Tag Archives: Ankhon Dekhi

Interview: Manish Mundra for Open Magazine

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
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.



We are well into the new year but the year doesn’t officially start for me until I’m done with making lists about the last one. Like most years, I watched over a 100 indies (108 to be exact) in 2014, so here’s a comprehensive list of the indies I loved and liked and the ones that I really didn’t (I have omitted in the list the ones that are neither good nor bad – just unmemorable to even be talked about).

I have to say, after putting together my favourite indies of the year in this list, one thing struck me – EVERY film in the list is not only refreshingly original but also crazily innovative. From Birdman, which was shot like a continuous one-take, to Locke, which was completely shot in a car featuring a single actor, to Snowpiercer, which was shot in a moving bullet train, to Boyhood, which was shot over 12 years! This has been a fantastic year of cinematic originality and I think it’s an year that will stand out in this decade as one of the best years for film in a long, long time.

Ankhon Dekhi (comedy drama) – Because simplicity is underrated.
Birdman (comedy drama) – Because Michael Keaton’s comeback!!
Boyhood (drama) – Because RICHARD LINKLATER!!!!!!!!!!
Coherence (scifi) – Because how can a scifi indie made in no money be SO brilliant?
Comet (scifi romcom) – Because after ages a romantic film made me *feel* (also, scifi romcom!).
Filmistaan – Because the purity of friendship hasn’t been depicted so well in so long.
Frank (dramedy) – Because this is the most affecting dramedy I’ve seen in a long time and it stars Michael Fassbender in a giant head.
Locke (thriller) – Because 90 minutes of Tom Hardy in a car makes for a must watch!
Nightcrawler (thriller) – Because Jake Gyllenhaal is the f–king shit and this commentary on the state of media today has been robbed off awards glory (also Riz Ahmed!).
Pride (comedy drama) – Because the story of unlikely friendship between the LGBTs and the miners in 80s Brit is inspiring and heartwarming – and because *no one* does emotions like the Brits do (apart from Raju Hirani)!
Snowpierecer (thriller) – Because ‘a post apocalyptic thriller set on a train where the rich and poor are segregated’ is an AWESOME PLOT.
Sulemani Keeda (slacker comedy) – Because INDIAN SLACKER COMEDY WHAT MORE DO I NEED TO SAY?
The Fault in Our Stars (romance) – Because Michael H. Weber and Scott Neustader are my heroes and they can do no wrong.
The Grand Budapest Hotel (Wes Anderson) – Because Wes Anderson.

A Most Wanted Man (spy thriller) – Because Philip Seymour Hoffman in a John Le Carre thriller is something we should have seen more of.
Bethlehem (war thriller) – Because its a gut wrenching take on the Israel-Palestine issue.
Blue Ruin (thriller) – Because this came out of the blue and thrilled the hell out of everyone!
Calvary (drama comedy) – Because there’s something about the collaboration between Brendan Gleeson and the McDonagh brothers that just makes sense.
Dear White People (dramedy) – Because it is the smartest take on the white – and black – culture, and a biting satire the likes of which we just don’t see often enough.
Enemy (scifi thriller) – Because a scifi thriller is another genre Jake Gyllenhaal NAILS.
Fading Gigolo (dramedy) – Because John Turturro has it in him to make a Woody Allen film.
Filth (Brit crime comedy drama) – Because James McAvoy on acid is even better than James McAvoy without it.
It’s a Disaster (comedy) – Because this is This is The End for adults.
Joe (drama) – Because this is Nicholas Cage’s redemption and you don’t even know it!
John Wick (action) – Because few things are cooler than seeing Keanu Reeves kick some ass.
Obvious Child (comedy) – Because Jenny Slate is da woman.
Ping Pong Summer (coming of age) – Because a coming of age comedy set in the ’80s featuring ping pong is rad.
Sunshine on Leith (comedy musical) – Because a Brit music comedy is the best genre of film you haven’t seen enough of.
The Inbetweeners 2 (comedy) – Because The Inbetweeners are f–king hilarious.
The Internet’s Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz (documentary) – Because the story of Aaron Swartz is a story that must be seen.
The Guest (thriller) – Because Dan Stevens is SO great beyond Downton Abbey and this is indie thriller DONE RIGHT!
The Pretty Ones (romcom) – Because Zoe Kazan and Jake Johnson have enough charisma to make the romcom genre feel refreshing.
The Square (documentary) – Because this documentary on the Egypt revolution was shot *during* the revolution.
Tusk (horror comedy) – Because this is the most bizarre, creepy and f–ed up film you’d watch in a while with a helluva brave performance by the awesome Justin Long)

A Birder’s Guide to Everything (coming of age) – Because if a coming of age film stars Ben Kingsley in any role, you are home before the movie begins.
A Walk Among The Tombstones (thriller) – Because Liam Neeson kicking ass in a different decade is just as cool as him kicking it in this one.
Adult World (coming of age dramedy) – Because even with the cast of John Cusack and Emma Roberts, the movie surprisingly made me chuckle quite a bit.
Begin Again (musical romcom) – Because Keira Knightley singing is what you need when you’re alone.
Blood Ties (crime drama) – Because this was a super well done throwback to the crime dramas of the ’70s with a stellar cast (and reminded me of Deewar in some ways)
Cold in July (crime thriller) – Because a throwback to pulpy 80s crime thrillers is never a bad thing, esp when it stars Dexter.
Felony (cop drama) – Because this Australian films gives a decent ethical twist to the age old cop drama movie.
Horns (Fantasy horror) – Because Daniel Radcliffe being Satan against his wishes makes for a *very* interesting movie.
Love is Strange (dramedy) – Because John Lithgow and Alfred Molina are easily the most heartwarming couple on screen in 2014.
Maps to the Stars (drama) – Bizarre f–ked up drama from David Cronenberg about the bizarre f–ked up world of Hollywood starring an A cast.
Predestination (scifi thriller) – Because ‘time-travel indie sci starring Ethan Hawke’ is the best one-line intro of the year.
Rosewater – Because even with its uneven screenplay, the Jon Stewart directed film works because of the tenacity of the great Gael Garnia Bercel.
Rover (thriller) – Because Australia makes some badass gritty films and with a cast feat.  Guy Pearce, Robert Pattinson and Scoot McNairy, how much more badass do you need?
The Hundred Foot Journey – Because Om Puri and Meryl Streep facing off in a movie about food is just too tasty a plot.
The Giant Mechanical Man – Because is there anything Chris Messina can’t pull off?!
The One I Love (sci fi romcom) – Because another sci-fi romcom (whaaat!) that stars Elisabeth Moss and Mark Duplass!
The Purge: Anarchy (thriller) – Because this was the guilty pleasure of the year.
The Raid 2: Berendal (action) – Because the beauty of the brutal action was lost in the chaos of the been there done that story.
The Skeletal Twins (dramedy) – Because Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig make for the best suicidal brother-sister casting ever (but can dramedies have ANYTHING new to whine about than ‘life’?)
The Two Faces of January (thriller) – Because Viggo Mortensen and Oscar Isaac star in this 50s’ thriller throwback and no one knows about this!?!
Wish I Was Here (dramedy) – Because Zach Braff directing his second dramedy makes for the most promising indie ever (but wish it had as much heart as it did quirk)

About Alex (dramedy) – Because it’s got such a brilliant cast that all the cliches that it put forth can ultimately be overlooked.
After the Dark (thriller) – Because even with a spectacular lack of plot, the premise of ethical dilemmas in a post apocalyptic world is quite interesting.
Bad Words (comedy) – Because after a hilarious first half, the movie spiraled down in the second else Jason Bateman would’ve been one of the indie debut directors of the year.
Chef (road trip comedy) – Because even though it was the most overrated indie of the year, it still had a fantastic cast that pulled off some fun moments.
Finding Fanny (road trip comedy)- Because even with its forced quirkiness, Naseeruddin Shah, Pankaj Kapur and Dimple Kapadia are a riot to watch.
Hello Ladies: The Movie (comedy)- Because it was a nice little bow on a sometimes-awkward TV series about loneliness in big cities.
Life After Beth (zombie romcom) – Because zombie romcom starring Aubrey Plaza as a zombie is SUCH a fun premise (if only the movie was *that* much fun)
Men, Women and Children (drama) – Because the internet is worse than flesh-eating zombieland and that’s fun to watch (but tell me something new yaar #TMSNY).
Rob The Mob (crime Drama) – Because even with its B-movie looks, it is not a bad take on the mob world.
Paolo Alto (drama) – Because high school in genereal is worse than flesh-eating zombieland and that’s fun to watch (but #TMSNY)
Premature (comedy) – Because groundhog day meets American Pie is not a bad idea at all.
Some Velvet Morning (drama) – Because Stanley Tucci is brilliant to watch even in a two-actor movie remake of a play.
The Drop (crime drama) – Because with a cast of Tom Hardy, James Gandolfini and Noomi Rapace, we deserved more than a tired crime drama.
What If (romcom) – Because Zoe Kazan is charming and awesome and Daniel Radcliffe is not Harry Potter (but Adam Driver should have been lead! Also #TMSNY)

C & below
A Long Way Down – Because this is the worst executed Nick Hornby adaptation in the long time, even with SUCH a fab cast at its helm.
Homefront – Because Jason Statham saving himself/family/someone is older than the Bible now, so #TMSNY.
Someone Marry Barry – Because it flushes the comedic talents of a great cast down the drain with its abominable writing.
The Bachelor Weekend – Because Andrew Scott as a romantic one-sided lover on a bachelor trip is not a film you want to see.
This is Where I Leave You – TELL ME SOMETHING NEW YAAR (What a waste of a spectacular cast).
Two Night Stand – Because the dialogues are so painfully cliched that Miles Teller and Analeigh Tipton (AND JESSICA SZOHR) should file a suit for wasting their time.
Veronica Mars – Because all that kickstarter money should’ve gone into writing at least an average plot.

P.S. Here are the indies I’m yet to see (and I’m looking forward to catching up on) and I’ll keep updating this list as and when I see them:
’71, A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night, A Most Violent Year, Appropriate Behaviour, Are You Here, Before I Go To Sleep, Bird People, Camp X Ray, Cold Comes the Night, Cuban Fury, Dead Snow 2: Red vs Dead, Force Majeure, Get On Up, God’s Pocket, Goodbye To All That, Growing up and Other Lies, Hector and the Search for Happiness, Hellion, Ida, I Origins, In Your Eyes, Infinitely Polar Bear, Inherent Vice, Kill Me Three Times, Laggies, Leviathan, Life of Crime, Life Itself, Listen Up Phillip, Love,Rosie, Magic in the Moonlight, Merry Christmas, Mommy, Night Moves, No Good Deed, Northern Soul, Omar, Only Lovers Left Alive, Plastic, Road to Paloma, Song One, Selma, St Vincent, Starred Up, Stretch, Take Care, That Burning Feeling, The Babadook, The Big Ask, The Captive, The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby, The Double, The Grant Seduction, The Homesman, The Humbling, The Immigrant, The Longest Week, The Mule, The November Man, The Riot Club, The Signal, To Be Takei, Top Five, Trip to Italy, The Voices, They Came Together, Third Person, Tracks, Ugly, Under the Skin, Vinyl, White Bird in a Blizzard, We Are The Best, Wetlands, What We Do In The Shadows, Wild, X/Y, Young Ones.

ICYMI: Here are my TV recommendations – 50+ TV shows to watch from 2014 (out f 119): https://tanejamainhoon.com/2015/01/26/bestof2014tv/

What are your favourite movies of the year? Agree/disagree with  this list? Any movies I missed out on? Do leave your favourites in the comments below 🙂

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