Manish Mundra, the man behind Drishyam Films and famous movies like Ankhon Dekhi (2014), Massaan (2015) and Newton (2017), started in the petrochemical industry. Even as a child, Mundra says he was acutely aware that making movies costs money and that’s why he decided he would first make a lot of money through the corporate route and then return. in the cinema, his only true love. After almost a decade as a producer, Mundra makes his directorial debut with Siya, with Pooja Pandey and Vineet Kumar Singh. The film chronicles the life of a rape survivor who is determined to seek justice for herself. It’s a difficult subject, both for a director and for the actors, especially for Pandey who plays the main role. Singh was a huge help on set and helped “guide newcomers,” Mundra said. At this time, on the eve of Siyade, Mundra is already looking to the future. He told us he’s already finished the script for his next film – it’s a love story – and plans to start filming in January 2023.
Here are edited excerpts from our conversation with Mundra.
What about Siya attracted you?
I felt it was important to talk about the survivor and their family and what they are going through. Rape is a heinous crime and it is committed by whoever holds power. It can be money or education or whatever they have. They think they can do anything to victimize a woman and they can get away with it because they have the power and no one wants to talk. The survivor and family have a choice — whether they want to talk about it, whether they want to seek justice, or whether they want to remain silent. If they decide to go the justice route, it’s very difficult in the sense that they don’t get that closure and they have to fight these people who become very antagonistic in terms of pressure tactics, harming to the family and create roadblocks. This is where I wanted to take the audience and sit with the family and the survivor through the journey of what happens after the crime.
The film touches on a lot of sensitive topics. How did you process it to ensure it was appropriate?
Yes, it’s a sensitive subject, I knew it from the beginning. That’s why I wanted to avoid preaching and trying to sort things out in a very agenda-driven way. I wanted to have a truthful story and I was very clear and confident about how I wanted to say this. For example, we didn’t use a single swear word in the film. I didn’t want to ruin the image of the village, the court, the individual or the police. I didn’t want to show them in a negative light. I just wanted to show that there is something wrong somewhere and why the people who are supposed to protect us sometimes ignore this duty.
What prompted you to try your hand at directing?
I’ve always thought about making films, but since I haven’t made films, it becomes difficult to make this transition. The best thing I thought was to identify good filmmakers, writers, and directors and help make those movies, to get into the industry and understand its nuances. Over the years, I’ve met a lot of directors and seen a lot of films made. By being on the sets and on the editing tables, I gained confidence. I waited for the right subject. When Siya came up, I thought that was the right topic to lead.
What are you looking for in a story? How does that differ when you consider him as a producer and as a director?
As a director, I think I will continue to make thematic content. That’s where I can take that risk of being a director and a producer because I don’t want to see the business side, but the technical side of how the story is told. Maybe in five years I won’t talk like that and be pretty wise, but today I’ll be making problem-based content as a director. And as a producer, I am open to any idea that touches and touches me. The best thing is to identify a story, find something new and say, “I want to do this”.
You have been called the messiah of independent Indian cinema by some publications. What do you think of that?
I don’t think I can claim that kind of title. But I think as an individual I had a goal to create good cinema and I was very clear about consistency, that it’s not a one-time thing and that we have to continually create cinema supported by appropriate content and stories that we can call moving. When I look back today and see the very few remaining independent filmmakers who are still making films, I feel sad about that. Independent films are important to film culture and the lack of small and medium films and reliance on blockbusters or big budget films create a kind of scarcity or drought in the talent pool. This is creating a shortage of story writers and content writers and that is what we are facing right now. We need more independent filmmakers to create smaller and medium films. We need these films to be watched, seen and given that respect and that space.
Is it difficult for an independent Indian film to be recognized?
The biggest challenge for the independent filmmaker is finding screens and competing with big budget films in terms of product exposure. In a week, if there are 10 movies and two big budget ones, they have mighty resources in hand to wipe out the other eight and they won’t be seen anywhere. We need to develop our own audience internationally. At present, we have a very myopic focus on India or non-resident Indians, but we have not crossed nationalities and borders and reached a wider audience. What Iranian, Korean, French or Hollywood cinema has done, that’s where the market is. Good Lebanese cinema crosses borders, reaches out to people and creates waves and that’s where we fail. If we focus on content and bring in cross-border technicians, or cross-border pollinations as I call it, to create world-class films, I’m sure we can have a huge audience and a huge reach in terms of of activity.
To what extent do you think it is a filmmaker’s responsibility to make thematic films?
Films, like other things, have a responsibility because they are part of society. Let’s say that even if you are in the fertilizer industry or in the plastics industry, you are in a society and you have to meet certain standards. You will not make fertilizers that will create problems and it is your responsibility to ensure that what you are doing does not adversely affect society. Likewise, cinema is part of society and when we make a film, we kind of care that we are contributing positively to society. If it’s not positive, at least we provide entertainment, but we don’t create things that harm peace and harmony and people’s feelings. It’s our responsibility as filmmakers, to be part of society, we have to contribute in a positive way.