You feel inspired when you see the kind of achievements Manish Mundra has had in his life. After being a successful entrepreneur for years, he launched his company Drishyam Films to produce the kind of films that nobody else was willing to. Today, Drishyam Films is known to make films that tell enriching stories and have helped put Indian cinema on the global map. His philanthropic endeavours during the Covid-19 crisis inspired a lot of people to use social media not to just make a comment on a crisis but to lend a helping hand. Entrepreneur, filmmaker, author, poet, artist, photographer, philanthropist – when you look at him, you see a highly successful man. But, success does not come easy.
In this interview, Manish Mundra talks about the long, difficult path he had to tread before achieving success, childhood memories, philanthropic work, skills an entrepreneur needs to have, the importance of education, love for cinema and more.
A lot of people were inspired by the philanthropic work you did and continue to do to help people during the Covid-19 crisis. What a lot of people are not aware of is the fact that you have been doing philanthropic work for several years. What inspires you to do this? Does this sense of philanthropy comes from the fact that you have seen tough times in your childhood?
I am aware of the ground reality and I feel a sense of pain when I see so many people suffering. We are still a developing country with a large number of people suffering from different kind of issues. Every individual has a responsibility towards the society. None of us are going to live forever. We must try and make the society a better place to live in while we are still around. I do not have unlimited resources. You cannot help everybody but you can still do certain things according to your abilities. We must try to give back to the society in some way or the other.
You spent your childhood in Deogarh in Jharkhand. What did that place teach you?
There was a certain simplicity and honesty in Deogarh. It taught me to be simple and honest. The town might have changed now but that was how it was when I lived there in the late 70s and the early 80s. It also taught me the importance of being humble. Aadambar kabhi nahin aaya mujh mein. I do lose my temper at times but I have never done anything to show-off my so-called achievements. I just try to do things that give me peace.
You belong to a business family from Rajasthan. When you were a child, you witnessed your father suffering from huge losses. Did that prove to be a turning point in your life?
Yes, that was a turning point as that led to me seeing a lot of difficult times which also served as valuable life-lessons from me. When you live in poverty and see it closely, it affects you very deeply. Things like not being able to pay the fees on time or unable to go on a school picnic with your friends do leave you disturbed as a child. Around 1984 or 1985, television sets had come to most people’s homes. People around us had refrigerators and television sets but we did not have those things. I would often ask myself why we do not have the kind of facilities which others have. The most difficult thing for a middle-class family is when it finds it difficult to sustain itself or maintain their standard of living. I will never forget the fear or the sense of insecurity I went through during those times. I had a strong resolve to get my family out of that situation. I never do any speculative work. I take calculative risks. I plan, examine and execute things. My strength lies in doing investment. Living through those tough times changed me as a person. Those experiences made me the person I am today. I use a small part of my income on filmmaking and philanthropic work. I never spend the principal amount on these things as I do not want my family to go through any kind of financial difficulty.
Your journey as an entrepreneur started by doing a bunch of odd jobs. You used to sell cold drinks from your makeshift shop. Then, there was a time you would buy sarees from a factory in Rajasthan and sell them in and around Deogarh. Being a businessman himself, what did your father teach you about business?
I learnt a lot from my father. The last seven generations of our family have been involved in doing business. Apart from gathering knowledge about the things one should do while doing business, I also made a note of the mistakes one should avoid committing. My father was a very bullish businessman and had the aspiration of growing his business exponentially. I do not think that is a very good idea. You should grow but in a calculative fashion. You have to be very careful while investing. When you are doing business and earning well, you must invest in your family’s safety. You should not put everything at stake. Being ethical and empathetic is extremely important in life.
We have seen many entrepreneurs doing well in their careers despite the lack of formal education. But, you are somebody who has always emphasized on the importance of education.
I learnt it very early that professional qualification is very important in life. My family was engaged in a few businesses without having capital investment. We faced a lot of issues because of that. Even if you are dealing in high-quality products, it will collapse in the absence of proper packaging and brand building. If you have a professional degree, you can take up a job, save some money and build a business after some time. I firmly believe that having a professional qualification is very important in life. There have been individuals like Bill Gates or Steve Jobs who have done well without having a professional degree but what about those million others who struggle endlessly. In a country like India, there is a dearth of capital. Even if you have a great idea, you will not find many people who would be willing to invest in it. You also need the knowledge to utilize the capital you have properly. A lot of people fail as entrepreneurs because of lack of experience. Our education system trains you to become a job seeker and not an entrepreneur. You must spend the first 23-25 years of life in getting proper education. By the time you finish your graduation, you would have a good idea about the professional path you wish to take. Get a post-graduate degree or do a specialization course in that area. Having 3-4 years of work experience in your field would help you gather a good amount of information and ideas to start a business. You would also have a minimum capital to sustain yourself and grow. You can then pitch your ideas to bank and investors. It would be a calculative move. You would be better equipped to became an entrepreneur. When you become an entrepreneur after gaining professional experience, there are chances that you will not fail. Only a few achieve super-success but a professional degree will ensure that less people fail. If you want to grow, you have to step aside the fear of sustenance. That will only happen when you have a certain amount of financial security. Even if your business does not take off, you will have the option of doing a job.
Which was your first successful business venture?
I tried applying my skills as an entrepreneur in my very first job. My idea of doing a job was very different. Whichever company I was in, I always worked like an entrepreneur. Being an entrepreneur also means you join a company and grow it tenfold. When the company grows, you also grow along with it. Having entrepreneurship skills in a job helps an employee vastly. If you add value to your company, the company will definitely reward you. If you want to grow in any profession or business, you have to keep working on developing new ideas.
‘Ankhon Dekhi’ (2014) was the first film produced by Drishyam Films. While that film received a lot of accolades, you lost money on it.
Filmmaking is a very passionate job for me. I have never seen it as a business. I do everything from my heart. I want to make films that age well and are remembered for a long time. Of course, I do not want to lose money and that is the reason I have to adhere to certain limitations. Producing films is actually one of the worst ways of making money. It is a very speculative business. Yes, ‘Ankhon Dekhi’ was not a financially successful venture. It taught me to make films in a structural and organized manner. I set up an office and worked towards controlling the budgets. I continued making the kind of cinema I wanted to make but in a more structured manner. I controlled the budget and production and executed a lot of things on my own. I have been driven by the desire to make films that make an impact on the society and are remembered by the audience for a long time. That is what helped us to sustain ourselves.
You are not based in India but your company produces films here. Isn’t that a little inconvenient?
The team is here in India and a lot of things happen over the internet. So, it is not very difficult. Actually, it is a good thing to stay a little away from the process as you can think differently and have a fresh approach towards things.
As a child, you were more inclined towards offbeat films like ‘Masoom’ and ‘Ardh Satya’ and that reflects in the kind of films you produce. Can we ever expect Drishyam Films to produce a larger-than-life commercial film?
I do not think we would ever be able to make an out-and-out commercial film as a lot of fantasies attached to such films. We would keep making realistic cinema and try to make them commercially successful. Our endeavor would be to make them reach out to a wider audience. I think the time has finally come to bring a shift in the kind of cinema we are making in India. Now, people have access to films from all across the globe. You have to make films that are high on content and the kind which appeals to the global audience. With streaming platforms coming in, you are competing with global content. We do not have enough writers and directors. I get several scripts on a regular basis which I read myself. The quality of most of the scripts I get is extremely poor.
You are a multi-faceted artiste. A while back, there were reports suggesting that you want to direct films as well.
Yes, I was supposed to make a film this year. We were supposed to start from September but could not go ahead with our plans because of the Covid-19 situation. I hope to get back to that project soon. Directing a film has been a long-standing dream.
“You can bring a revolution as only an outsider” – you had stated this in an interview. Can you elaborate on this?
You have to do something different to bring a change. You have to think out-of-the-box. You have to come up with new ideas and work hard consistently. When you remain inside, you rely on and link with the same partners or team and will not get the opportunity to do something fresh or unique. Thus, one must try and remain an outsider.
Which is that one advice you would like to give to an aspiring entrepreneur?
You need to be persistent with what you do and be clear about your ideas. If you are consistent and prove that you are serious about your goals, people will believe in you and support your ideas.
On the people he has collaborated with
Shah Rukh Khan: He has an incredible personality. He deserves a lot more than he has achieved in life. He is a smart businessman and a great actor.
Shiladitya Bora: He was one of the key people who helped me set up Drishyam Films in its initial days. He has sharp entrepreneurial skills and a good mind.
Nila Madhab Panda: He is a very good human being and a thorough gentleman. Very few people are as passionate about cinema as he is. I hope to see him making a lot more films.
Sanjay Mishra: He is a brilliant actor, a great human and a very good friend.