Taking from what Albert Camus said – ‘Nobody realizes that some people expend tremendous energy merely to be normal’; actor, director and writer Manav Kaul has had a long journey to reach where he is today. Coming from a small town in Madhya Pradesh, he toiled, persevered and survived in the city of dreams. His cherubic looks might not make him seem like a conventional villain but he broke that stereotype and played convincing negative characters in films like Kai Po Che and Wazir. He will now be seen in a different villainous role in Prakash Jha’s Jai Gangaajal. Pandolin touched upon some of the aspects of Manav’s approach towards acting, his journey in Bollywood & theatre and his soon-to-be released short story book.

Manav Kaul

Manav Kaul in Jai Gangaajal

Tell us something about your role in Jai Gangaajal and how did you bag it?

I play an MLA from the Baakepur constituency named Bablu Pandey. He is not the cliched villain that you have seen before on screen. He’s very different, real and also very vulnerable. Luckily, I had time before the shooting started and had lengthy discussions with Prakash Jha about the character. We agreed that the character has to be very real, and I had to play it in a way that people think, “Yes, I have seen this guy around me”. So we attempted a very different character and I am very excited about it.

Shruti Mahajan who is the casting director of this film called me and told me that Prakash Jha wanted to meet me. I went for lunch with him and he briefed me about the basic gist of Jai Gangaajal. After a week, I got a call from him and he said- “Manav tum meri kalpanao me the. Come and meet me again”. After I read the entire script, he told me that I would be playing the role of Bablu Pandey. I got really excited because the role was so different and I have never done anything like this before.


What kind of homework did you do for this role?

Luckily, Prakash Jha worked on this script for three and a half years and he worked really well on it. I spent a lot of time with Prakash sir when we started shooting. I suggested how I would play the character and he also gave suggestions on the key elements of the character. He said that we have to ensure that humour is a part of this character and we play along with it. I am from a small town Hoshangabad (M.P.) and I grew up in Bhopal. So I have seen young lads from these places and also youngsters from NSUI and ABVP (student unions) in college. And I really wanted to play a charismatic young politician who people look up to. It was easy because I was familiar with the dialect and I also incorporated a lot of humour from M.P.

How would you describe Prakash Jha as a director?

He is really good with pre-production, so no one panics on the sets. Everyone knows everything. Even if the actors had two or three dialogues, he would sit with them much before the shoot started. No director has shown me as much love as Prakash sir. We are both workaholics and discuss a lot about scripts, films, performances, etc. Also, he will surprise everyone with his acting performance in the film because he is so good.


You played a negative character in Kai Po Che and Wazir too. What draws you towards such characters with grey shades?

There are two things – one, that I am on the receiving end as an actor. So I can only choose what I get. And secondly, the industry has changed so much that the hero is not Ram and the villain is not Ravan. There is a grey shade in every character. If I talk about Bablu Pandey, I think that he is the hero of the film. There is lot of reasoning behind what he does. Of course, there are a lot of layers in his character and I could have interpreted Bablu Pandey in fifteen different ways. This could be the last time you see me as a villain; I won’t play a villain for some time.

What are the kind of roles and movies that generally interest you?

For me, the key things are script and the director’s vision. If I read the script and feel that I will see this film, then I do the role. I have very few scenes in Wazir but people remember that role because of the script and the placement of the character. He was the main villain in the movie.


Manav Kaul in Jai Gangaajal

Manav Kaul in Jai Gangaajal

Coming from a theatre background, how has the experience helped you in films?

I started my career in the ‘90s and it’s been a long journey for me. I started a theatre group called Aranya, which I love and what I am today is because of that. I also started writing and directing plays and I feel that because I was writing, I was complementing the director. I was also directing fine actors like Kumud Mishra, Kalki Koechlin, Sudhir Pandey, and so on, because of which my acting was complemented. When I started Kai Po Che, I could see the difference in my performance because of my theatre background. Right now, I’m living my dream because I am doing everything – writing, directing plays, my short story collection is getting published this month; what else does one want? I am wearing many hats right now.

And how do you juggle your time between films and theatre? 

I don’t do many films at one time. If I’m writing or directing a play, I take a complete break. When I am reading a script and considering a role, I take a lot of time. And that time is really good to write a play or do a workshop with amazing actors.


Can you tell us something about the Hindi short stories book, Theek Tumhare Peeche, that you’re writing?

Earlier I would only write plays and had a lot of time on hand. So, I used to travel to places like Uttaranchal and Himachal Pradesh. Writing a play is work but whenever I needed a breather, I would write random things. And those random things started taking shape as short stories. I started in 2002, and have 17 short stories till date. Around 15 of the stories are getting published in Theek Tumhare Peeche. Also, I like the writings of people like Albert Camus, Jean-Paul Sartre, Fyodor Dostoevsky Nirmal Verma, Vinod Kumar Shukla etc. So this is an extremely personal dialogue between two people and it’s interesting the way these stories have shaped up. I’m looking forward to know how people will react to it.

One reason that you would give the audience to go and watch Jai Gangaajal.

It’s a Prakash Jha film! I have traveled around 17 cities for the promotions and people just love him. He is the only director in our industry who does contemporary socio – political films. We have put in a lot of hard work and passion in this film. It has 12 beautiful songs and is a very entertaining film. It sure is going to entertain you and if you take something home, that will be a bonus.

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Manav Kaul
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