‘I took up writing as a way of survival when projects that I had pitched never ended up taking off.’ – Manu Warrier
A post-graduate in marketing by qualification, Manu Warrier forayed into film-making with two short films while still working in USA. Having shifted base to India in 2005, Manu has since worked with new age directors including Owais Hussain and Anurag Kashyap to develop projects from story to screenplay. His most recent writing assignment was contributing for Kashyap’s recently concluded YUDH – a TV series with Amitabh Bachchan. A writer pursuing the 10,000 hours of practice principle, Coffee Bloom is his full-length feature debut as director. He is currently scripting with director Leena Yadav on her next project.
How did films happen to you? What were doing before you started your journey in films?
For the longest time I have admired the power of cinema to be able to transport one to a different place and time. Being a single parent child and from a middle class upbringing, film industry was considered a high risk career. So there wasn’t much encouragement at home to actually pursue films. I have dabbled in many jobs right from doing door to door sales selling torches, selling newspaper subscriptions, chocolate gift hampers, cleaned Horse barns, worked in a shady motel in Bronx, worked in a New York liquor store, made Subway sandwiches in Chicago and recruited candidates in an HR firm in New Jersey. I pursued my MBA purely for a qualification requirement. I knew I wouldn’t stick around there. When I met my wife, Meera, she gave me the much needed push to switch.
Did the experience working with Anurag and Owais, help shape your confidence to direct? What was your engagement with them like?
I always knew I wanted to direct. I took up writing as a way of survival when projects that I had pitched never ended up taking off. When you collaborate you tend to learn something new with every project. Since Owais is an artist, every person on his team is a paint brush on his canvas. His process was instinctive and organic. With Anurag – my engagement with him was limited. From my experience he believes in having a structure and things on paper before the shoot. Anurag also allows complete freedom to explore the idea.What I learned from Anurag is you need to keep churning stuff, till your voice becomes exclusive.
In your first hand experience can learning on the job equal a course in filmmaking?
To each his own. Personally speaking, life experience is an important element to incorporate into film stories and no film school can teach you that. That said life experiences cannot teach you the craft, which I am still trying to figure my way around. My knowledge of the craft, at the moment, is largely theoretical.
You are collaborating with Ms Yadav… whats the writing process like? Do you write together, bounce ideas, do alternate drafts?
Leena likes to play the game using her rules. I respect artists who have that streak. She has made it in the industry with her own brand of cinema. I enjoy working with her because she does not confine herself in terms or ideas/ themes. Besides the fact that we spend a lot of time outlining the story, there is isn’t a fixed process. We have written together, bounced ideas and have also alternated in between drafts.
How did you find funding for this film considering its your debut project?
Before Coffee Bloom, I had pitched couple of projects for funding but none of them took off. The frustration of not being able to make a film was getting on to me. Coffee Bloom was initially planned as an indie project. The co-writer of the film, Sharath Parvathavani, and I decided to put in our own monies to make it happen, with Sharath agreeing to put the major chunk. Sharath, the music director – Prasad Ruparel, Anand Bulusu (AD) and I had almost finalized the plans of executing a low budget indie after we visited Coorg. During those days, I happened to narrate the idea to Leena, who liked the subject. She immediately called up Harish Amin from Speaking Tree Pictures. I had met him with an intention of getting some support funds. When Harish heard the story and read the script, he instantly agreed to scale up the project. To be frank, a lot of things happened thanks to Harish Amin, the production resources that he provided would have never being possible in an indie set up.
What does being able to show your film at MAMI platform mean to you? What are your expectations?
We were very clear from day one, we wanted our Indian premier at MAMI and we are glad we were accepted under “New Faces of Indian Cinema”. This is where we can showcase the film to our industry – MAMI is the best platform for this purpose. Besides providing us an international platform, we hope to collaborate with distributors and productions houses attending MAMI in working a release plan for Coffee Bloom. Also based on the response at MAMI we are aiming for a good festival abroad for our international premier, which is still open.
What are your strengths as a director?
I am yet to evolve as a director to categorize a particular area or skill as strength, while I do have a sense of script and story telling, it is for the film viewers to figure out where I stand.
Where do you draw your creative influences from?
Life has the best screenplay.
What is Coffee Bloom? Is there a theme of returning home?
Coffee Bloom is a coming of age romantic drama. Returning home is one of the themes explored in the film.
Cinematography wise, what is the look and feel of the film.
We went for warmer tones, and the camera chose to observe rather than intrude by technique. The location is a key aspect, and plays a large role in the narrative.
How was it working with Arjun and Mohan.. Arjun’s film Fireflies is also releasing this month. What do you think of him as an actor?
With Harish Amin at Speaking Tree and Tess Joseph who handled the casting, the great advantage was that we got professional actors to work on Coffee Bloom. Both Mohan Kapur and Arjun were very involved and thoroughly worked out their characters with their inputs during rehearsals and the actual shoot. I am yet to see Arjun’s Fireflies, but I am looking forward to seeing it. As an actor, Arjun is instinctive and slips into his character with ease. Mohan Kapur gave his own funny man spin to the character of plantation owner. Sugandha Garg, the female lead, is also extremely talented and carried off the pivotal role with a lot of elan. Ishwari Bose too, in spite of her French upbringing, convincingly brought to life her Indian character. They all were tremendously hard working and passionate.
I am collaborating with Leena Yadav and Vinay Subramanian on the their scripts. In terms of directing, I am working towards a Marathi film with the backdrop of Civil services, and also working with a co writer to make a Malayalam thriller set in the forests of Wayanad. Since film making is a highly unstable industry, I am not sure which one will take off first.
– By Priyanka Jain