I constantly look for simple and novel ideas – Manish Mundra
He’s been instrumental in bringing about a change in the indie film circuit. The synopsis of one of the films he produced under his banner Drishyam Films reads, “Is film meant to conform to one genre?” This in a way sums his approach towards choosing projects to back. The parallel cinema movement of the 70s was never dead but was like a dormant volcano, which Manish Mundra has rekindled with his films. In a chat with Pandolin he opens up about his projects and the metamorphosis that his upcoming films are going through to garner commercial success.
What first drew you towards the script of Newton?
The most important thing was the novelty of the idea. It was so new and Indian. The genuineness in the idea forced me to support it. It talked about a couple of issues. One, was how villagers in India see the Electronic Voting Machines (EVM) and the voting procedure. Two, how a person’s determination can create a lot of positivity amidst a lot of negativity. These were reasons enough to back it.
While Newton is a take on the political scenario in India, Kadvi Hawa talks about climate change. Even Paroksh has an interesting approach to superstitions that are predominant in India. Is a socially relevant message something that draws your attention or gives it an extra edge over other scripts you may be looking at?
I generally look at a couple of aspects of a script. One, of course is the message of the script. I like to see whether telling this story would address some issue of the society. Two, a human relationship factor in a story. How does it unfold the relationship aspect of the characters? The story should touch the heart. And of course, the simplicity and novelty of the idea is something that I constantly look out for.
I want to connect to a larger audience base, breaking the language barrier
Kadvi Hawa has already piqued everyone’s interest with the National awards mention. What is the journey for the film looking like?
We are very positive that it’ll be selected in one of the international film festivals that we’ve already applied for. Once it premiers in one of the festivals, we’ll bring it back and release it here. We will also work out its international release. I believe in the next couple of months we’ll have a proper journey charted out for the film.
Drishyam has always backed films that are deep rooted in our culture, yet they have a global appeal. What lends these stories such universality?
When I read a script, I have certain pointers in my mind. I like to see how it impacts me as a reader. If it moves you as a reader, then I believe it surely will move you as a viewer, if presented correctly using the language of cinema. I have been traveling and working abroad for more than fifteen years now. Having worked in close collaboration with people associated with European cinema, I know their taste. That experience too has contributed to the success rate of our films abroad. I like to go with my gut feeling.
The simplicity and novelty of the idea is something that I constantly look out for
Your films are traveling to festivals all over, winning awards, creating a buzz much before their India release. How beneficial has this route proved for the theatrical release here?
Success in terms of accolades and critical appreciation has been fantastic. But we still have to buck up for commercial success to achieve what we desire to achieve. The good thing is that we have been consistent in releasing quality cinema in the last three years. We’ve created a base of audience who believes in our films. This base is steadily increasing for the good. We’ve also initiated some changes in terms of presentation of our films which you’d start seeing from Newton. We are focusing more on the Indian audiences’ taste in terms of music and other aspects.
We’re hopeful that it would benefit us commercially in terms of return on investment, which becomes the yardstick of success in Hindi cinema when it comes to the theatrical release. We’ve done everything right till now. Only that aspect needs to be looked into and worked upon. I am confident that with the next two to three films we’ll also be commercially successful. I’m hopeful that it’ll be as organically wonderful as it has been in terms of critical reception.
Coming to Paroksh, was the foray into the short format something you’ve been planning for a while or was it a decision driven by this unique story?
We had a planned approach and have a system in place wherein we want to look for new talents that are ready to experiment in the short format. Once it works well, we can decide upon working on bigger projects. There is another strategy, via short films we can get an audience base supporting our films. That audience would in a way be supporting brand Drishyam. If that audience likes our short films, then there is a possibility to convert them into viewers of our longer films. With digitization, shorts have emerged as a huge medium for film promotion.
The idea is to release around six short films in a year
Given that Paroksh is in Tulu, were there any apprehensions in terms of its reach?
I am open to all languages as far as short films are concerned. Since they are short so the attention is not lost in translation. Also, proper subtitling is done. I want to connect to a larger audience base, breaking the language barrier. Our next short film will be in Hindi, but the one following that will be in English. So, with this format I want to explore various languages spoken in the country.
Can you talk about some upcoming shorts that you are backing?
We have five to six films in the pipeline. In the next couple of months we’ll be releasing another short, which will take things further. The idea is to release around six short films in a year. A couple of them are already ready and others are in the post production stage.
If we focus on content and cater to the taste of the audience, keeping in mind the universal appeal, we can find commercial success
You’ve also launched the Quest For Stories initiative, another step closer to finding stories deeply rooted in India. What is it that you’ll are focusing on for the winning entries? Also what would you say sets this part from other Labs and similar initiatives?
We are still going through the stories. Our simple mantra is that the stories should be very Indian with a global appeal. The story should touch the heart. It should have some positivity in terms of storytelling and presentation. We are staying away from controversies and controversial issues. We are distancing ourselves from so called ‘revolutionary’ ideas. We want to stick with simplicity and stories with a heart.
It is not a lab. We wanted to work differently. The priority here is to let the story flow naturally from the writer’s mind. Once the story matches with our ideas and thought process, then we pick it up. The next step would be to employ screenwriters to develop it into a screenplay. Those scriptwriters would be professionals who don’t need lab assistance. Once the screenplay is ready, we’ll take the next step of showing faith in the bound script and producing it.
I feel this is more practical a method in terms of success rate. What I felt in the two years of our lab was that though we could select five or six scripts by the help of our consultants, the reception rate wasn’t great. So, we thought let us involve ourselves in the screenplay from the story level itself. We have now decided to involve ourselves in the screenplay only when the story excites us. And we now want to convert the stories in screenplays only when we are sure that we’d back the film. This process will have a better success rate than what labs have.
From an Aankhon Dekhi to now Kadvi Hawa or even Rukh, how has the scenario for indie movies evolved?
There is more acceptance towards indie films. If the film is beautiful and the content is good, then people don’t shy away from showing appreciation by watching it in theatres. I strongly feel that word of mouth publicity works. We are no more bullish in our approach. If we focus on content and cater to the taste of the audience, keeping in mind the universal appeal, we can find commercial success. Balancing the two is important. The scenario of indie cinema has evolved. More serious films are being made now. When I say serious, then I mean the Hindi word ‘sanjeeda‘, which means they are capable of satisfying the conscience. People are putting more efforts in cinematography, presentation and storytelling. People see a hope in indie now.
I strongly feel that Drishyam has been successful in establishing this model of making a good story into a film, taking it to international festivals, coming back with accolades and getting a decent release for it back home. Now, there is a hope that if your film’s content is strong and you’ve made a good film then there is a strong possibility for it to release. Plus the digital scope is also adding value to these films now. In spite of limited scope of theatrical release, there are chances of releasing the film digitally, which also widens the audience base. People want to watch the film with their own ease and comfort. With the advent of digital platforms, the scope of indie films has widened.
We still have to buck up for commercial success to achieve what we desire to achieve
Are you also looking at producing content exclusively for digital platforms?
No. I don’t think we are working on that aspect as of now. In the future, me might look into that but presently we are only sticking to features for theatre.