For years, Manish Mundra was a successful entrepreneur. He was far removed from the film industry but enjoyed watching cinema. An interesting turn of events led him towards producing his first film ‘Aankhon Dekhi’ which received widespread critical acclaim. Since then, he has produced several noteworthy films including ‘Masaan’, ‘Waiting’, ‘Rukh’, ‘Kadvi Hawa’, Har Kisse Ke Hisse: Kaamyaab’ and ‘Ramprasad Ki Tehrvi’, among others.
After empowering several filmmakers and backing their vision as a producer, Manish has now taken an important step in his journey as a filmmaker by turning director with ‘Siya’. The film deals with a very sensitive subject and features debutante Pooja Pandey in the titular role.
In this interview, he talks about the thought behind making ‘Siya’, the challenges he faced as a debutante director, what the society can do to bring down violent and criminal activities committed against women, what he plans to direct next and more.
In an interview, you described ‘Siya’ as a film that “deals with the hypocrisy behind crimes against women”. The film deals with the grave issue of rape and sexual harassment. What made you pick this particular subject for your first film as a director?
At Drishyam Films, we have strived to make films that are rooted in India and deal with the issues plaguing our country. This was an issue that deeply disturbed me and I always wanted to make a film on this subject. I had reached out to some writers to write something on this subject but I wasn’t very satisfied with the kind of material most people came up with. I took up the challenge to write a story on this subject myself. I wrote the screenplay along with Haider Rizvi and Samah.
It was a challenging subject and I wanted to define the subject and make the film in a manner I had envisioned it. The film deals with the issue of rape and it doesn’t have any cuss words or provocative scene. I didn’t want the film to have any element of sensationalism. I wanted to portray the human side of the story. My objective was to show what the victim and her family go through. The fight against injustice is very difficult and I wanted to portray it through this film.
Did you study real-life events while writing the script?
Yes, the film is an amalgamation of a bunch of incidents that I had read about.
The casting is quite interesting. While debutante Pooja Pandey plays the lead role, an important role is played by Vineet Kumar Singh who has done a lot of interesting work as an actor in the last few years.
Apart from Pooja, I knew that the rest of the actors would have secondary roles. Vineet is one of my favourite actors. I wanted him to play this particular role but was initially hesitant about approaching him as I felt it was not the kind of role that befitted an actor of his stature. After listening to the script, he was kind enough to say a yes. The character he plays had to have a certain stability to it and only somebody like Vineet could have done justice to it. Mukesh Chhabra is a dear friend of mine. I requested him to find somebody to play Siya. Pooja Pandey was one of the names he recommended her. When we auditioned her, we instantly knew that she was the right actor for this role.
With Vineet Kumar Singh, you had produced another film called ‘Aadhaar’. The film was shot a long time ago. What is the status on it?
‘Aadhaar’ is a very important film with a big heart. We collaborated with Jio Studios on the film. Drishyam Films was in charge of developing and producing the film. We delivered the film to Jio Studios after completing it. We also got the Censor certificate for the film. I am not sure what happened but perhaps, there has been some miscommunication and because of that, the film is stuck. Jio Studios should be able to answer why the film has not been released yet.
You became a film producer almost by chance. You have successfully produced many acclaimed films over the years. As a director, you don’t have any formal training. What did you do to prepare yourself to direct ‘Siya’?
I was attracted to cinema from a very young age and immensely enjoyed the experience of watching films. Despite not being a part of the film industry and working elsewhere, I ended up becoming a film producer. I started producing films because of my love and passion for cinema. While living abroad, I got exposed to world cinema. When I would produce a film, I would oversee the work happening in different departments. I would speak to the technicians, learn from them and also offer my insights. Producing multiple films and being a part of the different processes involved in them gave me the confidence to become a director. It is true that I don’t have a formal training in filmmaking. However, art is a vast subject and if your heart is in the right place, you can create something of value.
As a first-time director, which is the biggest challenge you faced?
The first challenge was to put together a good creative team. Sometimes, you get the wrong people on board and that results in the film going down. I was quite nervous during the first three days of the shoot. After that, things became easy. A lot of my creative hobbies helped me make this film. For instance, I paint a lot and that helped me in visualizing the scenes. We storyboarded the entire film. We shot the film during the second wave of Covid-19. That was another big challenge. While shooting, we took all the necessary safety measures. The entire team was very supportive.
Not just in India, rape cases are on the rise across the world. While making this film, you must have done a lot of research on this subject. Where, do you think, we are going wrong as a society?
Crimes against humanity are being committed since forever. Though there are laws in every country, crimes keep happening. Overpopulation, lower standard of living, poor quality of education and low income levels are some of the factors that have contributed towards the growth in such crimes globally. In the film, you will see that society had a chance to protect the girl. People didn’t come forward to help her as they felt it was not their job. Less than one percent of such crimes are reported. Through this film, we want to awaken such people. As civilized human beings, it is our duty to report these crimes. We have a role to play towards eradicating these crimes.
Have you decided what you will be directing next?
Yes, I have finalized the script for my next film as a director. It will be a romantic film. I will start shooting it by December or January. I want to explore different genres as a director.