Humble start to huge dreams: Newton producer Manish Mundra
Every few decades, a new wave in Indian cinema changes the perception of what movies are supposed to be. Sometimes, it’s a group of creative minds that brings about this change, but mostly it’s one person who is behind this evolution. Manish Mundra, founder, Drishyam Films, has been swaying this wind of change ever since he produced his first film, Ankhon Dekhi in 2013.
Four years down, Manish has managed to achieve a milestone that veteran producers and filmmakers hope for. His first release this year as a producer, Newton, is India’s entry in the Best Foreign Language Film category at the 90th Academy Awards. “When the news broke, it took some time to sink in. All the visuals from memory came back. Right from the first meeting when we heard the story, started shooting, to the point when the film was premiered in Berlin (at the 67th Berlin International Film Festival) — everything flashed back. This is a sort of a redemption for our work,” says Manish.
For someone who came with absolutely no connections in the film industry, Manish has certainly made a mark. What perhaps worked in his favour is the fact that he chose to be in a space where few producers would invest their time and money.
He attributes his work ethos to his middle-class upbringing — a trait that reflects in all the films he has produced so far. “The way I have lived my life attracts me to certain stories. My instinct to choose these tales comes from my philosophy, and the way I have come up in life. My journey plays an important role,” says Manish, who was born in Deoghar (now in Jharkhand). After completing his studies in Jodhpur, he worked in different cities in India and later moved to Indonesia, Thailand and currently works out of Nigeria, where he leads Indorama Eleme Petrochemicals.
Humble beginnings didn’t mean Manish dreamed small. He was always attracted to films despite the fact that his parents were strict disciplinarians. Manish and his siblings would be allowed to watch only those films that were approved by his parents. “During childhood, we would wait to watch a film. When we weren’t allowed to watch, we would listen to stories from people who would’ve seen the film."
But during his teenage years, young Manish found a way out to watch even those films which his parents wouldn't have approved. At times when he couldn't get away from home for three hours at a stretch, he would watch a film in installments, first half on one day and second half on another day or vice versa. "I remember watching Naseeb, Lawaris and Prem Rog in two parts. In fact, I watched the first half of Lawaris two times because I couldn't manage the time slot to watch the second half," reminisces the producer.
The new new-wave
With time, his passion for films grew further. But it was during college days that Manish realised the true potential of the films. "I felt this is a powerful medium. It gives us the liberty to showcase what we dream about, and helps us create a world of our own. That’s when my liking for cinema started, but still I wasn’t sure of making films. I didn’t have the money then. Only later in my life, when I felt that I was financially empowered, it came back with a buoyancy.”
Sometime in 2012 is when his dream of making a film seemed to turn into a reality when he responded to Rajat Kapoor’s tweet. Rajat had expressed his exasperation on not finding anyone to finance his film, Ankhon Dekhi. “When I responded to him, I was more concerned about the budget, because I knew I didn’t have a huge amount of money, to make anything I wanted. I wasn’t getting into filmmaking with a long-term plan. I just wanted to tick a box that I made a film.”
Like they say, destiny had other plans. Since Ankhon Dekhi, Manish has not looked back. But his first film did teach him a few lessons, "After we finished Ankhon Dekhi, the film was with us for a year before release. We didn't know what to do with it and how to go about it. After release too I faced financial loss despite the huge critical appreciation we received," he remembers.
Though Ankhon Dekhi remains Manish's most favourite film, the producer says, it also paved the way for a new system to be put in place. "I studied how independent films in India were being made and the fate they were facing. That's when this idea of putting a system in place came to my mind, where we would create a story, develop it, help to execute it into a film in the most cost-effective manner, work on a way to market it, and create a brand image - this would be the Drishyam model," he explains.
Since it's inception in March 2015, the Drishyam Films has produced eight films under its banner. The next two years will see six more films being produced which are already underway. "Three of the six films will be part of a trilogy on abortion, child rape and marital rape.
The other three films will have a feel good factor because that's what works in India," explains Manish who is clear that he would never make a Bollywood formula film. "Entertainment is important but we will never break into the masala Bollywood films genre. What is under our control is to deliver good cinema at a good cost and our focus will be on content,"says the saviour of indie films who is currently busy with promotions for the upcoming film Kadvi Hawa that releases in mid-November. The Sanjay Mishra-, Ranvir Shorey-starrer film explores climate change and its immediate impact.
Between all of this, the producer is also hopeful that Newton will make it to the top-five list at the Oscars, "We are very positive that we will enter the top five. It is easy to say that we will win, but as we go deeper into the system, we understand it is a long-drawn process and time is limited," says Manish, who in his own way is scripting a new era in modern Indian cinema.
Favourite filmmakers: Steven Spielberg, Rajkumar Hirani, Govind Nihalani, from the younger generation it is Neeraj Gehwan, Amit Masurkar, Atanu Mukherjee, Ashwini Iyer Tiwari
First film that I watched: Guide (starring Dev Anand and Waheed Rahman), it left a deep impact on my mind
Favourite actors: Pankaj Tripathi, Sanjay Mishra, Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Irrfan Khan, Nimrat Kaur, Richa Chaddha, Radhika Apte, Tillotama Shome, Tannishtha Chatterjee, Rajkummar Rao, Amit Sadh
My favourite Drishyam films: Ankhon Dekhi, Masaan, Newton, Rukh and Dhanak