In a world where we often bump into people doing the same thing and being stuck in the same rut of life; one is always on the lookout for something afresh and to collect experiences that aren’t stale. Isn’t the very idea of being an entrepreneur nowadays no matter how cash-heavy and cool it sounds in social media a bit too common? Everyone is minting money as they say and while there’s absolutely no harm in that aren’t our enterprising ways mostly limited to the outlook for amassing wealth as we lower our surge toward creativity? Sooner or later, in an attempt to create a non-linear career trajectory, people often morph their potential and deduce their intelligent brains into being this cash-cow that can be milked for rewards toward say, F&B, Technology start ups, Law, Management or something hitherto less explored!
But, often to break away from the mundane and to live up to their potential, there are some who take the path less taken. Not all read books that weigh heavier than dumbbells. Not everyone aspires to read medicine or study architecture or, belch their own marketing gimmicks at the pretext of changing the contours of capitalism whilst turning boring sales pitches into ‘executionable’ marketing campaigns.
In a world where non-conformity to conformity is the trend amidst plastic emotions and corporate attired executives that are threatening to make our lives insular, meeting a film-maker or theatre-“walla” beautifully opens our thoughts to a larger world that exists out there. Implicit in the mind of someone who’s associated with the world of movies is a refined depth that partakes in brainstorming and color canvassing the mind with a million plus ideas that explore life.
To emote and convey rather than frivolously ‘appealing’ to the fancy of the audience that comes with an ever hungry palate to consume movies instead of decoding the world of cinema, lies the true art form of a seasoned film-maker and must I confess, I was fortunate to meet someone like this.
In a Delhi forever grappling between steaming hot food courts and roads stifled with luxury cars promising to not pollute, meeting theater actor, director and producer Munish Bhardwaj was not just hugely refreshing but it sort of lifted my spirits at having found a simple and sincere soul amidst a bit over the top Delhi who gave me new insights about movies and Theatre and told me how love for cinema even beyond our geography inspires new thinking.
Munish, an ever smiling lad is as simple as he is deeply passionate about making movies. Having been associated with theatre right from his college days where at prestigious SRCC, he didn’t just master academics and refrained from showing off his excellent academic grades unlike the rest of the youngsters complexed by ever demanding parents (have you watched 3 idiots yet), he saw in movies a calling for his life. While on the theatre stage he immerses himself in the depth of candid expressions, behind the grueling directorial seat, he engulfs in loads of creative challenges which he artfully navigates to make poignant cinema.
He told me about the much loved 2013 film Aankhon Dekhi which he Executive- Produced, a critically acclaimed intelligent tale about a man who chooses to see life differently from the lens of his own experience, rather than resorting to established and orderly views. Starring Sanjai Mishra and Rajat Kapoor, the film captured several international awards and is best remembered for spinning a thinking, moving tale as our worlds still continue to be shrouded with “over the top” brand of cinema. Munish has directed and acted in several plays in tandem with a popular coterie of intelligent and thinking actors such as Rajat Kapoor, Konkana Sen Sharma, Vinay Pathak and Ranveer Shorey whose acting has been not just reassuringly pleasant but possesses the gravitas that best belongs to cinema which gives us something to ponder about in front of the heavy-duty commercial cinema we are so used to seeing.
Here’s an extract from our Q&A for What’s Up life
I am glad to chat with you. Tell us first up, were you always into film-making ?
Before film making, theatre happened to me. I had just joined SRCC in ’87 and there was a huge All India University Teachers Union strike which lasted for about 3 months then. It was literally a party for us students. Just out of School, college freedom and to top it, no classes to attend. A senior of mine who was also a very close friend asked me if I wanted to do some theatre. I had done a lot of school level skits and plays and I considered myself to be a good actor. He introduced me at Atul Kumar who was an acting ace. I mention him because if it were not for him, I wonder where my life would have led me.
He introduced me to a theatre group called Chingari which I joined in1988. I was a part of a festival of 3 plays, two by French playwright Jean Paul Sartre and Jean Cocteau and the third by Girish Karnad. Karnad’s play, which was translated into French. I have to confess that I had no understanding of any of these plays. The first thing that I realized when I joined the theatre group was that I was not a good actor. I got small parts in these plays but the journey on this path had well and truly begun.
I met Rajat Kapoor in 1987 (also a part of Chingari), who told me about the Film and Television Institute of India. I had no idea that it existed. My exposure to cinema was abysmal. I had grown up on a diet of Amitabh Bachchan and Vinod Khanna.
I attended a film appreciation course conducted by National Film Archives Pune in 1990 and I remember watching a film called Sant Tukaram . A 1936 B/W Marathi film by Fatehlal and Damle. It blew my mind. Some days later I saw Ray’s Pather Panchali followed by Chaplin’s Gold Rush. And then Fellini’s 8 and a 1/2 was shown. I knew it then that I want to be in that world. I applied at FTII the following year and thankfully, I got selected.
What is your fundamental strength and focus area in movies?
I started out as an assistant director. I worked on Rajat Kapoor’s first feature film as an assistant. Then I assisted Kumar Shahani in Char Adhyay. These were small budget films. An assistant had to do everything. So basically we were from spot boys to chief ADs. And we had to be efficient with the meager resources. That in fact was an excellent training ground. On the one hand, we were sitting on script sessions, auditions and design meetings, and on the other we were running around for permissions and arranging food and stuff. All of this skilful and whole lot of work gave me a chance to learn. Today, I can say that I am very comfortable as a Producer but I thoroughly enjoy writing and directing.
Tell us something about your time before you ventured into this creative line.
The only other very strong memories that I have are from school. My close friends who are still my closest friends gave me a life full of beautiful memories where Cricket was a common love and a bond, truth be told. Being in the school team was a high. I managed to be a part of the team from the 9th standard onward. Ours was a boys school so there are no girl meets boy stories to tell. We were a group of 4 very close friends who to this day continue to be as close as we were then. Even 30 years later. In fact, two of them are Co-producers of my First Feature film which should be ready for release by the end of this year.
Any role models and inspirations that you’d like to share?
My idea of a role model has less to do with the idea of being “star-struck” and more to do with someone who shapes your thinking and asks you to look within and re-form yourself. I have people who are very dear friends for whom I have immense respect. Mani Kaul was definitely a role model for me and continues to be so.
Rajat Kapoor, on other occasions. I have learnt so much from him. Atul Kumar holds a special place in my heart. He is one of the most talented stage actor that I have ever come across. My ex father in law was the Chief of Air Force. He was a role model for me at times. My brother who I lost tragically in 2005 is a constant role model for me. He is one of the funniest and easily the most compassionate soul I have ever known. He had this amazing ability to love everybody. And unconditionally so.
I miss him the most. I lost my father at a very young age, and then to lose him when he was 37 (I was 36) was the biggest blow I have ever faced. I try and be like him all the time.
Munish, I must say you are a brave soul and despite facing such a huge personal loss, I must say you’ve only emerged stronger. I feel both sadness and meeting people from different walks of life shapes vivid experiences. Speaking of experiences, tell me what is your take on today’s cinema. Do you feel that commercial films still overpower what one has got used to calling art house or parallel or perhaps subject driven cinema?
Well, all I can say is that life constantly throws at us a set of things to learn and even un-learn from. But to speak of contemporary cinema I would think the more people say things have changed, the more I think they remain the same. More or Less. We have made ridiculous films for decades now and even then there have been films which have made a lot of money but they have been ridiculous films. That is not going to change. But, at the same time we have made a few good films for decades as well. Films which are brilliant but made no money. Even that is not going to change. It’s true that it looks like that a separate space is being created for a different kind of cinema which is not the regular mainstream Indian cinema. But, that is an illusion. None of those films make money. Ankhon Dekhi did not even if it was loved so much. I doubt if films like Masaan or Killa or even Court made huge profits. The point that I am trying to make is that it will always be a struggle for Independent cinema. To make films and then to release them.
What are your future projects that you feel you can share now?
At the moment I am finishing my first feature film as a Writer Director. It’s titled “Moh Maya Money”. The film is the first venture of the Production House that I and a few friends have started by the name of Delhi Talkies. Moh Maya Money was shot in February and March this year. Ranvir Shorey and Neha Dhupia play the lead in the film. It’s a small independent film. Presently Resul Pookutty is designing the sound of the film and a wonderful Musician from Norway Tuomas Kantelinen is composing the music. It should be ready by the end of November.
I am also planning our next Feature Film as a producer and we have identified the script that we want to Produce. In addition we are also going to shoot our first web series soon. The idea from here on s to do 2 films a year for the next five years and then take a stock of where we are. The one thing we are sure of is that we want to do certain kind of cinema and keep the projects within a certain budget. We have stared well. Let’s see where we reach!
What was the most interesting thing about making Aakhon Dekhi?
Rajat Kapoor is a very very dear friend and we have worked together in many projects since 1989. I was his assistant director in his first feature film. I have acted in 2 plays that he has directed. We have acted together in a Atul Kumar directed play. So yes the friendship goes back a long long way. So when Rajat was going to shoot a feature film is Delhi, it was obvious that I will be a part of the project. It was the first time I was Executive Producer of a project. The entire film was shot in Old Delhi (except the last sequence of course). I sourced all the locations. That I would say was my main contribution to the film. Of course Meenal, the production designer, did wonders with all those spaces. Ankhon Dekhi was an ace team.
Rafe the cameraman in my opinion is one of the finest in this country. Sanjay Mishra is undoubtedly an exceptional talent. Seema Bhargav Pahwa too. Working in that project was like being in a festival of fabulous talent. And so much fun.
Was there a time in your life where you thought you wouldn’t make it so far in your line of work?
I deal with difficulties by telling myself just one thing daily. This too shall pass. And it does. Each time. The cycle continues.
Name your favorite movies please.
I think if I have to name the one film that I have seen in the last 10 years and that has stayed with me, I will name Cohen Brothers’ Inside Llewyn Davis. And if I have to name my all time favourite, I would kindly ask permission to name 2 and I will name Pickpocket by Robert Bresson and ‘8 And Half’ by Fellini.