ZIYA US SALAM

A year after "Tango Charlie", Mani Shanker is busy wrapping up "Mukhbir", a rare foray into the meeting between the underworld and the spies.

This film is not about the underworld at all. Mani Shanker

He burnt his fingers with "Tango Charlie" last year. A rare anti-war film, it ran into controversy because Mani Shanker made the elementary mistake of showing Bodos in Manipur! Enlightened cinemagoers were less than amused. And Mani admits his film drew at best mixed response at the box office. Now, he has learnt his lesson.Having just launched his new film, "Mukhbir" recently, Mani this time has decided not to take any chances. A long research went into the pre-production work of the film, including the title. A little bit of an off-beat name in today's age when the youngsters often do not understand the difference between jaleel and zaleel, Mani has done his homework. "We had a sample test run of the title. In North India most of the cinemagoers are familiar with the word. The name is apt for the film. When you watch it you would realise that it could not have been better. In any case, a film has to have promos too. So that would help," says the director now busy wrapping up the shooting in Hyderabad. Incidentally, the shooting will be over by July-end. For the release though, cinemagoers will have to wait till August this year."Mukhbir", which tells the story of espionage meeting the underworld, is claimed to be a true story. "I met several top officials of Intelligence, police. They shared non-classified information with me. Ninety five per cent of intelligence is gathered by stray informers, mostly young boys who faced grave risks in the whole exercise."

Chance meeting

It was one such chance meeting with a `mukhbir' (spy) in the mid-1990s that set Mani on the trail of this film. "In 1996, I was shooting for a music video with renegade militants of the Hizbul Mujhadeen when I came across a young boy who was ostensibly working for the militants but actually an informer for our forces. He used to go to Pakistan also, do the riskiest of jobs. A couple of years later when I went there he was not there. Young boys are the best for this job because they are innocent, patriotic. They often have nothing to lose."Mani used this incident as a peg for his film which stars Sameer Dattani in the lead role with Jackie Shroff, Sunil Shetty, Om Puri and Sushant Singh in important roles. But there is no name to draw the audience to the first day, first show? "Yes, but If I were to work with big stars, I would have had to make other compromises. When you go to make a full-length feature film, you have to follow your values, your insight. If you don't do that, it becomes a dry run. I might as well make a film for a toothpaste or a talcum powder." Incidentally, Mani has done that too!So, what is "Mukhbir" all about?The passionate poet in Mani comes out as he starts talking of his favourite baby. "`Mukhbir' is an untold story of the espionage meeting the underworld. It talks of the kind of risks a mukhbir has to take in his job."But how different can it be in this age when almost every other film from the Hindi film industry talks of a bhai in Dubai or Singapore, and henchmen in Mumbai? "Well, this film is not about the underworld at all. It has a lot of depth and emotion and a feel that is quite different from the usual Hindi film." But there is one constant which cinemagoers shall not miss in this film either: remember he gave us that Sanjay Dutt-Bipasha Basu screamer in "Rudraksha" that got the crowds in for the initial run. "There is a sensual number here too. It is kind of mandatory these days," Mani concedes.

Unconventional themes

Fair enough. But aren't all Mani Shanker films different, beginning with the name?"Yes. They are unconventional in name, unconventional in treatment. For instance, `Tango Charlie' was an anti-war film at a time when war films were in." And earlier he gave us "16 December" that starred Danny with Milind Soman and Dipannita Sharma. "Who would make a film like `16 December'?" he asks, in a half self-congratulatory exercise.Then he does a bit more of chest thumping. "My film has a tight storyline. It does not have a very big budget. It is an honest film made from the heart."Well, come August and we will know if Mani Shanker's film is as good as his claims. Or his affable manners. Articulate, straightforward, confident. Mani Shanker has all these attributes. Now, if he were to transmit them to his new film too!