Though his first film released in 2003, Manav Kaul was not very active in films until ‘Kai Po Che’ happened. Today, apart from doing theatre, he is active in films and is doing a lot of interesting work in the digital space. In between all this, he makes it a point to travel extensively. In this interview, he talks about his recent releases, taking a break from films for twelve years, why web excites him more than films, his next directorial feature, love for travelling and upcoming projects.
‘Albert Pinto Ko Gussa Kyun Aata Hai’ released in theatres 12 April, 2019. A week later, ‘Music Teacher’ started streaming on Netflix. Do you think you have finally arrived in Bollywood?
(Laughs) I was shooting in Bangkok, so I did not have much idea about what was happening back here in India. But yes, I was getting a lot of messages on social media and I was responding to them. There are certain scripts you believe in and you want to be a part of the films even when you are not making a lot of money out of it. It was very reassuring to see that both the films turned out to be what I had expected them to be. ‘Music Teacher’ released on Netflix and hence, people from 190 countries could watch it. I have got messages from people in countries like Italy and North America telling me how much they loved the film. Streaming platforms like Netflix have enabled us to be a part of a universal setup which was not the case earlier.
The role in ‘Music Teacher’ was written with Nawazuddin Siddiqui in mind. When were you approached for it?
I had read this script 3-4 years back when Nawaz and Freida Pinto were supposed to do it. When I met Sarthak (Dasgupta) for another film, I told him that whenever he wants to make ‘Music Teacher’, he must ask me to audition for it. There was no need for any major change in the script. Yes, the setting was changed from Kolkata from Himachal Pradesh but that was because we had to shoot at a lower budget. It actually turned out to be a blessing for us as the visuals were looking stunning because of the mountains.
I remember seeing you in ‘Jajantram Mamantram’ in 2003. After that, you did a few films sporadically until ‘Kai Po Che’ happened. Why?
I had taken a break from films for almost twelve years. I wanted to do quality work and the kind of roles I was getting offered in films did not excite me. I had to go through many difficult times but I never thought of it as struggle. I was writing, directing and acting in plays. I used to travel as much as I could with whatever money I saved. I just wanted to do something that satisfied me as an artiste. I have a theatre group called Aranya and we do shows quite regularly. I was never waiting for any big opportunity to come my way but I am just happy that films like ‘Kai Po Che’, ‘Tumhari Sulu’ fell into my lap and I got to be a part of this medium again. Since the last couple of years, I have been getting good offers consistently. As an actor, you have to prove yourself with each and every film. You are as good as your last work. You have to constantly surprise the audience.
During your struggling phase, there was this one instance when the police arrived at your door and asked you to come to the police station.
Yes, five of us used to live together in Dahisar, a suburb in Mumbai. The Gulshan Kumar murder had just happened and the police was on high alert. The police was moving around in different areas and interrogating people. I had just arrived in Mumbai and I got very nervous when this incident happened. After that, several other bizarre experiences happened and all of them played a role in shaping me up as an individual. I came from a lower middle class background and had to fend for myself in Mumbai. The tough times only made me tougher.
You have written a couple of books in Hindi. Do you think, in today’s times, we are losing touch with our mother tongue or the other regional languages in our country?
At the pace at which the world is moving, some things are bound to change. Earlier, I used to think that young people are not reading anymore. But, when I started visiting different cities and interacting with people, I realised a lot of them had read my books and they would discuss the stories I had written with me. Languages will keep evolving and take up different forms. For instance, Sanskrit was a very complex language. A lot of people found it difficult to converse in it, so they use a more simplified form on the language today.
You have directed a film called ‘Hansa’. Do you plan to direct another film soon?
I have made another film called ‘Kathaagat’. Just like ‘Hansa’, it is a small, independent film. The shoot is complete and we have been trying to find people who can help us out with the post-production process.
An actor told me that he is not happy with films releasing on digital streaming platforms. What are your thoughts on this?
I think the opposite. Today, I find the digital space more exciting than films. I discovered the work of all the great filmmakers on television or DVD. Now, because of streaming platforms it has become much easier for people to watch world cinema. I liked watching ‘Music Teacher’ on my laptop. I do not like going to theatres very often because there are so many people and there is so much distraction. Then, there are so many ads. When you are watching a film at home, you can watch it peacefully without anybody disturbing you. After ‘Music Teacher’ started streaming on Netflix, every morning I would spend at least fifteen minutes thanking people who sent me all those wonderful messages on social media. Now, people all over the world are able to see your work. These are great times and I have never been so excited as an actor.
What are you doing next?
I am doing a web series for Amazon Prime Video. I recently shot for it in Bangkok. I cannot share much about it at the moment but it is one of the biggest shows to be made on web. I finished shooting for another show called ‘The Verdict’ for Alt Balaji a while back. It should start streaming on Alt Balaji within a couple of months. I plan to travel to a few more countries this year. My biggest goal in life is to travel. Nothing makes me more happy than travelling.