt I am a crusader in the world of movies, ki yahan jhande gaadenge (I’ll bury my flags here).  Between writing something and creating something, I’m dealing with the world in my own way, and that negotiates all these other issues, and purges me in so many ways. That’s my day to day motivation, and I hope it continues; I hope I remain this way.”

Pandey’s way, of course, is a stark contrast to most filmmakers in an industry that’s certainly a large part film, but also equal parts glamour. And that could perhaps be because of the non-filmy journey the director’s had to reach where he is today. Growing up in late ‘70s Calcutta, as it was called then, to working class parents, Pandey wasn’t the kind of child who had his life chalked out in any way.

“You know, it’s a myth that everyone in Calcutta is intelligent,” he says with a laugh, pointing out that he shouldn’t be perceived as intelligent ‘just because he was born there’. “No doubt, some of the people who shaped the film industry in the ‘50s and ‘60s were Bengalis, but you are talking about Howrah, jahan Bombay pata hi nahin tha kahan hai, hamein (where we didn’t even know where Bombay was). Most of my friends wanted to do BCom and the more dynamic ones had only one dream, bas yahan se nikal jaayein’ (to just get out of here). At that time, I really had no clue what I wanted to do with my life.”

If there was one thing that he did know, it was that he liked telling stories through his childhood. “I was very good at lying as a kid and it all started from there,” he says with a straight face. “I was a very mischievous kid, so I had to keep on making excuses, by using my imagination and digging up stories.  I think that, sort of, perfected my skill at storytelling and sowed the seed.”

Pandey was always a literature buff and was just as interested in all forms of sports, growing up. Looking back, he is certain that the nudge towards movies was more subconscious than either of these active hobbies. “I can make it sound profound and intelligent at this point, but to be honest, at that time, I just liked watching films a lot, without knowing anything about the film industry or that I’ll be pursuing a career in it.”

Two films in particular left an indelible mark on him, though. One was Kamal Amrohi’s Pakeezah, the “experience” of which stayed with him through the years. The other was Guru Dutt’s Kaagaz Ke Phool that he watched a number of times to “find out why I am seeing it over and over again”. “Maybe it was the theme of rise-and-fall that affected me, or maybe it was the music, which I was very, very fond of at that time, contrary to what I’m known for today,” he says sheepishly.

“One song in the film, Kaifi Azmi’s ‘Dekhi zamaane ki yaari’ stayed with me and that disturbed my parents a lot ki kuch to problem hai idhar (there’s some problem here). Because at that age, you are not listening to this kind of music.”

Talking about his parents, Pandey says he feels “blessed” that they were always encouraging towards any hobby or passion that cultivated, as opposed to other parents of that generation, who’d rather their children pursue either of engineering or medical sciences. He remembers how they never stopped him from doing anything, until it was absolutely necessary. So when he took up reading and films as hobbies, there was no “resistance”. “In fact, I guess it was more a sense of relief than anything else for them that I found something to do with my life,” he reminisces with a laugh.

Films turned into a passion for Pandey during his college years in Delhi in the early ‘90s, as a literature student in Delhi University’s Sri Aurobindo College. He briefly flirted with theatre, strictly as a writer-director, he points out (“there was no confusion about this bit!”), and eventually decided to take up film because he “had no other skillset”, or so he insists.

“If you are a Lit graduate, you anyway don’t have too many choices left in life,” he grins. “Stories excited me, and so I decided to learn direction to be able to tell them visually. My source of inspiration, and my institution at that time was TNT. The channel, which was Cartoon Network by day, used to show black-and-white movies from 9 pm to 6 am. That became a huge source of learning for me. The best stories were made in the ‘40s and ‘50s, even in Hollywood, so watching them sorted me out in life.”

The aspiring director at the time tried getting admission in the renowned Film and Television Institute of India, Pune, but was rejected. So he started doing television in Delhi, as a stepping stone to film. He first started as an assistant director and then worked on a couple of telefilms and fiction television as an independent director for Doordarshan and others, because he says he knew that he won’t get to be a film director “so fast”.  “Main kisi ko jaanta thodi na tha (It’s not that Iknew anyone) that I’ll come here suddenly get a film.”

Indeed, after shifting to Mumbai in 2000, it took time for Pandey to get the chance to work on his first feature film, 2008’s critically-acclaimed A Wednesday! that won him a National Award for Best First Film by a Director. Till then, he worked on commissioned documentaries, TVCs and more television, a lot of it through the first production set up he formed with Bhatia, Quarter Inch Productions.

Meanwhile, he wrote three films, a romantic comedy, a comedy and a satire, none of which saw the light of the day. The 2006 Mumbai serial train blasts inspired him to script A Wednesday! that went on to become a sleeper hit, subsequently being remade in Tamil as Unnaipol Oruvan and Telegu as Eeenadu, both starring Kamal Hassan in the role of Naseeruddin Shah as the ‘common man’ whose life is derailed because of a terror attack.

It was this movie that labelled him as a “thriller guy who makes films about the common man”, a tag that he has now stopped fighting or reacting to. “I have realized you can’t control what the audience or critics take away from a film,” he states.

“I had gone to the theater to see the audience reaction during A Wednesday!, and found myself sitting ahead of two people, who were basically discussing if Naseeruddin Shah’s character was a Hindu or a Muslim and that’s when I realized it’s all gone to the dogs (laughs). The whole point of the movie was to not talk about that, and here I was. Of course, the good thing was that at least people were talking… and perhaps there is a third guy who would counter these two and tell them what the point really was. That’s who I made the film for.”

Ever since, he has stopped falling into this “trap” of trying to leave his audience with any sort of a moral takeaway through his writing. “It’s very important to me that I am not indulgent in thinking ki audience iske baare mein kya sochegi (what will the audience think about this),” he explains.

“But you do want them to be left with some residual value in broad strokes, so what you are trying to say is translated to them, else what’s the point?  Like, in Baby, you were looking to give people a sense of respect for the guy on the border. But usually, the audience gratification I want is only in terms of their attention. As a storyteller, my entire focus is to tell any story as entertainingly as possible and then I hand it over to the director in me, who is a crowd pleaser, and knows when to amp up the background score!”

If there’s one conscious rule that Pandey follows is in his writing is to never hurt or offend anyone, because he asserts that he holds all religions and people in equal regards. Beyond that, he only wishes to deliver quality storytelling, which he hopes people have come to expect from his films, but not so that he becomes “a brand name or something of that sort.”

“It is imperative for me that audience likes the film so people who put their money in the film recover their money so I can make one more film and explore one more genre and tell one more story, and the faith sustains… it’s as simple as that. We are not making films only for ourselves, else we may as well make home videos. We are catering to an audience, so you have to respect that.”

His successful collaboration with Akshay Kumar, twice as a director and once as a producer (Rustom), which has arguably resurrected the actor’s career and given him a new identity as this generation’s Manoj ‘Bharat’ Kumar, is also more a nod to the audience than to do with his comfort level with the star, or a conscious choice as a filmmaker. “If your gamble pays off, you are hooked on to it right? It’s no rocket science,” he smiles.

But of course, he continues, in Kumar, he has found a star who comes to set as an “actor”, which, he explains, makes his work as a director easy. “There are no airs about him. He and no last minute brilliant epiphanies on set ki koi bulb jal gaya (that some bulb has lit), and he is extremely disciplined. That gives me the ability to focus only on the job at hand.”

On MS Dhoni: the Untold Story, the job at hand may have looked daunting to some, in trying to do justice to the legend of one of contemporary cricket’s biggest idols, but for Pandey, the movie was never about the cricket itself, but about the man and his journey, and that’s what made him take up the challenge of presenting it on the big screen.

After he was offered the film, he found himself in a room talking to Dhoni, and reckons that experience to be a “déjà vu”, because “it didn’t feel like you are meeting him for the first time. He is extremely grounded and earthy and holds all his players and teammates in such high regard that I knew, in that very meeting, that this was a story I had to tell.”

“It’s a very inspiring story about the making of the man that is MS,” he continues. “It’s a story of tenacity, something that, in my belief, pays off big time. If you can be very clear about the fact that this is my goal and go after it, and look the odds in the eye, chances are that you will have a good journey, and you will reach a good place.”

MS Dhoni’s story, of a man who started from nowhere and went on to carve a kind of arc for himself that one can only dream of, is, in a way, the story of India’s ultimate common man. And as such, it only makes sense that Pandey was handpicked to direct it.

As the maker of films that glorifies the extraordinary deeds of the ordinary man, and for a man resolutely trying to stay common in an industry that thrives on the uncommon, it is possibly that the tenacity of Neeraj Pandey’s journey brought him here, and just like Dhoni, it is perhaps the thrill of the chase that will take him towards a good place too.

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Note: This interview first appeared in Open Magazine on September 16, 2016
Link: http://www.openthemagazine.com/article/cinema/playing-with-dhoni
Picture courtesy: Google. None of the pictures are owned by the author all rights belong to the original owner(s) and photographer(s).
© Copyright belongs to the author, Nikhil Taneja. The article may not be reproduced without permission. A link to the URL, instead, would be appreciated.

Interview: Rahul Khanna #OpenMagazine #Profile

Rahul Khanna: The Internet’s Gentleman Boyfriend

The crossover star of the 90s, Rahul Khanna plays a Pakistani intelligence officer in an Emmy-nominated drama and becomes the internet’s latest boyfriend

Note: This piece was written by Nikhil Taneja (@tanejamainhoonfor Open Magazine. An edited version of the piece can be found here: https://goo.gl/BkCbDA


Tucked away in a lane a few hundred meters from Mumbai’s iconic Haji Ali Dargah, you are likely to miss The Royal Willingdon Sports Club, if you aren’t aware of it. Founded in 1918 by Lord Willingdon, the then Governor of the city that was once called Bombay, the club is cited as Mumbai’s “most exclusive”, with its membership closed to outsiders since 1985. It most famously denied membership to Padmashri Dr. DY Patil, in 2010, while he was the governor of Tripura, and is especially known for its snobbery towards all things ‘Bollywood’.

So the elite club is the last place you expect to meet an actor for an interview, least of all an actor who purportedly counts his allegiance to the Indian film industry. But then again, Rahul Khanna is no ‘Boutique Bollywood actor’, even though his Twitter bio irreverently claims otherwise.

Khanna, the son of the legendary ‘70s superstar, Vinod Khanna, India’s first de-facto sex symbol, and former model Gitanjali Taleyarkhan, could well be the living and breathing personification of cinema’s popular ‘fish out of water’ trope. Stylish to a fault and impeccably well-mannered, the actor has the grace and poise of a gentleman more suited to the era in which the Willingdon Club flourished, than the hasty, unruly world of today.

His filmography has been measured and unhurried, his anchoring appearances have been select, his press interactions have been few and far between, and there’s painfully little known about his personal life. And then there’s that paradox: for someone who’s self-confessedly reserved, he is a rage on social media, not so much because he tries to be, but particularly because he doesn’t. His social media profiles are a picture of effortless wit and old world charm, and have led to a collective following of over half a million followers.

It is of little wonder then that the 44-year-old Khanna – who looks at least a decade younger – has been rediscovered by an entirely new section of the audiences, mostly excitable, frenzied millennial girls who have filled the internet with posts declaring that they can’t have enough of his naughty, suggestive Snapchats (he once posted a picture titled ‘morning wood’ that had him standing in front of wooden logs one early morning) or his tantalizing Instagram posts, filled with ‘ovary-busting pictures’, as one listicle site put it.

Is he the internet’s new boyfriend? Ask him and he bursts out laughing, “It’s all a bit of fun, really. You know, I don’t have a publicist or a PRO, and I’m a classic introvert, so when the social media phenomenon came out, I thought this would be a nice way to connect with people who are interested in me. The idea is for it to be a part of your personality and to use it to express yourself. I don’t want to share my opinions or be political, I’m only there for a positive experience. But I never thought anyone’s even paying attention to this!”

And when he did realise that there was rapt attention from female fans, it gave him the license to be a bit sassy, leading to everyone from Buzzfeed to MissMalini  declaring him ‘sex on legs’. “I would be lying to you if I said I don’t love the attention,” he chuckles, “especially since it’s not lascivious, it’s fun and flirty. But now that I know people are watching, there is this temptation to be a bit creative and be a little cheeky.”

Not only does Khanna have fun with his accounts publically, he also stays playful with his rather sweet habit of personally replying to anyone who tags him in a post through a personal, intimate direct message. Once, the actor responded to tweet from a female fan who had asked him to marry him, by messaging her, “Certainly. Is Saturday good for you?” The internet discovered her screenshot recently, driving hordes of female fans ecstatic that the eternal bachelor is now a DM away from marrying them, and he soon started trending for the same. Everyone wanted a DM from Rahul Khanna, and Khanna was only happy to oblige most.

“It was quite bizarre when that happened,” Khanna chuckles. “I didn’t understand that. I feel if someone has taken the trouble to tag me or say something nice, it’s only polite for me to reply. I want my profiles to be happy so I just started using them in the way I would chat with a friend on SMS or Whatsapp. I just want to be authentic.”

The word ‘happiness’, along with ‘joy’ comes up a lot during the course of our conversation. And every which way you look at Rahul Khanna’s story so far, whether you casually google him or speak at length with him, you’d see why authenticity is just as important a trait for him.

As a bespectacled ‘nerdy’ kid with an affinity for pinstriped shirts and khaki pants (“I had a connection with pinstripes that made me feel good about myself”), Khanna grew up with his kid brother, actor Akshaye Khanna, in South Bombay, distinctly away from the heart of Bollywood that resided in and around Juhu and Andheri.  His parents split up early in his childhood, and with it, so did most of his connections with the film world.

“It’s strange that we, as kids, were perceived as belonging to that world,” he reflects. “I sort of equate myself as being an outsider with inside access. All we knew is that our Dad was an actor and people knew who he was. So as a kid, there was a time I wanted to be a vet because I love dogs, and another time I wanted to be an artist because I loved cartooning. I knew it would be something creative but didn’t know it would be film. I ended up here… but I still kind of feel I don’t know which world I belong to.”

It was the opportunity to go to New York along with his interest in the creative arts that inspired him to enroll in film school at The School of Visual Arts, New York. Along the way, he also did an acting course at the Lee Strasberg Theater Institute.

“The end game wasn’t to get into Bollywood, it was only to explore the craft,” he says. “I was very influenced by the new sort of burgeoning Indian independent cinema coming out of the west. There was this little theater in New York called The Angelina that would play only independent, foreign films. I saw a film called Masala by a filmmaker called Sreenivas Krishna from Canada, and it was spectacular to see English language films about India.”

Although his brother, Akshaye, made his Bollywood debut around the same time as he was studying filmmaking, with Himalay Putra, a film produced by their father, Vinod Khanna, Khanna just couldn’t relate to what Bollywood was in those days. “There were no scripts!” he chuckles. “When people would offer me stuff and I’d ask for a script, it would be inconceivable to them that I didn’t understand the Bollywood way of working, and it was inconceivable to me that they wouldn’t have a script.”

Bollywood did happen a few years later, but it was in the early 90s, when Khanna first burst on to the scene as the Indian face of MTV Asia, even before MTV India was launched. After enjoying immense adulation and being hailed as a metrosexual Indian icon, at a time leading Bollywood actors were more famous for their chest hair than their acting skills, Khanna became one of the first young leading men to star in crossover Indian cinema with Deepa Mehta’s 1947 Earth and Bollywood/Hollywood.

It was this experience he had on the film set, along with a 8-shows-a-day, 11 week stint on the off-Broadway stage, with “theater royalty” Scott Elliott-directed play, East is East, that made him believe acting was his calling.

“Earth and East is East were incredible first acting jobs for me. I picked up so much about teamwork and they set the bar really high in terms of the kind of people and crew you could work with. I find acting to be a very intimate process, so it helped me, as an introvert, to connect. And those environments made me realise that if I could continue to do this, it would be a really good thing.”

So post his early days as a crossover star, the reason Khanna only did a handful of films over the next decade was not due to lack of offers, but because for him, relating to the team behind the film was just as important as the scripts he was getting.

“I want to be working with people I respect and who respect me back, because that’s the only way you can enjoy work and get a good result out of it” he emphasizes. “What’s the point of taking on something, when it would seem that you’d be miserable during the process? So when I look back at films of mine that haven’t been received well, if I had a good time on them, and if I’ve made friends, I feel they were worth it.”

He points out that there were times he wasn’t sure of a project but went ahead and did it anyway because he liked the people. “It was also important for me to prove wrong people who believed that I had some sort of prejudice against Bollywood,” he says. “Whenever I’d meet people, it was always implied that I perhaps felt that I was better than Bollywood, and hence hadn’t done so much of it. To them I would say, how could I have anything against Bollywood if I worked with Raj Kanwar!”

That would explain some of the misfires in the early part of his Bollywood filmography, but when he started taking up character-driven roles in films like Ayan Mukerji’s Wake Up Sid and Imtiaz Ali’s Love Aaj Kal, he saw another exasperating side of the same industry.

“After these films, I’d only get offered ‘the other guy’ roles!” he laughs. “People started telling me how brave I was for doing such a role in these films but I never knew these rules. No one told them to me when I was taking up the films! (pause) It did get a bit frustrating that I wasn’t getting to do more of what I love, but it’s not a vanity thing for me to see myself on screen ‘x’ number of times. Besides, isn’t the whole point of it to have fun?”

Having fun has been the driving force behind taking up the cameo in season one of Anil Kapoor’s 24, and also a scene-stealing role in the international drama series, The Americans, that has been nominated for an Emmy Award for Best Drama this year. What started off as a one episode cameo, was turned into a full-fledged arc in the following season, even if that meant coming to terms with the graphic sex scenes he had to indulge in as a Pakistani spy with a keen eye for American women.

“My friends haven’t stopped tormenting me about that,” he chuckles. “From screenshots to Whatsapp group profile pictures, I’ve seen it all. The good thing, acting wise, is that after you spend 16 hours naked in a room full of strangers, there’s nothing you can’t do. It’s no longer an unknown beast.”

The Emmy nomination would certainly give the show a big boost and Khanna will perhaps come to benefit it too along the way. At the moment, even as he hopes to be called back for another arc on the show, he’s looking at scripts in both countries to figure his next steps. He’s got a travel show coming up on NDTV Good Times that will see him on the whiskey trail in Scotland, and while there’s been serious talks and negotiations for a men’s clothing line, given his tremendous style credentials, it’s yet to be worked out.

All of these things are an important part of what he calls, ‘the pursuit of joy’. “I feel that life is really short and if you are not doing stuff that brings you joy, then you are wasting your time,” he smiles. What gives him joy on a daily basis, you ask him? Reading, food, gymming and meeting friends are high on his list. He also has a certain fondness for antique furniture and collects boarding passes, although he’ snot sure why. But it’s not about individual things, he says, but the way you live your life.

“I feel we, as a people, have become a little bit less considered. So everything I do or own or like has been considered. So, if you say, I have nice manner, it’s because it’s a nice thing to have, it’s nice when someone smiles because of you.”

“It’s a horrible example, I know, “he continues with a laugh, “but I see people who may have an amazing car but they’d treat it really badly. My car may be 300 times more modest but I appreciate it and keep it well. I’m not saying my way is right, but I see people who have a lot more than I do, but nothing brings them happiness.”

It’s almost strange to see the Zen-like attitude, especially coming from someone who is a part of an industry fundamentally built on desire, and with a first name that has come to be synonymous with a period of Bollywood that reflected upward mobility and aspiration. But where everyone likes to fit inside little brackets of stereotype and cliché, Khanna’s refreshingly alright about standing out. “I have always been a round peg in a square hole,” he explains through an idiom that’s almost as peculiar as he asserts he is.

“I was uncomfortable about it when I was younger, because there was an emphasis to fit in and be a certain way, but now, I feel it is one of my biggest strengths, that I don’t fit in anywhere. So I’m also really attracted to people who are odd, who don’t play by the rules, and whom other people call weird. I really like those kind of people, and I feel it is a wonderful quality to have: in a world so standardized, to have people who are themselves. I love that!”

That’s perhaps, then, the best way of defining Rahul Khanna, connoisseur of the good life, pursuer of joy, and the internet’s current boyfriend: A gentleman of his own, in a world that is standardized.

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Liked/disliked the piece? Leave your comments below!
Note: This interview first appeared in Open Magazine on August 5, 2016
Link: http://www.openthemagazine.com/article/cinema/rahul-khanna-the-internet-s-latest-boyfriend
Picture courtesy: Google. None of the pictures are owned by the author all rights belong to the original owner(s) and photographer(s).
© Copyright belongs to the author, Nikhil Taneja. The article may not be reproduced without permission. A link to the URL, instead, would be appreciated.

Maneesh Sharma Interview #Fan #Pandolin #QnA

“Entering Mannat to meet Shah Rukh Khan was my Fan moment”

Maneesh Sharma is one of the most sought-after young filmmakers in India. He started his career with Band Baaja Baaraat and swept all the Best Debut Director awards for the film throughout the next year. From there, Maneesh has grown from strength to strength as a director, and then, as a producer for Yash Raj Films, with his much acclaimed first film, Dum Laga ke Haisha, winning the National Award. His passion project Fan has been in the making for about 10 years now. From its origins to the final production, this has been a ride for the filmmaker and fans alike. In an exclusive and in-depth chat with guest writer, Nikhil Taneja, Maneesh Sharma opens up about the film, its genesis and his long association with YRF.

Note: This piece was written by Nikhil Taneja (@tanejamainhoonfor Pandolin.com. An edited version of the piece can be found here: https://goo.gl/EEC8Ru


You wanted Fan to be your first film, isn’t it? I find it interesting that although your eventual goal was to make a thriller-drama of this scale, why did you only make comedy-dramas before this? Why did you not gravitate towards any thriller in your career so far?
It was obviously unplanned because I was very driven to make Fan as my first film and having said that, I also wanted to make my first film with Shah Rukh Khan. When I was coming to Bombay, I told my friends in Delhi that there would definitely be a day when there will be a film called Fan and it will say “Starring Shah Rukh Khan, produced by Aditya Chopra and directed by Maneesh Sharma”. Ye toh mujhe karna tha. Adi (Aditya Chopra) was always encouraging, but he would always tell me that you must develop it (the film’s idea). Therefore, it came with a suffix that it cannot be your first film.

In the time I was trying to develop the idea, Fanaa (*his first film as an AD for YRF*) released. Then Adi told me that he is planning a Madhuri Dixit comeback film. When I heard ‘Madhuri Dixit film’, there was no need to talk any further (smiles). So I put Fan on hold and worked on Aaja Nachle. When I got back to Fan after that released, Adi again called me and said that this time, he was making a film with Shah Rukh and wanted me to work on that (chuckles). I thought, “Obviously. If Shah Rukh and Adi are doing it, then I am doing it!” Rab Ne… (Rab Ne Bana di Jodi) happened and I reiterated ne last time that I wanted to make Fan. But Adi told me that since the film is a very ambitious one, not just financially, but creatively, he asked me to first make a film where I didn’t have to break mountains so I could hone my craft. Since I had kept at it for 5-6 years, I got dejected that I won’t ever be able to make this one.

Band Baaja Baaraat (BBB) came out of that dejection. The story of Band Baaja… happened, Adi liked it and agreed to produce it. I must say that it was a very honest film because it was my first film and it came from an organic space. We just made what we wanted to make. Thankfully Band Baaja… put me in a place that Adi could talk to him about the film. By then I also knew SRK because of Rab Ne…. And it was also a sheer coincidence that I received my best debut director award from SRK himself on my birthday (smiles). We kept talking about the film and had some equation by then. Before BBB released, Adi and I had discussed that in terms of development and writing, Habib Faisal would be the writer. Since it would take time, I did Ladies vs Ricky Bahl as its script was ready.

When Adi planned Jab Tak Hai Jaan with SRK, he also told him that there was an idea for a film by me. SRK liked it and he told Adi that he wanted to do both! So it was decided that he would do Fan after Jab Tak… so Habib would also be able to write properly after Ishaqzaade. Meanwhile, Shuddh Desi Romance happened (laughs).

People keep talking about how I work within the same milieu but it was not at all planned! I only take ownership of Band Baaja Baaraat. That came from me, I liked it and thought that it would be a new voice. Ladies vs Ricky Bahl and Shuddh Desi… both came as bound scripts to me. When people say that my command on Delhi is very good, I feel like, ‘What are you talking about?’ Shuddh Desi Romance is set in Rajasthan (laughs). And Ladies vs Ricky Bahl too had barely 10 minutes of Delhi. Even in Fan, a quarter of the film is in Delhi but this association has got too glorified, that I am good with that milieu. Another thing that is said is that all my films are set in the middle class, which is another unplanned thing.

Your question is right to an extent – if I was planning to make Fan then why the other kind of films? When I was in film school, it was on my bucket list that I wanted to direct a Jaideep Sahni film and it happened. l liked the script and also thought that the film had great attitude in the writing. Another thing is that directorially, Shuddh Desi… was a very tough film. It is not that I am always looking for a larger scale in terms of money, VFX, etc. It may very well happen that the next film that I end up doing might be a 3 crore film with a newcomer. I think your association with the film/script at that point in your life is very important because you are charged about different things in different phases of your life.

For the same reason, I admire Yash Chopra as a director in terms of his body of work and I find it weird that this thing about him being the King of just ‘romance’ is talked over and over again. He made movies like Deewar, Kala Patthar, Mashaal, Dhool Ka Phool and Satyakam. Whatever he did, he did it well, irrespective of genre. Therefore it is beyond me to classify him into one slot. I think it will take at least 10 films for me to achieve a prolificacy. It is not that the next film that I do has to be a comedy. I think there is honesty in being unplanned, and I hope that I will be able to retain it. Success and failure will come and go and I know that I will make both good and bad films.

For example, I did get some flak for Ladies vs Ricky Bahl and I am not being defensive here but no one tells that it is a shit film. It was ‘okay’. And I think people were reacting to the monkey on its back with respect to Band Baja Baaraat. But I was not trying to outdo or match what I did with Band Baja Baraat. I was excited to make an Indian chick flick. I was not planning a bigger, better film after a successful film and I don’t want to do that even after Fan now (smiles).

Did a Shah Rukh Khan film for YRF outside of Yash Chopra and Aditya Chopra’s direction feel like a daunting task? Being from the same college as Shah Rukh Khan (Hanraj College, Delhi) and your associations with him from assisting days help during the shoot or did you have to figure how to direct him from day one onwards?
The thing, is arriving at Fan has been a very long journey, vis-à-vis Shah Rukh Khan. I’ll tell you a little story. It was in 2004 and I was about to graduate from my film school. I wanted to meet Shah Rukh Khan and pitch him an idea that I want to make a film with him and to ask him how to go about it. One night I was partying really hard during my college days at Cal Arts, LA, and it was 1:30 am that I called his spot boy, Subhash Da, and told him that my name is Maneesh and I am graduating from film school and I have a script for Shah Rukh Khan (chuckles). He said to call him back in 10 minutes. I thought he was just brushing me off but I did call back after 15 minutes and he said wait for a minute and then from the other side, Shah Rukh Khan’s voice comes on, ‘Hello?’ I was standing on a LA street and wondering whether this was real (smiles).

So I immediately became formal and started saying, ‘Mr. Khan’ and being courteous.  I told him I wanted to pitch him a film. So he gave me his manager’s number and repeated the number too. I said I’ll be in India in June/July and asked when will be a good time to meet him. He said he was preparing for a show, ‘Temptations’ and was very focused on it but we’ll figure it out. I thought that I spoke to Shah Rukh, so now I am definitely making this film, it is done (chuckles).

When I came back to India from college, I tried contacting his team but there no response. So I went to Bombay and crashed at a friend’s place. I dropped him a long message saying that ‘You asked me to come here and because of that I am here and now you are not responding at all’. A couple of hours later I got his message that I am shooting and at 6:30, come to my place, the address is ‘Mannat, Band Stand, Bandra’. I thought, ‘Really?!’

So, I landed there. Entering Mannat to meet Shah Rukh Khan was my first ‘fan’ moment. I went to the guard and I said that I am here to meet Shah Rukh. He said that he is not there. I thought that this is a standard response so I said to him that I had received a message from him but the guard said that he really is not there. Fifteen minutes later SRK messaged me that he is running late and will be there in 20 minutes and will inform at the gate and I can come in after that. So when his car came, a whole horde of fans ran in to have a look. These are all were very strong images and the idea seeded there and then for the film.

When the Mannat gate opened, I felt like I was walking in 48 fps (laughs). I met Subhash Dada, put a name to the face. I was sitting in what used to be his meeting room then. I just looked around the room and it looked astonishing – the great sea view, there were different VHS tapes that were kept there, even Fauji’s, there was a jukebox.

When Shah Rukh Khan came in, I thought, ‘Oh, that’s how he looks! (smiles). We had an hour long chat. He is, of course, a very gracious person and if you meet him in person for a chat, he will own you. He had a very professional manner. We talked about Delhi and Barry John, our common alma matter, and we discussed a lot of things. He liked the idea and then after talking about a lot of things I left. I had no idea how this process works. I mean to get his time like that, I don’t know I can pull it off even no!? After that I met other people too but I realized that if I have to work in the industry, first I need to know how it works. So I decided that I will start but I will only work at Yash Raj films. Then, somehow, Fanaa happened… and you know the rest of the story.

But by the time Fan happened we had also completed a sort of journey ourselves through Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi, on which I was an associate director. So by then, it was not directing a superstar, it was more like a collaboration, like working with an immensely talented person. We just wanted to make the best film possible.

You seem to have a certain instinct about the films you choose to make, both as a director and producer. It seems to me that you have an innate understanding of young people of India. While ‘Bollywood’s’ idea of ‘the youth’ is young people from Bombay, you make stories from all over India, be it Delhi, Rajasthan, Haridwar or even your upcoming films as a producer which are set in different cities. Is this something that you look for in a script? Is there something in particular that you are assessing, for that matter, whenever you read a script?
No, I don’t, actually. As a script, BBB came from me because of my understanding of a particular subculture. From the people and places I knew and the spaces I understood. It may sound strange but BBB came from an in-flight magazine (smiles). I was in a flight and reading this article about six case studies about these new age entrepreneurs. In some cases, these people were just packaging your gifts well, that’s all. And that kick-started the thought that it is somewhere talking about the middle class and lower middle class’ aspiration. It was very exciting to see self-employed people trying to start a business and make money. So the idea started there; that if there were two youngsters from this milieu who have no resources but they have a vision then how would they go about it. I don’t think of it as a love story but as a relationship story between these two.

Whether it was a rom-com or a ‘youngsters’ story or even a love story, whatever audiences must have thought of it, it probably was about the conflict of their aspirations to do bigger weddings. I think two things happen: I have more affinity towards, and understanding of, this kind of material. And the second thing I get excited about is when something has not been done so far. I cannot say if something is unique in the preparation phase but if something is fresh and exciting, I back it up and enjoy the process of seeing it through. Even for Shuddh Desi, the thing that excited me was that we were talking about three young people in a very regular situation which society considers very irregular because ‘live-in’, as a situation for our audience is still something that happens only in New York or Europe or Australia or may be in South Bombay. That excited me so I guess because I come from the same environment I get hooked to it.

When Dum Laga Ke Haisha’s script came, I was busy with Fan’s pre-production. At that stage I was developing a script with Sharat (Katariya). Then one day, he wanted to narrate an idea to me for feedback. It was a script for him to direct. I told Adi about it and explained to him why I felt about the characters and space, etc. He said that if you are so excited about it then why don’t you produce it? Now I knew he was looking for some creative producers and I probably was on his mind on that list, but he said that I really have to believe that I can do it. I was happy to do it because I thought that at least the movie will get made that way. I did not even do it for Sharat, I just did it for what he had written. My only contribution after reading the draft was asking Sharat, ‘Why don’t we set it in 1994?’ Prem liked audio cassette but the film was written contemporarily. But it gave me a cue of why don’t we take it to the time the transition happened to CDs. This also gave some context to some of the regressive character behavior. Sharat also got kicked about ‘90s and it became a big flavor. It wasn’t as if I was tempering with his material but it was just an idea. That’s the only way you go for it. You just feel that this feels right and hope that others also find it right later on. This is the only thing that I want to protect about myself.

Your career and filmography is still young but I’m curious to know if you ever think in terms of what your legacy when you select a script to direct or produce. Do you think in terms of, say, at the end of your career, people should think about Maneesh Sharma in this particular way?
It’s a very interesting question. Do I think about legacy in a certain way? Yes. Say after my ten films, you might hate them or dislike them but when you discuss them there will be a certain intention. You will find that there is something worth deconstructing. But if you think that I plan my movies to be in a certain order, or plan some kinds of projects at certain points in my career, then it is not so. At least so far it hasn’t been so and hopefully it won’t be so in future too. I don’t belong to that school of thought.

When I am backing a script in any capacity, my only criteria is that if I like it, I will do it. Let me tell you how Shuddh Desi happened. I was suffering from jaundice in the middle of Ladies vs Ricky Bahl’s shoot. There was a lot of pressure of time because some 20-25 days of shoot was left, three songs were to be done. One day Adi said that you are just lying down, read a script and give me feedback. Adi was not looking for me to direct it. Adi and Jaideep were discussing it and they thought that let’s also ask Maneesh to read it since he is lying down idly anyway (chuckles).

In that state I read Shuddh Desi romance and I remember I read 65% of it and I was feeling drowsy only because of my physical state but I was really enjoying the script. I put an alarm that I will wake up in 45 minutes to read the rest and I did that. I loved that script. It was a slightly different draft, though, principally, it was the same film. I called Adi in the morning and said it is terrific so he called me to the office.. he wanted to meet me and Jaideep together. I was very excited about the script and told them whatever I felt about it. It was a week or so later that I asked Adi, ‘By the way, who is making that film?’ He said that he hadn’t attached any director yet, so I said, ‘Then I am making that film’ (chuckles). He was planning something else for me and I said, ‘Don’t worry about that’ so this happened.

I must tell you another thing that since the reception of Ladies vs Ricky Bahl was different, everyone kept saying that I was making a ‘comeback’ film. They wanted me to do a ‘safe’ film. Now I did not know how it was an ‘unsafe’ film, I was not thinking like that at all. You have to stick with your instincts and thankfully, it worked well. It was actually my most successful film on box office despite what everyone was thinking about it (smiles).

Earlier, of course, since you were in the middle of Fan, you probably didn’t have the mind space to think about another film for you to direct. But when you got closer to Fan releasing, and you liked a script that came to you, how did you choose between producing it and directing it yourself? And how will you go about it in the future?
If I read a script and I really like it, I get very excited about it. Now whether I am excited about it in the way that I want to direct it or I just want to just creative produce it, that answer does come easily. It is not that if I am directing a film then it is more mine, I just have to think about the number of hours given to this film on a day-to-day basis for several years. Otherwise, for me, it is always the case that if it is a good project then it should be made, and it does not matter in what capacity I am attached to it.

Do you discuss with Aditya Chopra about the kind of projects that you’ll produce and the ones that you’ll direct? Has there been any particular idea for how your films as a producer will be similar or different from everything else by the banner?
Not at all, yaar. It’s all about instinct. Between Adi and me, there has been no such discussion that I will do something in one capacity or another. In fact, one thing that’s very heartening is that Adi said, ‘There might be a scenario that I might not like a script that you like but I’ll still want you to make that film, otherwise it defeats the purpose of having you as a producer. If you are fully convinced, then make it, otherwise the larger purpose of finding new voices and creating new content gets defeated.’ I think I have quite a free room in the kind of projects that I want to do. I really have to believe in a project to do it and so far it has not happened where I had to really sell him an idea. It will happen someday where he will not be convinced and I’ll have to really try to convince him (smiles) but so far it hasn’t happened.

So what are the aspects in which your thought process is similar to that of Aditya Chopra’s? How are you guys similar as producers?
I think Adi and I have a really good confluence. It is a nice give-and-take relationship. See, even if you start with the fact that he is Yash Chopra’s son and has grown up in this industry, the fact is that he has made a mark with his first film in a way that no one else has done. His understanding of the industry and Hindi films is of a certain ‘darja’ (level). I am a Delhi boy who wanted to make a film. Our one commonality is that we both are film buffs; we like films in general. There is lot of respect for each other in the manner that I view certain portion of film in one way and he in another way. Our film association has almost been five to five-and-a-half films old. If you keep that aside and we are talking about any X film, then there is a commonality and a passion for films, yet worldview wise and ideology wise, we do not think in the same way, but in a constructive manner. Adi backs films like Band Baja or Shuddh Desi Romance because he has an acumen, and he knows that cinema has to change and new voices have to come in.

You have also assisted him when he directed Rab Ne Bana di Jodi, what are the things you picked up from him as a director?
What I realize now fully and I realized it back then too is that we are from very different schools. I am a very unstructured director. I never give a shot breakdown to my ADs. We always start from a blank slate on the shoot’s morning. It works for me and I find a certain energy in that. Adi is the complete opposite. He is a writer-director, I am not, though I may have given the story for two of my films. I have realized one thing that if you read Adi’s script on paper, you feel like it has been directed over there itself. It has so much clarity for everyone. Whoever reads it, there are no different interpretations, whether it is an actor or a production designer or a DP. He directs it first on paper and then it is just about logistics of taking a shot. That is a big learning. Another thing is collaborating with music directors, which was completely alien into me. He was heavily involved in the music of both Fanaa and Aaja Nachle, both films where he wasn’t the director. This is something that I have learned from him.

Finally, a question out of curiosity. Will we ever see you directing or producing something on digital?
Yes, why not? I don’t feel there is a demarcation between the formats. I like storytelling and whatever it comes on is fine. During my film school, I had worked on all kind of formats so my association is in fact stronger with these formats.

 

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Note: This interview first appeared on Pandolin.com in April 2016.
Link: http://pandolin.com/entering-mannat-to-meet-shah-rukh-khan-was-my-fan-moment/
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THE SRK INTERVIEW #OPENMAGAZINE #SRK #QNA

Shah Rukh Khan: ‘I Give You the Right Not to Judge People’

Shah Rukh Khan dissects fame and success and confesses that many chapters of his life remain closed to all

Note: This piece was written by Nikhil Taneja (@tanejamainhoonfor Open Magazine. An edited version of the piece can be found here: https://goo.gl/NfjTiS

It’s 12.45 am, and this is the last of 13 print interviews that Shah Rukh Khan has committed to, and done, through the day, besides radio and internet interviews, over a period of 10 continuous hours. He’s visibly drained when he greets you, with a weary smile, but as soon as the recorder is turned on, the energy is back again, and it’s manic. A fifteen minute interview stretches to an hour, and that’s what Shah Rukh Khan is: a man who may get tired of being a superstar at times, but would never take it for granted.

It is the week of release of perhaps his riskiest movie in years, Fan, where he plays both a superstar, Aryan Khanna, and his biggest fan, Gaurav, a aged-down, shorter, VFX version of himself. To the audiences, Aryan may very well be Shah Rukh Khan himself, what with the name being the same as Khan’s son’s name, and with the trailers using footage of ‘SRK’ mania, but they are likely to, somewhere, identify with Gaurav, who is the reason for, and thrives on, the same mania. As Khan faces off against himself in the movie that seems to be a return to his thriller roots, he speaks about fame, stardom, privacy, fans… and being Shah Rukh Khan.

Everyone’s more interested in the ‘fan’, Gaurav, in your movie, Fan but I’m more curious about Aryan Khanna. Aryan seems like a manifestation of Shah Rukh Khan. Is it somewhere what you see yourself as, or what you think fans see you as?
No… in fact, it’s a completely written character. And that’s why I had more difficulty playing Aryan Khanna than Gaurav. When you are making a film about a superstar, so that you don’t have to establish the stardom, you could maybe go with Mr. Bachchan (Amitabh Bachchan), Salman (Khan), Aamir (Khan) but the story was of a Delhi boy, so it fit well with me. We’ve also shown the star in his personal space outside of the flamboyance and Bollywood shoots, so it was important he be a star without us having to prove that.

But the character is very different. It would be unfair of Adi (Aditya Chopra) and Maneesh (Sharma) to ask me to play me but yes, the only manifestation has been using my 25 years of archival footage. You have me getting an award from Rekhaji (smiles) and that you may not have gotten from a newer actor. Yes, a lot of people will say, ‘Shah Rukh aisa hai kya? Yeh aisa hai yaar! (Is Shah Rukh like this? Oh! He’s like this!)’ But the honest truth is I’m not like him at all. He’s more real, more grounded, more practical, less mad and probably less compassionate in his dealings than me. He’s scarily real, and I’m not like that at all.

Have you ever given a thought to what the world sees Shah Rukh Khan as? What do you think your perception is to the regular guy on the street?
No… no. But I do get a feedback, on Twitter. Sometimes, they like me, sometimes they think I’ve become anti-national or I’m a marketer or I’ve sold out or that I’m fantastic or romantic. See, the beauty of being a star or being liked is, the more different perceptions people have of you, the more different people like you for different things. I may be all of them, I may be none of them. But there’s no way I can sit down and get disturbed by them.

Suppose you say, Shah Rukh I want you to do a Chak De (India) kind of a film; achchi acting karega, mera bada dil khush hoga (you’ll act well, my heart will be filled with joy). But that’s your perception. Mujhe nahin lagta maine baaki picture mein gandi acting ki hai (I don’t think I’ve acted badly in other movies). But I can’t explain that to you because you don’t know the craft or why an actor breathes, lives and does what he or she does. And I can’t explain myself to everyone else too.

And now, with social media, you’re perceived differently depending on the day. On the day of a hit film, you’re perceived as something, on the day your team has lost a match, you are perceived as something else. As a matter of fact, it’s maddening. If you are not able to concentrate and just know yourself fully, and say no, ‘Main inmein se kuch bhi nahin hoon, main yeh hoon (I’m none of these, I’m this)’.  And if I tell you that part of me, it’ll be very boring (chuckles). So I let people think who they think I am.

I am an image. Shah Rukh Khan is an image… and I’m just an employee of that image. Now whatever that image, some girl see pink, some boys see black, some women see beautiful, some people think overrated, it’s an image. None of it is me. It’s like, you know, when you make a shadow with your fingers and you make a dog, there is no dog, it’s actually made out of fingers. I can’t show you the fingers, because the magic goes. So you think it’s a dog or a butterfly, whatever you like. I can’t break your myth that I’m working for as Shah Rukh Khan and I can’t believe in it myself. Because the day I do, I’ll be torn apart. I won’t know what happened!

 

In 2009, you played a superstar in Billu, who stayed true to his roots and was accepting of all love. In 2016, in Fan, you again play a superstar who has much to like, but one who draws a strict boundary between his reel and real life. Is this a reflection of your process as well? Do you now have try and safeguard how much of Shah Rukh Khan is accessible?
See, but I’m not even making myself accessible. I don’t even know what happens. It’s the reality we live now and it is how it’s going to be. As far as I’m concerned, I don’t change my way of being, according to the changes of the platforms of media, or according to how people start reacting to things. I’m the same person, living in the same place. I will still go for my match and cheer for my team, I’ll still take my child in my arms and walk down to the airport, I’ll still try to do the best I can in a film.

(Pause) But, to be very honest, very few people know the real me. I’ve been an open book, but the chapters I’ve opened are the chapters I’ve opened and nobody knows the chapters I haven’t opened. I’ve written a book about my life and even that book doesn’t contain all of it. I sit down to write it and I say, ‘No, yaar’. My privacy is not the space I allow people to get into physically or by a photograph or a selfie or by Facebook and Twitter. My space, which I don’t allow anyone into, is my emotions.

You know, I’m an extremely emotional person and I’m still really detached, and if I’m able to survive this dichotomy of stardom and normalcy that I live in, that’s a pre-requisite. I need to have my space. I know, what I do in my personal life and what I actually feel and think is so far removed from what people think I am, and what I could be, that it’s very strange, and very maddening.

But I’m only myself when I’m in my bedroom with my kids, yaar (smiles). With my black shorts and my hair standing out, and just being. Because my kids know me as a father and as a friend. They don’t want to know me as a star. And I don’t want to tell them what a star I am. They have respect for what I’ve done, they’ve immense amount of pride for who I am, but none of it enters my bedroom. We never talk about Shah Rukh Khan in third person, in fact, we make fun of him in third person (chuckles), sometimes, as much as others do.

You’ve always been someone who’s enjoyed his celebrity and yet, had respect for it. But in the age of social media, where fame is under such intense scrutiny, do you feel differently about it? Is fame more difficult to enjoy now?
No, yaar, it’s like… if you come on a weekend and stand outside my house, the people there are mostly loving. But there are people who’ve got stuck in the crowd and traffic, who are thinking, ‘What the fuck? I don’t want to be stuck in the traffic! Who the hell is he?’ knowing fully well who the hell I am. There are also some who are irritated, thinking, ‘Why does he have these people outside his house and I don’t?’ and then, there are some neighbours who are genuinely affected because they want to sleep and a thousand people are screaming. But 80% of the people are there for the love of it. So when I go out and wave, I respect everyone but I hear only the 80%, who’ve come out of love. I share the love with them. The same love also goes out to the 20%, who can take it or leave it. Social media is exactly like that.  Most of them have followed me out of love. And I’m not worried about the X, Y or Z voice of the 20%.

You know, I really enjoy my stardom, I love it and have always loved it. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, unabashedly, I came here thinking that when I am a star or when I’m good enough, I want people to love me, to hug me, to cry for me, to shout for me, to die for me. I want people to abuse me, to jump at me, to deride me too. I want people, it’s as simple as that (smiles). And people comprises of all kinds so I can’t disrespect that. Yes, I can get irritated at times, it’s my human right. I can get pissed off, and get really, really angry at trolling, or when some say I am anti-national or some shit. But, having said all that, it’s the same crowd outside my house – some of them I understand don’t want to be here, but they’re here (chuckles).

I don’t have issues of privacy, because I know what’s private is private. You can’t take that out of me because I don’t want to give it. I’m an actor, I can act like anything.

The reason I asked the last question was that today, the guy who makes a film round the year is just as big a star as the guy who uploads a five minute video on YouTube. How seriously do you take your stardom in such a time? Do you ever worry about things like staying relevant or protecting the fame?
You can’t make stardom, you can’t hold stardom, and most of all, you can’t protect stardom. Stardom is an entity by itself. It’s uncontrollable, intangible, unquantifiable. It’s not something you can just achieve and just because you have it, don’t please think you can control it. I’m not ready for it to fall or drop but there’s no reason for to try and protect it. Because you have to realise that stardom did not happen because of you.

Having said that, (pause), the model has changed. This is my understanding, I am completely off the cuff here. There was a vertical model in the world: the haves and the have-nots. The world does not have have-nots anymore… it’s all equal. We’re a horizontal world now. So, when I came into the film industry, a lot of actors told me, ‘Tu enigmatic nahin hai yaar, tu ads karta hai (You are not enigmatic, you do ads)’. I’m not Greta Grabo. She’s wonderful, I love her – but the times of Greta Garbo are gone. There are 1.2 billion people now. My biggest hit, the biggest hit in the country has been seen by only 11 crore people, 110 crore people haven’t seen it, on TV, in theaters, on every media combined. So there’s nothing like too much of me ,yaar. There’s nothing like too much love either; love is love. So there’s nothing like, ‘Arre yaar yeh bahut baari aa raha hai ghar mein, mujhe nahin pyaar karna (Oh! He’s coming to our house too many times, I don’t want to give so much love).’ You can’t overexpress yourself, you can’t over-spread yourself in today’s world.

There’s no hierarchy of stardom now, there’s no hierarchy in this country, or in the world. Each one of us is equal. It’s the reality now… it’s the truth. I can’t look down upon you. There was a time that if you wanted a star’s interview, only the top journalist of that country’s top magazine got the interview through some source of friendship of the manager that you had. Today, each of us comes out and talks to everyone. Not because you were less then, because there is no hierarchy, everybody is equal, yaar.

But the trick is, how can we be a little more equal than equal, that’s all. And for that, you’ve got to stick to the clichés – the honest basic truths. Be upfront, work hard, play harder, party hardest and love your family. That’s what I do. You have a dream? Go for it. Buy a house. Buy yourself two cars and waste one. Marry the girl that you love. There’s nothing wrong in wants or desire. That’s what we were made for. Otherwise we’d be in heaven, desiring nothing… everything is there in heaven. But at the end of it all, keep some modicum of honesty to it. Don’t have it without hard work, don’t cheat, don’t lie, don’t thieve, don’t try to make a fast buck, don’t shirk away from saying and believing the right thing, it’s as basic as that. Your father would have said this to you too.

When I wake up in the morning and sit down with my kids, I need to be able to look them in the eye and say, ‘There is no discrepancy in what I teach you about goodness’. Try and be honest – that’s the only thing I want to protect.

Fan comes at a very interesting point of your career. Shah Rukh Khan started out as a risk-taker, someone who’d do a Darr or a Baazigar, not worried about how he’d be perceived. Somewhere in the middle, a SRK film became safe, and comfortable. You’d go to watch your film so you know it’s okay. But with Fan and Raees, for example, you don’t know if it’ll be okay, and that’s exciting. What’s brought about the change?
Even if you are extremely disturbed after watching Raees and Fan, let me assure you everything is okay (smiles). If you cry after watching a film, it’s okay. If the family in the film breaks up, it’s okay. If the hero falls in love and doesn’t get the girl, it’s okay. At the end of it all, life is going to be okay. You’ll never find a guy like most of the characters I’ve played in my films, in the real world. But when you play them, you don’t have to judge them, that’s all. I mean, look at Rahul from Darr, he’s a psychopath and stalker. Or Devdas, who is an alcoholic fool. You won’t do it, I won’t do it, but you need to just tell be able to tell the story of someone like that, and still let it be okay.

You know what my movies give you? The lack of judgment. I give you the right not to judge people. When we read the third page of the newspaper and see a shoddy headline screaming out, we judge instantly. ‘Wo ganda hai, wo acchcha hai, wo politician hai toh harami, yeh hero badmaash hai, are yeh uske saath soyi, yeh ghatiya hai, yeh cheap hai (He’s bad, he’s good, he’s a politician so is an asshole, this hero is a hooligan, if she slept with someone, she’s cheap)’. Arre? You think it’s not right, so don’t do it. But let them do it, don’t judge them. So the whole idea I give in films is that it’s okay. It’s alright if somebody’s done it, you should accept that.

We are getting so judgmental in today’s time and age, that you are under the pressure to say the right thing about the right thing. Sometimes, people say, why aren’t you mentioning that tragedy on Twitter? Arre, come on, does that make me a lesser person, because I didn’t write about it on Twitter? Everybody tweets, ‘My heart goes out to…’, and my heart does go out, to what happened in Kolkata, for example, but I don’t need to write it and explain it to you. I don’t judge the ones who share but I believe that every feeling need not be shared. A tweet does not life make, or a character decide, you know (chuckles).

But there’s no reason why I have choose these films at the time. Fan and Raees were signed before Dilwale so there’s no concerted effort behind this. The only freedom I have is I should be able to make a choice that’ll make me happy in the morning, good, bad or ugly. It makes me happy that I’ll work with Anand (Rai) or that I’ve worked with Maneesh or Gauri (Shinde). If all these films don’t do well, maybe I’ll go back and only make romantic films again (laughs).

 

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Liked/disliked the interview? Leave your comments below!
Note: This interview first appeared in Open Magazine on April 22, 2016
Link: http://www.openthemagazine.com/article/art-culture/shah-rukh-khan-i-give-you-the-right-not-to-judge-people
Picture courtesy: Google. None of the pictures are owned by the author all rights belong to the original owner(s) and photographer(s).
© Copyright belongs to the author, Nikhil Taneja. The article may not be reproduced without permission. A link to the URL, instead, would be appreciated.

SISTERHOOD OF THE ANGRY YOUNG WOMEN #ANGRYINDIANGODDESSES #OPENMAGAZINE #PROFILE

Finally a ‘female buddy’ film that explores what it means to be a contemporary Indian woman. The cast and crew on the journey…


Note:
This profile was written by Nikhil Taneja (@tanejamainhoon) for Open Magazine. An edited version of the profile can be found here: http://goo.gl/INiyWG


There were 399 films from 79 countries screened at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), the 40th edition of one of the world’s most prestigious film festivals.  473,000 film fans attended the festival over 11 days of the festival, including 5,400 industry delegates from 80 countries.

For the 38th year, a majority of the half a million attendees voted for their favourite film as part of ‘Grolsch People’s Choice Awards’ that has often been an Academy Awards predictor, with past winners including Slumdog Millionaire, The Silver Linings Playbook and 12 Years a Slave. Among this year’s favourites were big-ticket names like Ridley Scott’s The Martian (starring Matt Damon), Scott Cooper’s Black Mass (starring Johnny Depp), Brian Helgeland’s Legends (starring Tom Hardy) and Tom Hooper’s The Danish Girl (starring Eddie Redmayne).

While the top prize went to Lenny Abrahamson’s emotional thriller aiggRoom, a little Indian film beat all the aforementioned names, and hundreds of other star-studded films to win the first runner’s up prize. The journey of Angry Indian Goddesses, director Pan Nalin’s third fictional narrative and his ninth feature film in all, featuring an eclectic cast of Anushka Manchanda, Amrit Maghera, Sarah Jane Dias, Sandhya Mridul Singh, Pavleen Gujral, Tannishtha Chatterjee and Rajshree Deshpande, was just getting started.

It’s been over a month since the prize, and the film, being called ‘India’s first female buddy film’ has now travelled to the Atlantic Film Festival, the Zurich Film Festival and the Rome Film Festival, been sold to distributors all over Europe, South America and even the Middle East, and is drumming up all sorts of noise for its India premiere at the Mumbai Film Festival in October-end, and a likely Diwali release, alongside Sooraj Barjatya’s Prem Ratan Dhan Payo, starring Salman Khan.

A FILM ON FEMALE BUDDIES
“Seems like a good decision to go with Salman bhai,” laughs Nalin, as he’s fondly called, with his signature top hat firmly in place, “He is back, but our marketing is that we aren’t back; we were always there. The Goddesses are omnipresent, you just never saw us.”

It is quite something that an industry that produces over 1500 feature films each year in various languages hasn’t yet been able to give us a memorable film – or any film perhaps – about female ‘buddies’. It took Nalin, who is based out of Paris and Mumbai and shuttles between the two for work, a couple of years just to get the film financed. “When I wrote the first treatment of the film, producers asked me, ‘Who will watch this film?’ They said that the audiences are not ready… ek ladka daal do (put a boy in it). When Kahaani worked and I went to them again, they said, ‘That’s a fluke’ or again, ‘get 4-5 stars and maybe then it will work’. But I believed the Indian audiences are ready for good content, and with every rejection, my belief became stronger.”

It was perhaps an idea whose time has come. In the current climate, where films about kickass women protagonists are doing wonders at the box office (This year alone, Kangana Ranaut’s Tanu Weds Manu, Anushka Sharma’s NH10, Deepika Padukone’s Piku, were all hits), it was inevitably time for a ‘female Dil Chahta Hai’, as the film is being called by critics.

“It started with a coffee shop where a bunch of young, urban girls were chatting,” Nalin, best known for his award-winning film Samsara (2001), a runaway hit internationally, and his critically acclaimed documentary, Faith Connections (2013), among others, recalls. “I told my associate director, Dilip Shankar, to observe them; there was something in their body language, and their friendship, that wasn’t ever explored in films. For some reason, we’ve always represented women in the rural sides or women suffering. But I wanted to be friends with these girls!”

A REGRESSIVE CULTURE
As much as the idea of a film about female bonding excited him, at first, Nalin wasn’t completely certain that he would be the right person to direct the film, because “he’s a man”. But his background egged him to give a shot. Having grown up in the Gujarat countryside, Nalin was privy to the treatment meted out to women in small town India. When his parents, who couldn’t read or write, decided they wanted a better future for their children, and sent their daughter, Nalin’s elder sister, to study in Ahmedabad, they were faced with violent opposite by the town and were the subject of much derision.

“I remember my mother would come back from the temple crying because someone gave a taunt that your daughter must be a prostitute in the city, else how could she be surviving with no money? My parents had brought us up as deeply spiritual individuals, so seeing the inequality, I always felt the need for creating strong woman characters in my films. And when I was a bit unsure of directing an all-women cast and started looking out for a female director, I found out that even they were directing men! So that was that.”

But it wasn’t all that easy for Nalin and Shankar to pull this off on their own. Besides the fact that the film needed to be authentic to the point of view of young, feisty urban women, the duo, who started observing women closely wherever they went, were often midunderstood as letchers. “One time in Kolkata, I almost got beat up too,” Nalin laughs. It was then that they brought on board two women writers, Subhadra Mahajan and Arsala Qureishi, to research in the media about Indian women, with a single focus: to find out positive stories of women of India succeeding.

The stories they dug up helped Nalin’s team give an overarching structure, but they decided to keep the screenplay loose, since they wanted to build the story organically. Their starting point were the auditions, where 200 girls from all over India were tested, but in a unique manner. Girls were called to the casting office, where Nalin and Shankar spoke to them, for up to an hour each. The questions varied from ‘How was your childhood’ to minute details of how they were treated by their families. There were two big learnings for Nalin in this process.

CASTING THE ANGRY GODDESSES
One was the phenomenon of the ladies loo. “Have you ever cried in the gents toilet?” Nalin asks rhetorically. “Probably none of us have.  But we once met a girl who told us that she worked in a big call center in Malad with 900 other girls, and that she could guarantee that each one of those girls had cried in the toilet at one time or the other. They would cry about problems at home, sexual harassment, unsupportive spouses, or anything else. When we did our first test screening through a top ad agency in Mumbai, I asked the girls in the test audiences if they cried in the loo too. Slowly, all hands went up.”

pan nalinThe other thing that struck Nalin and his team was the unconscious inequality that was being created at each girl’s home through another woman: the mother. “We may have the illusion of a patriarchal society but the mother is very powerful,” says Nalin.

“A mother may not mean it, but when you scratch the surface, a secondary treatment towards women is visible. For example, a hot chapati at home would go to the son instead of the daughter. If it’s hot and the mother has only one cup, she will give it to the son and not the daughter. Somewhere, I felt that this is ingrained deeply in the psyche of mothers in India, and if they made a change, we would have no issues in 50 years from now. So I decided to incorporate both these behaviors, and several other things I learnt from the audition process into the film to keep the story real.”

“What I gathered was that they were not looking for actors, but for people who had the courage to expose themselves and be real, explains Mridul Singh, the senior-most actor among the ‘godesses’, who runs a casting company herself and was among the first to be cast.  “They wanted women who had the courage to reveal the truth, be themselves and have some sort of a fire in their bellies to fight. I had been long disillusioned by this industry because the brief was either that of a vamp or ‘two kissing scenes and six songs.’ I felt vanquished when this film came along. “

ORGANIC FILMMAKING
Even the way Nalin approached the characters was “organic”, once he had chosen a group of goddesses he called “magical”. “So we did four weeks of intensive workshops with these girls, but not for acting,” says Nalin. “We had sessions of yoga, meditation and the inner journey, where we asked the girls to think, feel and liberate themselves. In these weeks, the girls must have cried at least 50 times. They probably couldn’t believe they had come for a film and not to see a shrink.”

“I have always kept acting separate from the person, so if I’m howling in a scene, I’ll be laughing the moment there’s a cut,” elaborates Singh. “But in this film, I couldn’t do that. If I was crying in a scene, I continued to cry, until I vomited outside, lit a cigarette and then came back. It was an emotional rollercoaster. We cried a lot, laughed a lot, and went through a lot, but invariably, we had each other. Most of us didn’t know each other, but one week into it, there were no egos but open, glaring insecurities, vulnerabilities and joy.”

“The atmosphere on the set was one of trust,” says musician and rocker Anushka Manchanda, who is making her debut with the movie. “We were hanging out on the set, wearing what we wanted to wear, smoking, talking, abusing, discussing about sex and orgasms at lunch. There was no need to censor ourselves. I was like, ‘acting is so enjoyable, yaar!’ and the other actresses would scream saying ‘this doesn’t ever happen’!”

Nalin and Shankar created this safe environment for the girls to push them even further, by asking them to create their characters themselves and giving them activities like talking like their character, sitting like them, eating like them, and even collectively going out in the evening for dinner as their characters.

A THERAPEAUTIC PROCESS
“They made us draw the route from our houses to our schools and what we see on the way as our characters,” says Manchanda. “We were asked to write a letter to our fathers when we were 16. When we gave our first shot, we had a ready background as those people and a shared history too.”

“I couldn’t sleep for three days trying to write that letter,” adds anushka sandhyaSingh. “My father had passed away when I was 15 and I had blocked those memories. So when I had to write a letter to my father a year after, I somehow did it, and then called my mother and howled on the phone. Reliving our childhood memories brought out the truth in us, and that was the point. It was a cathartic experience for us. Gaurav Dhingra, our producer, would joke that the biggest production expense on the shoot was Nutella and peanut butter sandwhiches, and tissues. The girls would cry, use the tissues and then eat those sandwiches. It became a routine, but we were all one at the end of it.”

Nalin, whose past work is characterized and admired for its deeply spiritual themes and ideas, led the entire exercise to create a ‘spiritual bond’ between the “goddesses.” Why Goddesses? Because “women are attractive and sexy, from the anglo definition, and they are ‘devis’, from the Indian one,” explains Nalin. “But what I like most about the word is the connection of Goddess to Kali and Rudrani, the goddesses who would take a ferocious form to create a new world order whenever they would get angry. The goddesses in this movie are angry because of Nirbhaya, sexual harassment, corruption, bad partners, and more, but this anger is fueling change. And this film’s spiritual depth is rooted in that change.”

A UNIVERSAL ISSUE
Actor Tannishtha Chatterjee, who has an extended special appearance in the film as one of the goddesses, puts things into perspective: “On one hand, we call women goddesses, and on the other hand, they are raped, abused, and stripped of dignity, just like everything else we call ‘mother’, like the environment or several animals. Our anger is against this system. This is the first generation of India where every woman is aspiring for a career outside of being a mother and a sister, or fulfilling our professional and personal desires. We are free and liberated, and ready to explode if we are subjugated.”

And this is evidently a feeling that has resonated with audiences worldwide, as the film continues to roll its punches with standing ovations in all screenings. At TIFF, where initially, the AIG team was supposed to do only 8-10 interviews, the cast and crew ended up doing over a 100 interviews in a week, even as the goddesses were stopped on the streets for selfies “with their tongues out, just like Goddess Kali,” says Tannishtha.

And this is not limited to the Indian diaspora, in fact, most of the people who voted for the film and came for the multiple screenings were not Indians. “Greeks told me that this is a Greek film, the Brazil distributor told me that I’ve made a film on Brazilian women, one American girl came and thanked me for giving her a voice,” smiles Nalin. “We didn’t expect the response to be so universal. In fact, men are loving the film too! One man told me that the women in the film reminded me of his mother and wife at various times. I’ve not strived to make a film about issues but a film where, if you are entertained, then you may just get inspired too.”

“I think Nalin has cracked the code,” Singh says. “Women don’t want solutions, they just need to be heart. And this film gives them a voice. This is no man hating film, in fact we are sure men will love it.” “I really believe that men would come from this film thinking, ‘Wow, I learnt so much about women today,” grins Manchanda. “And women will come out of theaters saying, ‘F**k yeah!”


Follow the blog on your left and like The Tanejamainhoon Page on FB: /tanejamainhoonpage
Follow Nikhil Taneja on FB: /tanejamainhoonon Twitter:
@tanejamainhoonon Instagram:@tanejamainhoon,

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Liked/disliked the profile? Leave your comments below!
Note: This interview first appeared in Open Magazine on October 23, 2015
Link: http://www.openthemagazine.com/article/art-culture/sisterhood-of-the-angry-young-women
Picture courtesy: Google. None of the pictures are owned by the author all rights belong to the original owner(s) and photographer(s).
© Copyright belongs to the author, Nikhil Taneja. The article may not be reproduced without permission. A link to the URL, instead, would be appreciated.

Anurag Kashyap’s 10 Commandments of No-Budget Filmmaking #Directed #Webseries #MTV

At MTV India, I produced an directed a very short web-series – Masterclass: The 10 Commandments of No-Budget Filmmaking by Anurag Kashyap; an Online Cinema Workshop – to promote Anurag Kashyap’s film, That Girl in Yellow Boots. I was in charge of the digital promotions of the film and this web-series was one of the various digital activities we did to market it online.

My work on the digital promotions of That Girl in Yellow Boots got me an award for The Best Entertainment Website (Silver) at the Indian Digital Media Awards 2012. 

Here are the videos:
Produced and Directed by: Nikhil Taneja

Promo/Making Of The Video



Commandment #1 – Do No-Budget Writing

Commandment #2 – With Limited Budget, Comes Limitless Scope

Commandment #3 – Keep An Eye for Detail

Commandment #4 – Take or Leave Free Advice

Commandment #5 – Use Friends with Benefits

Commandment #6 – Get Busy when Others are Free

Commandment #7 – Spam Everyone

Commandment #8 – Just Shoot, Don’t Talk

Commandment #9 – First Comes Story, then Bullshit

Commandment #10 – Feast on Fests

What did you think of the series? Leave your comments below!🙂

Follow the blog on your left and like The Tanejamainhoon Page on FB: /tanejamainhoonpage
Follow Nikhil Taneja on FB: /tanejamainhoonon Twitter:
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© Copyright belongs to the author, Nikhil Taneja. The article may not be reproduced without permission. A link to the URL, instead, would be appreciated.

Interview: Manish Mundra for Open Magazine

THE ‘VIJAY’ OF INDEPENDENT CINEMA
How Manish Mundra become India’s indie scene saviour

Note: This profile was written by Nikhil Taneja (@tanejamainhoon) for Open Magazine. An edited version of the profile can be found here: http://goo.gl/lgPf8B

Before he heads to the 68th edition of the prestigious Cannes Film Festival in the French Riviera, where his fourth production, Masaan (co-produced along with Macassar Productions, Phantom Films, Sikhya Entertainment, Arte France Cinema and Pathé Productions), will be screened in the Un Certain Regard section, Manish Mundra is taking a two-week long detoxifying break at an Ayurveda Center in Bangalore, to ring in his 42nd birthday by himself.

While there, he’s received a script from an aspiring Indian writer-director he’s not familiar with, in his email, the address of which he had publicly given out a few months ago, inviting any and all potential screenwriters and directors to send across their original screenplays. Even between his hectic schedule of meditation, yoga, detox and Ayurveda sessions, Mundra’s already found time to read the script and admits that he was ‘swallowed into it’ the very first time he went through it. “It’s such a wonderful story that it made me cry,” says the soft-spoken Mundra. “I wrote back to the writer to come meet me in Bangalore. He’s coming tomorrow, and I’m making his film.”

Manish Mundra
Manish Mundra

That’s all it takes for Mundra, the producer of last year’s acclaimed Indian indie, Rajat Kapoor’s Ankhon Dekhi, which was screened as the opening film of the Mosaic International South Asian Film Festival in August, to make a film. There’s not been a method or formula or returns-based calculation that has led Mundra to wholly fund five completed films so far, and the four other films in development.

“If a script I read connects with me and lingers with me after I’ve read it; if it’s a film set in reality and depicts human behavior and relationships in a way that you and I can relate to, because hamare saath bhi aisa hua hai, ya ho sakta hai (it has happened with us or can happen with us), then it’s a good film according to me, and I decide to make it,” Mundra explains. “It’s not a science for me, it’s instinct.”

How it all began
It’s this remarkable instinct possessed by Mundra, who, till a couple of years ago had no connection with the Indian film industry but led his life as the CEO of a Nigeria-based multi-billion petrochemical company that he built ground-up, which has seen each of the four projects he’s backed be selected and/or win a prize at a major international film festival last year.

Before the official selection of Neeraj Ghaywan’s Masaan this year, multi-director anthology X – The Film screened as the opening film of the 2014 South Asian International Film Festival, Prashant Nair’s Umrika won the World Cinema Dramatic Audience Award at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival and Nagesh Kukunoor’s Dhanak won The Grand Prix of the Generation Kplus international Jury for the best feature-length film at the 2015 Berlin International Film Festival.

With Ankhon Dekhi, his first production and his foray into the world of films, it took even less than instinct for him to part way with his own income: it took a tweet by Rajat Kapoor. The story is already the stuff of legend among India’s fledgling but strong-willed and gifted indie film community. Acclaimed theater and film actor Kapoor, who had also directed four feature-length films, was looking to finance his fifth film but after doing rounds of various independent producers and studios, was headed nowhere.

Letting out his frustration on the social media platform of Twitter, where he had over 130,000 followers at the time of tweeting, Kapoor lashed out against ‘Bollywood’ and said he was putting his script on the backburner and going back to doing theater for a while. Mundra, who was among his followers on Twitter, tweeted back to him saying that he was a fan and that he would like to produce the film. After a brief but rather funny back-and-forth where Kapoor was initially hesitant suspecting some sort of a hoax (Mundra being based out of Nigeria, the country most famous for internet hoaxes, could not have helped), Mundra flew down to Mumbai, signed a six-page agreement at face value, and immediately transferred a chunk of the film’s approximately Rs 9 Crore budget to Kapoor, and went back again, leaving Kapoor to make his film the way he wanted it.

It was less a calculated risk or investment for Mundra, but more the culmination of a long-cherished dream, to one day put his money where his heart is: in the creation of ‘cinema’, his first love. “It’s all a plan of God,” smiles Mundra, “so if not for Rajat’s tweet, some other tweet would have happened. I had been tweeting to other filmmakers without any luck, but I didn’t have any other connection to the film industry. My objective of joining Twitter was to be connected with filmmakers and to get into films.”

Being ‘Vijay’
From as long ago as he can remember, Mundra has been obsessed with films. Growing up in the era of the potboiler ‘80s cinema led by the likes of Amitabh Bachchan, Shatrughan Sinha and Mithun Chakravarty, as a young boy, he ‘lived movies.’ “Watch a movie on the big screen was the ultimate experience for us at that time,” he fondly reminisces. “Films were like a celebration; the entire family would get together to watch a film and post it, spend the next 6-7 hours in storytelling and discussions around it.

“The films of the ‘80s made you feel like the hero. You didn’t just want to be besides Amitabh Bachchan on the big screen, you felt that you were Amitabh Bachchan and you were Vijay. You lived like Vijay and even talked like Vijay (mimics Amitabh Bachchan’s voice as he says this). I don’t think I ever missed any Amitabh film after I passed standard 10th. And I was motivated by that euphoria to make it in life. The idea of people knowing you, clapping for you and saying that you’ve done something big, was the charge I needed to be successful.”

So it’s not a mere coincidence that Mundra’s life trajectory has mimicked that of ‘Vijay’. At the time of his birth, Mundra’s father was a successful businessman, but soon lost his money, having taken a few missteps. Growing up in Rajasthan, in a state where he was unable to pay his school fees at times, Mundra decided to take inspiration from ‘Vijay’ and be a ‘somebody’.

“I grew up with a patch on my back that I was a ‘poor’ guy,” he recalls. “There was a time when we would struggle for food and I spent sleepless nights crying and wondering why I was poor. But that inspired me to make something of my life. From class 9th, I began earning for my family. In the mornings, I would go to school and in the evenings, I would sell soft drinks from a roadside stall so I could afford the fees. During my graduation, I sold curd for two years and did various other odd jobs too.

“But I believe that if you pass through tough times, they should happen in your teens because that teaches you how to survive throughout life and makes you fearless. Since I had nothing to lose, I made very clear and precise plans of what I wanted to do with my life. I wanted to do an MBA when others were doing IPS and IAS so I could become a CEO by 32, so I could earn enough by 40 to leave the business world and join films somehow. That was always the plan.

“Sometimes I failed and didn’t achieve my goals, sometimes I over achieved and crossed it. But by 32, I was a CEO and by 40, I produced a film. I still continue my job on the side though, but that is only because I want to continue funding films completely from my own money, and not depend on external support for P & A or distribution. I also want to continue giving back to the society that gave me so much because at the end of the day, you don’t want to die rich, you want to die satisfied. And that’s what drives me.”

Drishyam Films
Mundra, who runs a non-profit school in Jodhpur that provides free education and funds for over 250 students every year, is now writing a book based on his life to inspire the youth that “even if you have nothing in your hands but big dreams, you can achieve anything. If you can dream it, you can achieve it.” But before he helps shape the dreams of others, he now has a bigger dream, rather vision, for India’s unstructured independent film scene – to turn it into a self-sustaining, content-driven industry.

The first step in this process has been to establish his company, Drishyam Films, which would solely be focused on the curation, production and distribution of independent films. Mundra has already set the ball rolling with it, by appointing industry veteran Srinivasan Narayanan, the outgoing director of the Mumbai Film Festival, as the Chief Mentor, and the dynamic Shiladitya Bora, who until recently ran indie distribution outfit PVR Rare to much success, as its CEO. An office has been setup in Mumbai, and a team of cinephiles as young as 32-year-old Bora, has been brought on board for the specific tasks at hand: to focus on international film festivals; to ramp up the digital, social media and publicity arm; and to develop the line production outfit; apart from a CFO to manage the commercials. The ultimate aim is singular: “To create a platform where fresh, new talent with the courage to say, ‘I can make a film’, can actually be given the resources to make it.”

“When you look back, even mainstream films of the ‘80s had realism,” says Mundra. “You see a Laawaris or Muqaddar Ka Sikandar today, and they make you feel. A film like Guide, which was perhaps the first film that made me fall in love with cinema, is relevant even today. In that era, we had great filmmakers like Govind Nihalani, Prakash Jha or Shyam Benegal making meaningful cinema that was also celebrated. But around the 2000s, we deviated majorly and now we only care about making money. Apart from Marathi cinema, no other Indian cinema has managed to create a space for parallel cinema to exist or prosper in the last 20 years.”

Mundra has a solution to this problem. The solution is all heart, but he explains it through business terminology: “As I see it, for an indie film to do well, it only needs an audience of around 300,000 people in the first 3 days, which is not a huge target. To get that audience, we’ll have to do something called ‘Market seeding’. The idea is that without working backward from the point of view of turnover or profit margin, at this time, we only need to invest in films with good content and good stories. The investment must include money for promotion as well as social media so that an awareness is created and an audience is cultivated over 15 such films in the next 3-4 years.”

“So that’s what we are trying to do at the moment with Drishyam,” he continues. “I will invest as much money as needed in seeding good films, and then hopefully, if we have two more years like this, where our films circle big international film festivals, and in India, we are able to get the films across to the maximum audiences, then in four years, we will have enough traction to invite more investments and more importantly, more filmmakers to get the conviction to make good films, because by then, we’ll have both the platform for good films to thrive and prosper and the audience in place to watch it.”

Since Drishyam is only in its nascent stages, Mundra has also partnered with the renowned Sundance Institute’s Screenwriter’s Lab and invested over a Crore to the ‘Drishyam-Sundance Screenwriters Lab, which will curate scripts and mentor aspiring screenwriters every year, with Mundra picking up the best scripts to produce through his production outfit. The next goal is to open offices in Europe and America, and attract co-producers internationally, not for investments at this stage, but to give the right kind of exposure to these films in the international markets. Mundra also plans to produce films in the Middle East and in Europe, to further establish the brand of Drishyam Films, and to create new channels for exhibition and distribution too, and unite the whole market with India as its base.

Ask Mundra what he can bring to the table in the international market, and he proudly says, “We are not looking for profits and that’s what makes us unique. Our philosophy is only to make good films, and I’m committing money to see them through to the release. Masaan cost Rs 3 Crore to make but I’ve put in Rs 5 Crores so I can release it myself, and not be dependent on anyone else. Whoever wants to join in, is welcome to, because I don’t want to be the Amitabh Bachchan or the lone ‘Vijay’ in this case. I want to be Naseeruddin Shah, and join hands with everyone to create a prospering independent film industry.”

Having already put his massive vision into action, this year will see the release of all four of Mundra’s upcoming films, with Masaan slated to release in June, following by Dhanak, Umrika and X. There’s also Anu Menon’s Waiting, starring the very same Naseeruddin Shah Mundra speaks so highly of, and four other films in different stages of pre-production. Ask him if his next aim is to work with his idol Bachchan, and Mundra chuckles and wistfully says that it will happen when the right script comes along. “But for now, the next aim is to bring home an Oscar for India. It’s high time,” he smiles.

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Note: This interview first appeared in Open Magazine on May 15, 2015
Link: http://www.openthemagazine.com/article/art-culture/manish-mundra-scene-saviour
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