Manjunath Shanmugam was only 27 when he was shot dead on an evening of November 2005 in Lakhimpur. Graduated from IIM Lucknow, instead of joining a private company looking for a good salary, the young man accepted a job at the Indian Oil Corporation, a duty that he carried on with a sense of responsibility and honesty, two rare qualities that led his life to a tragic end. Sandeep A. Varma, director of a film on Manjunath, releasing this week, shares his opinion of the young man and his story.
Why did you decide to tell the story of Manjunath?
I am mainly working in the advertisement field, but it does not mean that I am not interested in stories with a deep meaning. I was impressed by the sense of justice spreading from the life of Manjunath, a young man that had the courage to be active against dishonesty. What, however, surprised me even more was to see how the life of this boy had not ended with his death: many people who had not even known him personally struggled to obtain justice. This story is beyond the characters, it is the story of the frustration of the people, unable to live in a clean and transparent society.
Usually IIM graduates choose to work for private companies instead of working for government institutions, but not Manjunath. What do you think lies behind this choice?
It is all about the sense of responsibility. His choice was, probably, the reflection of his way of interpreting his high level of education. He freely chose to work in the public sector because he wanted to use his skills to work with and for his people to give his contribution to the construction of a better society.
The feeling of using our job and our skills to empower our people is something that is not taught in schools; it must be something that came from the heart of Manjunath.
The mafia is represented in many ways in Indian cinema, sometimes as a charming thing. How is the mafia depicted in your movie?
The mafia did not have a spectacular role in the shooting. I had the aim of considering the issue from another point of view. Manjunath was shot to death by people he personally knew, people he had been speaking and working with. As in most of the real cases, there is no place for spectacular gangsters but only for very real people rendered blind by the dynamics of corruption.
Do you think that cinema, when it comes to corruption and criminality, can also be an instrument of education?
Of course cinema is one of the most powerful media, but I would not shoot traditional educational movies. Messages can be spread in other ways. I think that nowadays, especially in India, we need to change the role of creative people. We cannot keep working only with fiction. We should be more sensitive. A creative person lives in a real environment, where things happen and he should not ignore this but use his heart and his brain to talk about it. I see the devastating role of corruption in society and I have always dreamt to be like Manjunath, but I did not have the courage and, as a creative person I decided that this movie could have been my way to spread a message.
Since you have been shooting in the same areas where the event took place, did you face any safety problems?
I had some bad experiences during the inspections, the reason why we decided to keep secret what we were really doing to protect ourselves. We planned to keep silent with the media and say to all curious people that we were shooting a pop love story. Not even the whole crew knew exactly what we were shooting. This choice had also some funny aspects. I remember a man who was giving us his place for the shooting coming up to me and complaining against pop movies and their directors, telling me that, instead of a love story, I should tell the story of Manjunath.