Writing, acting, and travelling are the three loves of Manav Kaul’s life, not necessarily in that order. “When I’m doing one, I want to do the next,” he laughs. FOMO, we suggest and he doesn’t disagree. In fact, Manav has recently returned from Kashmir where he wrote a travelogue that will be published in Hindi and English simultaneously. In between all this, he also manages to get behind the camera. His directorial debut, Hansa, released in 2012 and now, his second feature, Tathagat, releases today on MUBI India as a double bill with his first film. The actor, director, and writer on his passion for filmmaking, acting, and why he loves his ‘lazy time'. Excerpts:
How did the idea of Tathagat come to you?
In 2014, I was directing a play in Pune. I wanted to do something with a Nirmal Verma story but it wasn’t coming through. I started thinking about loneliness and not the ‘I am so bored today’ kind of feeling but when you choose to be lonely like monks do. I went to Uttarakhand and met many of them. Each time, I had this craving to ask if they ever wanted to go back. What if you realise very late in your life that whatever you have believed in till now, is all false? Can you go back? This applies to everyone, not just monks.
This was the basic germ of the idea. I wrote the screenplay, asked friends to help me out and we went ahead and shot the film in Uttarakhand. However, it wasn’t well-planned. I was shooting while writing it. So, when I sat down to edit, there were just too many ideas. I realised this is not the right time to edit it and it went on the backburner. It was now that I felt compelled to do it.
I took the film to Tushar Raut, who has produced three of my plays. He did the post-production of the film and it is because of him that the film was ready during the lockdown.
Does the film follow a direct stream of thought or are there different interpretations for different people?
It has a different takeaway for each viewer because it is a personal journey of a monk. Also, it is very subjective. I wanted to see loneliness and what do you do when you want to go back? Can you go back? If you do go back, things would have changed. It’s very layered. It unravels slowly and at the end, you realise what the film is about. I like that. I like to produce my own films because I don’t want the pressure of ‘making a film that works’ and knowing exactly what we are going to do with the film. I don’t even know what to do with this life! (laughs)
Do you think online platforms, like MUBI, are a big help for filmmakers such as you?
It is a huge help! When I was in New York in 2012, I used to visit the Lincoln Centre Theatre, which screened festival films and documentaries among other amazing cinema. I would watch two films a week and used to wonder why we don’t have something similar here in India. MUBI is like that — it’s a platform where you get some of the best films from across the world. As a filmmaker, I would like to make films for this platform where I don’t have to explain anything to anyone. I just want to make films for the love of them.
Can we expect more movies from you as a filmmaker now?
After working on Tathagat, I feel I should. I think it’s high time I make another film, but I need to give it more time. For something I would usually finish in 30 days, I want to take 60. I want to plan it properly and give it the time it deserves. For that, I need at least a year out of my life and I don’t have that much time right now. So, it will just have to wait.
Your last release as an actor was Ajeeb Daastaans on Netflix. Tell us more about Finding Anamika where you will be seen with Madhuri Dixit-Nene and Jalsa, where you re-unite with your Tumhari Sulu co-star Vidya Balan.
I am very excited about Finding Anamika. It is a part I could chew on and I had a lot of fun shooting for it. It is a role that will come as a surprise to the viewers. Just like Nail Polish, I was completely invested in it. As an actor, I am very satisfied. I am glad that makers are seeing the possibilities and giving me this spectrum of roles. As for Jalsa, it is just a passing shot with Vidya. It is Suresh Triveni’s film and he was quite emotional about bringing us together for that scene (smiles).
Do you often get asked why you don’t do more films?
Yes, all the time! (laughs) The thing is, the moment one good film releases and people like your work, you get similar offers for the next one year. Either you succumb to it and do the same role or you sit at home. I could have done 30 Kai Po Che-s by now! People advise me to act in more films, earn more money and keep what I’m doing for later. But that’s what Covid has taught us, that you cannot be sure of anything. So, there is no later for me. I like my lazy, lethargic time at home. That’s where my writing comes from.