Manav Kaul believes in thinking out-of-the-box, be it while facing the camera or directing a play.
Manav Kaul is unarguably one of the amongst our finest Hindi theatre directors and playwrights we have today. He founded a theatre group called Aranya in 2004 and soon became the darling of the theatre circuit with highly successful plays such as ‘Ilhaam,’ ‘Park,’ ‘Shakkar ke Paanch Daane’ and the more recent ‘Colour Blind’. At present, . Currently Kaul is enjoying his foray into films – he played Bitto mama in ‘Kai Po Che’ and is seen in National Award winner Hansal Mehta's just next released ‘CityLights’, an official adaptation of ‘Metro Manila’, Britain's entry to the Oscars this year.
Manav Kaul talks about theatre, cinema and more in this interview. Excerpts:
How do you assess the present Hindi theatre scene in the country, in general, and Mumbai, in particular?
One good thing about theatre in India right now is that the youth are actively engaging in it. They are taking it up as a profession, which is something that had been missing for a while. And wherever there is participation from the youth, there is experimentation. But you know that experimenting doesn't always translate into excellence. Many of them don't have the experience, and their work lacks maturity or sometimes, fails to reach its potential. Rarely do I see someone interpreting a script powerfully, using unique devices. What happens then is that the original vision of the script suffers. Of course, with time and more awareness, I'm sure things will evolve to some degree.
What about English theatre?
As far as English theatre goes, there are some like Atul Kumar and Abhishek Majumdar who are doing interesting work. My pet peeve with English theatre as it stands today is that there is a lot of baggage of Western theatre forms, both in writing and rendition. I am yet to come across an Indian playwright who writes in English, but has created a unique idiom.
We have achieved this to some extent in literature - some authors have managed to make the English language their own. I don't see that in Indian playwrights who write in English. Their subjects and concerns are Indian, but their tone - almost always - remains borrowed. The same goes for actors in English plays. There are heavy Western influences in dialogue delivery and body language. It doesn't seem effortless. So, you could be telling a story that is deeply rooted in this country but the storytelling is not. It’s tricky though not easy.
Tell us a bit about ‘Colour Blind’, your latest play. Kalki Koechlin and Swanand Kirkire are acting in it. Is casting Hindi film actors in a play in vogue now?
‘Colour Blind’ primarily revolves round Rabindranath Tagore, his relationship with the Argentine scholar Victoria Ocampo and his fascination with Death, both in his life and works.
I have tried to explore a more human side of him. It was an intense process of research and debate. Most of my actors spent months going through his works. As far as casting goes, whether it's my films or plays, I never cast anyone for commercial reasons.
Either the actor works for my story or he doesn't. In this case, I needed someone who did not look Indian, spoke some Spanish and was willing to go through the gruelling research process. Kalki was all of these and more. I don't care about what is in vogue. It is totally irrelevant to me. (‘Colour Blind’ will come to Chennai this August.)
Would you say that the Hindi film industry has been rather uncharitable towards theatre actors by offering them only supporting roles?
Earlier, films were pitched as either commercial or art house, also referred to as parallel cinema, which by definition meant these were films on the edge, the peripheries of the industry. And yes, the more ‘commercial’ ones used stage actors in bit parts. But now there has been a paradigm shift and what was ‘parallel’ earlier, is mainstream now.
Today's filmmakers have grown up on a diet of both and somehow cracked a way to make money off realistic, intelligent cinema. So, we have real stories playing out on screen and people are flocking to the theatres to watch them. This automatically calls for real faces, and actors who are not alienated from day to day life.
The glamour and opulence that was once expected of cinema, is now regularly provided by television. Stars are much more accessible, international cinema and music have now reached almost everyone, and then there is the Internet. So, people are not really starved of ‘entertainment’ or glamour. They now come to watch films only when the story excites them, and nothing excites viewers more than their own lives, their own turmoil. Theatre actors are rooted in these stories. They learn early on how to become a character without amplifying themselves. This craft is what makes someone like Nawazuddin Siddique click. It all boils down to how good you are at your job. If an actor connects, he or she will stay. Otherwise, irrespective of whether you come from theatre or a gym, you won't.
And now about cinema… How did ‘Citylights’ happen? What are you playing in the film?
Hansal Mehta, the director of ‘Citylights,’ saw and liked my performance in ‘Kai Po Che’. He got in touch with me for this film. In ‘CityLights,’ I play Vishnu, the protagonist’s (Rajkumar Rao) boss at a security agency.
Hansal Mehta is committed to a certain socialist cinema. As an actor, director and playwright, do you share his concerns?
Absolutely. His cinematic style and aesthetics are completely in sync with the kind of work I have grown to admire. I was blown away by ‘Shahid.’ It was almost like I wanted to be part of the film! Hansal has strong socio-political concerns, ones which he powerfully adapts into his narratives. He has recreated this magic with ‘CityLights’. You can see his understanding of these people come through in the most humane way possible. I share his views - not only as an artist but also as an individual.
You are a director yourself. Do you have to restrain the director in you while acting in other projects?
Now, after a couple of films, the actor seems to have taken over my directorial instincts. When I'm directing - whether it is a play or a film - there is a certain kind of behaviour I like in my actors. While being directed, I try to behave like an actor I would like to have on my set. This approach seems to have worked so far. Having said that, I am yet to work with a director who isn't on the same wavelength as me.
Did ‘Kai Po Che’ get you noticed? Why did it take so long to do another film? Would you act in a regional film if you liked the script?
I got some recognition from that film, yes. Commercial success always helps. After ‘Kai Po Che’, I got busy with scripting and shooting my second film.
There were also a couple of theatre projects I was working on. There had been a few scripts along the way, but nothing substantial. Right now my focus is on acting, I am considering a few exciting projects, so something should come out of those. I think regional cinema is where some of the country's best work happens. I strongly feel the future of Indian cinema lies with these film makers. If I ever get an opportunity to work with them, I most definitely will.
What are your next projects in film and theatre?
I shot my second film ‘Tathagat’ as writer/director last year, for which post-production is currently under way. My next film as an actor is a retelling of ‘Albert Pinto Ko Gussa Kyun Aata Hain,’ written and directed by Soumitra Ranade, with Nandita Das and Saurabh Shukla. We've just wrapped up shoot on that one. It should be out by end of this year. As far as theatre is concerned, I am currently directing ‘Hamlet.’ I am reading, researching... I hope to open it in May of 2015.