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Interview with Mani Shankar by Jeevi

Date: 22nd March 2002 Venue: Taj Krishna, Hyd
Other Interviews
Dipannita Sharma (Heroine)
Milind Soman (Male Super Model)
Arunima Roy (Producer)
Vijaya Bhaskar (Director)
Sirivennela Seeta Rama Sastry (Lyric Writer)
D Suresh Babu (Producer)
Mahesh Babu (Hero)
Lisa Ray (Heroine)
Sravanthi Ravi Kishore (Producer)
RP Patnaik (Music Director)
Smita (Telugu pop singer)
Shyam (Producer)
Karunakaran (Director)
Sri (Music Director)
Gudipoodi Srihari(Film Critic)
SJ Surya(Director)
AM Ratnam(Producer)
Tammareddy Bharadwaja(Producer n Director)
Jayant C Paranji(Director)
Kodi Rama Krishna(Director)
Chakri (JD Chakravarthy)(Hero)
Ramana Gogula(Music Director)
Naga Babu(Producer n Actor)

Meeting Mani Shankar, the director the latest Hindi flick '16 December' is like meeting a 16 years senior to me from BITS Pilani, who has done the same discipline of BE (Hons.) Chemical Engineering is a different experience all together. Jeevi, on behalf of, interviewed Mani Shankar at Taj Krishna on 22nd March on the eve of the release of the different film '16 December'. Here are the excepts of the interview (audio version coming soon)……


Tell us about your background

I am a chemical engineer from BITS, Pilani and graduated in 1978. I worked as an engineer and then shifted into ad line. I worked as a copy righter, creative director, and started making films for TV, corporate films, ad films, catalogues and then moved on to doing music videos and then set up a postproduction house. We have full-fledged special effects and Graphics Company in Hyderabad. Now I am in to making feature films.

You are an alumnus of BITS Pilani. Can you tell us how studying there helped in your career?

To a fellow BITSian what can I explain? BITS has got an educational system that makes you competent to do anything. In fact they train you to do any thing. See the kind of courses we do. We do them in Sanskrit, English, Engineering, Science, Management and Pharmacy. So it gives you a chance to expose in different branches of knowledge. Essentially what BITS Pilani teaches you is the confidence. Even if you don't know it, you can always get to know it. It teaches you that nothing is above you. Nothing is too big or too small for you. For example, when I went into film making, it has no relevance to the chemical engineering I have done. But it gave me the confidence to venture in to new fields. Engineering teaches you that whole is equal to sum of the parts. It teaches you the systems approach, which means that all the complicated things when broken up ultimately become simple things. So when you understand the simplicity, then you can also understand the complexity.

Were you interested in films since childhood?

I was more interested in creative writing. That was the real creative thing that moved me. When I enter into performing arts (basically television), I realized that all the creativity has the same source. It's the aptitude that makes you different. So I developed an aptitude for filmmaking.

How an ad is made?

I an ad making, you have a brief, script and storyboard. Usually the client gives the script. It's like coming to a constructor with an architect's blueprint and asking him to make the building. Some times, we create our own scripts. But you must understand that in advertising, you are selling a product or service. So there is a commercial element right there from the first frame, which is a manipulative element. At the end of the ad, you have to convince the viewer to use the product or to use the service. So the creativity gets restricted for commercial elements. But in filmmaking, that restriction does not apply. In a film, you have the freedom to express yourself. There is greater freedom of expression. There is a greater opportunity to express your creativity.

Is '16 December' the first feature film made by you?

In Hindi, yes! In 1991 I made a Telugu film titled 'Manishi' starring Subhalekha Sudhakar and Tulasi, which won me the Golden Nandi award by the state Government of AP. I also got two more Nandi awards in the form of 'best director' and 'best screenplay writer' for the same film.

Then why did you stay away from movie direction for 10 years?

I did not stay away from movie direction. Life just happens to you. I was trying to make feature films. But I was not in a position to make eye-to-eye anybody in the local area. I tried talking to lots of producers, directors and heroes in Telugu film industry. But nobody was interested in me.

At one point of time, you were announced as a director for Nagarjuna's film?

Few years down the line, Nagarjuna and I got together and he really appreciated my script. Then I developed the script for a major Hindi film. Unfortunately, there were differences of opinions with the producers. That's why I discontinued the project.

How did '16 December' happened?

'16 December' happened because iDream Productions and Bhairav films, which is my banner, got together one fine moment in Bombay. IDream productions has given the energy and scope to create a feature film which is based on what we were all thinking as brand new frontiers of filmmaking. It's very important thing what I am telling you. Here you have a filmmaker, who has the vision and who are capable of making film, but does not have funds necessary to do such a film and does not have enough funds to push into the market. And there is a production house in Bombay, which has the necessary funds and which is looking for a similar kind of script, which is completely departure from regular films. So it's a meeting of two minds because we both understood that this stale period in Hindi commercial cinema has to end at some point of time. Basically it's a conviction born out of courage. We are taking a bold risk. But, today facts are in our favor. We made a good film and public is appreciating it.

How different is the film '16 December'?

'16 December' is a story centric film where as in Bollywood we have Hero centric films. Hero centric films are not films. They are called business proposals. In a business proposal, a hero dates are obtained. A star director is there. A couple of stars are brought together. Immediately, the business is done on the table and the film is sold to the distributors. There afterwards, they think of the story. When they think of the story, the hero wants his heroism to be maintained through out the story. So the first four reels are devoted to show what a great fellow the hero is, how many girl friends he has, how many boy friends he has, how much comedy he has, what is the size of his biceps, what is the size of his triceps, this kind of nonsense. It goes on for 4 reels and the interval is coming in two reels away. Since interval is coming in two reels away, they create a story. Now a day, our heroes want to have two heroines and three heroines. And each girl should have her own song, her own costumes and her own makeup. Songs in Swizerlands, four action sequences and two emotional sequences! So ultimately what is happening is, it's a business proposal, which is aimed at lifting the image of that particular hero and make it a larger than life image. No body cares for the audience. Nobody bothers weather the audience liked it or not. At one point of time, audience liked that movie. But that audience is not there anymore in theaters today. That audience is gone 20 years back. The filmmaker does not understand this, which is why you see a string after string of flops. Somebody asked me are you not taking risk by making a film like '16 December', which is totally radical film. It's a commercial film, but radically different film. This film is entirely story centric. There is no hero, no heroine, no villain. There are only characters. I never treated my heroine also as a girl. She is just like hero only. Even the villain has human face. Hero has villainy face. You can see a shade of gray in everybody. It's a kind of film that shakes you. I tell them that its far greater risk to see two bollywood and three Hollywood movies in the video tape and make a sixth film, because the audience is sick of that. It's a far lesser risk in trying and doing a radically different film. I think the audience response says we did it right.

You films make reference to Pakistan. Did you take any precautions not to hurt the sensibilities of the people?

There is no question of sensibilities. There is question of misconception. Ever since 16 December 1971, when the Bangladesh war happened, the Pakistan was broke into two pieces as Pakistan and Bangladesh. From that day onwards, Pakistan has held India responsible for the break up of their country, which is not true. India has nothing to do with it. It's internal pressure, which broke the country into two pieces. There was a war and surrender was signed. So they blamed us so much so that even in the last year when the President Musharaf on leaving Agra, he made a statement that they have not forgotten 16 December 1971. It means they have viewed that as a day of defeat. They viewed 16 December 1971 as a day from which they should take revenge. They realized that they couldn't take on India in a conventional war anymore. They don't have the strength. That's how the idea of proxy war, cold war and the extremism to break India into two pieces either with Punjab or Kashmir to extract their revenge was born. So that date is historically important to the entire region. That's why we are focused on the date to bring the historical perspective to the film. But the film is about a clear and present danger that exists in the Indian society. The fact is that we are also so week and our political system is so corrupt that we have internal enemy so much that we are prone to be attacked from the outside and there is very little we can about it. That is the kind of theme we are having, which is geopolitically real and correct. On the top of it, we are making a feature film. So the interest on the film also lies on the fact that what ever you seen and you feel as an audience is true.

It's not just about the story of the 'Mogambo' who says 'Main India Ko Thod Doonga'. It's not the Mogambo we are talking about. It's the real enemy. The real enemy which can strike tomorrow.

What has inspired you to take this theme for this film?

The inspiration comes from the fact that you want to create a film, which has a power of realism. Also as a citizen of this country, I feel that there is not much nationalism in the real sense. For example, any number of Bollywood or Tollywood heroes is doing patriotic films by saying 'Mera Bharat Mahan' and they die in film taking 11 bullets. But, what do they do after that? They take black money from the producer and they fraud on the taxes. Then how does that make them a patriot? You take at the reality. Which hero is not taking black money today? Then how is he morally qualified to do a patriotic film? So, you see the whole structure is completely decadent and corrupt. It is got rotten from the roots onwards. The system has gone rotten.

And one of the things that inspired me to do this film is the Bombay blast, which happened a few years back when about 1500 people died in one day in Bombay city was not that the blast happened. It's a very lesser known fact that the RDX was smuggled off coastal Bombay and a customs inspector took a bribe of Rs 50,000/- (Rupee fifty thousand only) and allowed the RDX in. Now I ask you what is the price of destruction of Bombay. It's just fifty thousand bucks. So with friends like these why do you need enemies? At some point of time, some filmmaker has to say look the whole system. All these things could be prevented yesterday. But, look at today! Today, it's not possible. Today, cyber crime is there. Today, the enemy is far more powerful. Today, it is required that we should get our act together as a nation. We can't afford to be like what we were yesterday anymore. That is the point I am bringing in '16 December'.

Are you planning to show it to politicians?

Definitely, yes! We have gone through the censors and we have got a U/A certificate, which means the censor in their wisdom has seen and they have not cut even a single visual from the film even though the film goes on dangerous grounds. On the hard side of reality, you realize that the knife is penetrating in your own flesh as an audience. But still the censor said yes it has to go through. But it is not an indecent film, not a vulgar film, not a brutally violent film. There are sense and sensibilities that are maintained throughout so that ultimately it appeals to your heart.

What are your future productions?

There are no future productions as far as feature films are concerned as on date because we are so tired and completely drained out. We need some rest before thinking of anything else. But we are doing some other interesting products. You know that we have a production house. We are going to do a major project for World Bank, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and a series of ad films on health care. I am going to work towards that now.

Lots of visitors of have some serious plans of entering film direction. Do you have any tips for them?

Before you start directing a film, the important thing a person needs is passion. That is a desperate need to create a self-expression. It's like this. Let me explain it to you. Many years back, I was a student of Karate and later I became an instructor. We used to have lots of students coming in everyday, who had watched a Bruce Lee film the previous evening. They saw how Bruce Lee was doing and they said why don't we also learn Karate and they come to class. In three days time, they used to get beaten up so badly that they would pay three months fee and on the fourth day they would vanish.

Now, if you want to do direction like that then I wont advice to join films. It's a long, hard, and painful route. It's not easy. You have to be prepared to sacrifice. You have to be prepared to suffer. You have to be prepared to go through a agonizing internal self examination to know what you are worth, since every shot you take shows what you are worth over there. If your ideas are not good enough, you get ridiculed on the spot. You suffer defeat 100 times a day and you have to over come that. And there is no goal in sight. Victory is by no means assured. The journey is as important as the destination. If the journey should be more important than the destination, the destination is not to win an Oscar or to be a Spielberg. That will never happen. The whole journey is the process of going has to appeal to you. You should be prepared to suffer and enjoy that suffering. In that case, yes! Become a director. Otherwise no!

The film field has a huge glamour. Why do the morning shows go houseful? Who, in the world, can see the morning show? Can a student see a morning show? No! Can a professional see a morning show? No! Can a housewife see a morning show? No! Still they bunk schools, classes and work to and they go to see a morning show, which means that the film industry has a huge pull. That's why the industry is surviving, because there are so many people who want to see films. So it's quite natural for the people to want to get inside. But, Inside is not so rosy. The grass is always greener on the other side.

Interviewed by Jeevi
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