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Mani Shankar

Interview

Engineer from BITS to award winning director, it’s been a hell of a journey for director Mani Shankar. He’s made some visually thrilling movies and touched on a variety of social issues. And he’s worked with some of the biggest stars in the industry. He talks to Vijay Narayan about life, work and films in general.

Q- After pursuing an engineering degree, what inspired you to shift to directing movies
A- I was bored sick of engineering. Doing the same old dumb thing day after day. In fact most of our batch changed their career profiles and ended up doing something else. 
Besides the idea of getting stuck in a smelly factory for the rest of my life was unendurable.
When I got a chance to shift, I moved into advertising as a copy writer. Never looked back.

Q- What kind of requirements does one need  to  fulfill to pursue a career in film direction?
A- Being born in the Raj Kapoor family really helps. Otherwise its a grind all the way. You need a clutch of skills- imagination, narration, eloquence, charm- and loads of luck. Or else you need to know how to kiss a producers ass in a unique way - better than anyone else. Thank God I entered the field as a producer- investing my own money and taking the risk. I could never have made it as a director otherwise.
16 December movie director Mani Shankar
Q- Any particular genre of movies that you have always wanted to direct?
A- I started with crime thrillers, moved on to anti war films, did a mythological sci-fi, then did a realistic gritty genre, then a slick thriller, and now i will do a romantic comedy and also a gritty hard hitter. Any genre that i fancy at the moment i will do. No fixed preferences. Everything is good fun.

Q- What kind of difficulties did you face while trying to become a director?
A- I knew nothing about direction, so had to learn on the fly while pretending to know it at the same time. It wasnt’ tough, because one thing we learn well in BITS is to bullshit your way through a situation. So i guess that really helped. A director sits on top of the food chain, so to speak. There are always people ready to pull him down, suck up to him, flatter him, slash him, admire him, criticize him, want to sleep with him. You got to learn to be thick skinned and do the right thing always, following your conscience, never stooping, never worrying about consequences.  If you succumb to the shit you will eventually drown in it. So beware.

Q- Which movie, in your opinion, is your best work till date?
A- Knockout.

Q- Which actors/actresses have you enjoyed working with the most?
A- Sanjay Dutt and Ajay Devgan, and of course, Irrfan and Kangana- they are real sweethearts- great talent, great attitude.

Q- What, in your opinion, does Indian cinema really need to make ground breaking movies eg. Inception, Black Swan et al?
A- Indian film producers are like bulls without balls. They snort a lot, stamp about and raise dust but are unable to perform- the critical task of actually funding a daring innovative film. They need to take some testosterone injections and graft back their balls if we have to make great films like Inception. Basically its  all about courage and conviction- both of which  producers lack.

Knock Out movie starring Sanjay DuttQ-How difficult is it to balance a personal life with so much work? 
A- When you really enjoy what you do, its no longer work- its a part of your personal life. So actually i have been on an extended vacation from the last two and a half decades.

Q- What was your first movie making experience like?
A-  I threw the rule book out. I woke up on the first day of shoot and kicked butt all day long- doing exactly as I liked. And guess what- it was terrfic! I changed the script a few times as we went along-and that was great too


Q- There’s been such a lot of talk about Anna Hazare and corruption and how he inspired people....do you think movies could do that too?
A - Public issues have a limited value in commercial cinema. The problem with india is not that the leaders are corrupt. It’s that we are corrupt as a race.  And we really dont care. So any film purely on a social issue will end in disaster. Ask yourself- would you rather see Katrina rubbing herself on a pole showing off her cleavage or see a ponderous film on corruption? 

Q. Any last words?
A. Follow your heart. You got just one life. Dont fuck it up with greed and overplanning.
Kids these days tend to plan too much. The essential quality of life is that it is unpredictable. Flow with the unpredictablity, enjoy the scenery. There isnt any goal as such to life. There is only the journey. Learn to enjoy the journey.

 

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