Manish Mundra the man behind Newton and Masaan speaks to OpIndia

Manish Mundra [1][2], is a trendsetter in many ways when it comes to Hindi Cinema. Manish, a well established movie producer, has produced acclaimed movies like Ankhon Dekhi, Masaan and most recently Newton which became India’s official entry to the Oscars this year.

His journey into movie production too is nothing short of a movie script. A person with humble beginnings, while growing up he used to sell soft drinks after school to support his family. All this while movies always remained close to his heart and getting into the film industry was always a childhood dream for him. After completing his education he decided to climb the corporate ladder and is currently the CEO, MD Africa of Indorama Eleme Petrochemicals.

His entry into Indian Cinema was a result of a tweet sent out by film-maker Rajat Kapoor, lamenting the fact that he wasn’t getting a financier his upcoming movie. Manish replied affirming that he would help produce the movie and this marked his entry in the world of story telling. In 2014 he founded his production house Drishyam Films had has since then never looked back.

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He agreed to give OpIndia an interview and spoke about a wide variety of topics like content driven movies, the changing face of Indian cinema and also shared his thoughts on India’s economic and political scenario.

Following is the transcript of the interview:

Hi Mr Manish Mundra thank you so much for agreeing to the interview. What is your family and the movie fraternity’s reaction to Newton becoming India’s official entry into the Oscars:

Manish Mundra: Everyone was happy and excited, we have been pursuing this type of cinema for the last 3-4 years, I am proud of all the films and I was elated when Newton was recognised. Soon my family, friends came to know about it and they too were happy and celebrated as if we had won the Oscars (laughs). So we had to calm them down and explained that we need to do a lot of hard work to enter the final top 5 nominations.

You have been trend setter in Bollywood by making content driven films or those films where script is the most important aspect. So what was your thought process behind choosing this kind of an outlook and are you surprised that Bollywood has somewhat overlooked this aspect:

Manish Mundra: First of all I would want to to call it Hindi cinema and not Bollywood, we have our own identity. I think Hindi cinema had a big stage in 70’s and 80’s equivalent to its counterparts in Europe and America. But from the 90’s we faltered and stuck to the easy way like making formula films without working hard on scripting and technicalities, which resulted in average films. That’s where I felt that we need to focus on this segment of smaller films and on relationship stories than grandeur.

Apart from these content driven stories, another trendsetter of sorts has been you giving chances to newcomers who are trying to get a foothold into the industry. So what would you say are the advantages of having them in movies:

Manish Mundra: I, being a newcomer in the film industry, I felt that newcomers have that drive, courage to go the extra mile, listen and learn which is a requirement for the kind of cinema we are making. Also if you are a newcomer and want to prove a point you would really want to experiment.

So do you think that it is an advantage to not have a big cinematic star so that the focus ultimately remains on the content:

Manish Mundra: Yeah. I firmly believe that the whole idea of star driven films is wrong, it should be the story which drives the movie and actors should come second. In India though the trend is that you create a star and follow whatever he/she is comfortable playing. So audience whether they are aware or not, are being cheated. My idea was that let the story be the star and it should drive and attract the actors.

I guess you are one of the few production houses in India who are trying out such experiments:

Manish Mundra: Yes. Like Ankhon Dekhi was based out of Delhi, Masan was based out of Banaras, Newton based out of Chhattisgarh and my upcoming film Rukh you can paste it in any part of the country and still be able to relate to it. So we go to various places of India to see what the place talks about and it character.

Another very important aspect of you life has been your humble beginnings so by shooting in such diverse locations of India do you try to portray these in your movies as well:

Manish Mundra: Yes. We should remember where we have come from and there are a lot of untold stories India which need to be explored. So there is definitely a connect that those stories which have that humility.

Another possibly erroneous perception attached with the type of movies you make is, people wonder what would be the commercial viability of those ventures. So would you like to set the record straight regarding that:

Manish Mundra: I am a commercial guy myself. The films which are generally called commercial are more speculative in the sense that 95-97% of the so called commercial films fail in terms of making money. So any business which has such a high probability of losing money is a speculation. Also, out of the movies which do make money, almost half of them are star driven. What we are making is true commercial cinema in the sense we are careful about not going over budget and have a very rational production, marketing and advertising expenses. Hence apart from a couple of movies, we have been able to either break even or make money.

Another question which arises with regards to your movies is the Audience. So is the audience responding with regards to them and would such movies overtake the star driven movies in the future:

Manish Mundra: I strongly feel so. With the advent of digital media the audience has a larger access to the starts hence there isn’t a huge euphoria attached, which was the case 10-15 years back. So people will wait for the content and we have seen in a few instances that stars on their own cannot drive the film unless there is a story at the base of things. Second aspect is that the Indian audience also has a lot of exposure to International cinema and content so they now realise the superiority of that content. It is also true in the digital space the word of mouth spreads very fast so the news about a good film spreads like wildfire.

So the audience too has a voice now. Another aspect digitisation has brought forth are various live streaming platforms like Netflix, so are you planning for focusing on such content. That is you won’t be dependent on a cinema hall per say:

Manish Mundra: I agree that the life of cinema is going to be very difficult as people are getting good electronic gadgets to watch content at home. This poses a challenge that one needs to make good movies to pull people to cinema halls and competition always gives a better output in terms of good cinema. Also to directly answer your question, rightly I am focusing on making films and there would be a time when we can focus on making such live streaming content.

Another trend which you seem to have set is that you released Newton on a Monday and not a Friday:

Manish Mundra: I feel when you make a movie, you should be courageous enough to open it up for the reviewers hence they get a chance to judge the movie out way ahead of Friday which gives enough time for the audience to make their minds up by reading the reviews before the weekend. So its more of a strategic decision and we are also showing confidence that we are open to scrutiny.

To diversify things a bit, you obviously have been very successful in the corporate world, so what is your outlook on the current economic and political scenario of India:

Manish Mundra: I am very bullish about the economic and political scenario of India as after years we have got a stable government, which has a visionary leader. I feel we are moving in the right direction with strategic and structural changes in place as far as the economy is concerned and we are poised for a boost. I feel that the parallel economy of the country is demolished and most people have moved towards digitisation. Due to the change in the taxation structure and the widening of the tax net, the government should work on reducing tax percentages. All this added with the lower global fuel prices, puts a lot of funds at the government’s disposal to focus on social and infrastructural reforms. So I feel that the tough times are behind us and the next 3-4 years would be effective in terms of economic growth.

Do have any expectation from the government when it comes to cinema:

Manish Mundra: The government should try and focus on increasing the number of screens, providing enough investment avenues for international investors and increase FDI in cinema halls, establish more world class film making institutes. The entertainment businesses have a huge scope when it comes to foreign exchange, talent development and youth empowerment.

What do you think the future holds for Hindi cinema in the next 5-10 years 

Manish Mundra: Hindi cinema has ample scope (to grow) as almost 80% of the Indian population understands Hindi which translates to about 80 crore people. But less number of cinema screens pose a problem. So I feel the government should focus and deregulate the screen licensing laws so that we can reach a larger audience.

So moving towards a bit of a lighter content, movies have always been close to your heart so do you have any other passions apart from movies:

Manish Mundra: Yes, I love painting, writing poems, I love photography which I have been learning

So, what would you say is the favourite cinematic memory of your childhood:

Manish Mundra: All Amitabh Bachchan movies attracted me to follow cinema

Before parting, would you like to give any other message for our viewers:

Manish Mundra: We want the audience to go and watch Rukh which is releasing on 27th October. Its an poetic experiment film and is directed by Atanu Mukherjee so we need a lot of love from the people.

I hope that Rukh is a huge success, I wish you all the best and thank you for speaking to OpIndia


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