Despite being in the industry for a decade, it is only now that Manav Kaul is seen prominently on screen. Not because there were no roles but because they were not good enough. But what he didnt get form cinema, he achieved from theatre. Manav has not only worked with very talented actors on stage but also garnered huge accolades for his writings and direction. After Kai Po Che, the all-rounder will be seen in City Lights. Here Manav talks about his roles, theatre and films...
Theatre or films, which is your preferred medium and why?
I don't really see a comparison between the two - they are both amazing mediums, each has its own merits. I guess, when one is making a film there is often a huge set up and a lot of money involved, so there is this responsibility to recover that amount - and that tends to create pressure. Theatre has more freedom that way, giving you room to explore. But again, these are just musings. I enjoy the challenges of both.
Which is closest to you: Director, writer or actor and why? What do you enjoy the most in the three?
When I look back what I find wonderful about the life I have lived is that everything I have done compliments each other. I have been writing and directing plays for over 10 years now, been involved with theatre and films as an actor for over 20 and made two films - I learnt so much about acting from directing films and plays, writing was something that I leaned towards while acting and scripting my own material eventually led me to direction. It's a beautiful cycle where one experience helps you grow into another - now I see a huge change in myself as a performer. So basically, I enjoy everything - I feel the need to do all these in order to continuously refresh the cycle. Having said that though, I am much more interested in acting right now than I have ever been before - I see a lot of good work happening around me and i want to be a part of it all, i'm that hungry.
Your role as Bitto Mama was well appreciated in Kai Po Che…
I did get a fair amount of recognition from that film. Commercial success always helps, it established me as an actor - and I got CityLights because of Kai Po Che.
Before that also you had done many films and were prominent in theatre. Do you think appreciation came late to you?
I believe things come to you when you are ready for them. I don't think I was ready for any of this earlier. Now I have more experience - am way more confident than before. Also, there is so much quality work happening right now - this feels like the right time.
Do you think the line between commercial and art actor is blurred today?
Yes, and thank god for that! Actors are never meant to be classified like that in the first place - the very idea of looking at them this way is flawed. Fortunately, however, cinema and the ways of this industry are both changing. There is a lot of exciting work happening - films like Shahid and Aankhon Dekhi have brought fantastic actors to the fore. If we go back a few years, Maqbool was made at a time when the tide had just begun to turn, and it was a stellar film, with amazing performances. Actors grow with and around the cinema they are part of. When we have intelligent filmmakers, actors are bound to mature.
How will you explain this transformation of art house cinema into commercial cinema? Films like Lunch Box and actors like Nawazuddin are stars now.
Cinema is an art form and cannot be categorised in such a way. These classifications are a financial concept, measured only in returns. If the film is good, it will be appreciated everywhere. People want stories that are unique to our times, our geographies. One should never underestimate your audience. If there is a story well told, it is bound to connect. There is no need to explain the transformation, just be glad it's happening and there are insightful people behind this process that are constantly striving to raise standards. Refreshing ideas always work. I watched the trailer of Titli a few days back and it looks very interesting. There are several scripts coming my way which are so good, I never thought stories like these could be written! I am quite proud of this industry now!
What is more important to you: Director or role?
Well, if the director is a beautiful woman, then director. Else, it's the script.
How easy or difficult it is for a newcomer/outsider in the industry?
It's not easy for anyone - it is challenging and takes a very big toll on your life. There is only so far a name can take you - after that you have to make it on your own. If one has talent, no one can stop you. I feel Ranbir Kapoor would have been a star even if he wasn't from a famous film family.
Tell us about City Lights and how was it working in it.
For me, it was a huge learning experience - more so because of Hansal (Mehta, director) and Raj Kumar (Rao - lead actor) who are both so devoted to their craft, it's quite humbling. I had enough room to experiment - a lot of the scenes have been improvised on spot, and I was given complete freedom to explore nuances in my character. The atmosphere was very exciting.
How is it working with Hansal Mehta?
I cannot say this enough - I feel every actor should work with Hansal Mehta. He is one of the most generous directors i know - really helps you grow as an actor. Its very nourishing. His creative energy sustains everyone around him.
You have been around for a long time but acted in very few films. Why?
To be honest, when I started writing plays - about ten years or so back - I was quite disillusioned with the kind of roles that were coming my way, both onstage and screen. I cannot be a part of something that I don't entirely believe in. So I immersed myself completely in writing and directing my own material. In fact, even I didn't realise how absorbed I had been in my own little universe until Kai Po Che happened. There had been a couple of films on the way but nothing major. Kai Po Che wasn't planned either - it happened to me suddenly and I realised how much I missed acting. The industry had also changed by then, new exciting work had started to happen. I felt this bustling energy around me and wanted to be a part of it. Now i want to act again - its a rediscovery of sorts.
Your work reflects a lot of literature. When did you start reading? And which writer inspired you the most?
My mother has a strong background in Hindi literature, so thanks to her I started reading quite early. From what I remember, the first book I read was Chitralekha. Writers like Nirmal Verma, Vinod Kumar Shukl, Coetzee, Camus and Dostoevsky have been influences. My taste changes a lot and of course, one reacts to different kinds of literature in different phases of ones life. I am a voracious reader - various stages in my life can be demarcated with the kind of books I was reading in each.
What are you reading right now?
'G' by John Berger and 'Staring at the Sun' by Julian Barnes
You got rave reviews for Colour Blind. How is it working with commercial actors on stage?
It's very important to note that every actor in the play have their origins in theatre and continue to remain very active onstage. So it's theatre actors who have been commercially successful that assembled for this play, and not the other way around. Lines are blurring thankfully and everyone is working everywhere (which is how it should be). Of course, the commitment levels are amazing because they have been working in commercial projects with high stakes - so the level of professionalism that they bring is great. Colourblind was a great experience - it was months of research and debate - the process itself was enriching.
Tell us about your upcoming projects, plays and movies.
My next film is a retelling of 'Albert Pinto ko Gussa Kyun Aata Hain' written and directed by Soumitra Ranade - with Nandita Das and Sourabh Shukla. There are a few more projects I am considering, but will talk about them as and when they happen. As far as theatre goes, I'm directing Hamlet next.