Interview

Manav Kaul: This is the best time for a good actor


The versatile actor speaks about his life story and career so far in an exclusive interview with Cinestaan.com.

Keyur Seta

Actor Manav Kaul entered Hindi cinema with the fantasy film Jajantaram Mamantaram (2004). After a while, he lost interest in acting. But a few years later he regained his passion and resumed his position in front of the camera with Kai Po Che (2013). He hasn’t looked back since. Not only was Kaul's performance in Kai Po Che appreciated, but also in the films that followed – Citylights (2014), Wazir (2016), Jai Gangaajal (2016) and Maroon (2016). In an exclusive interview with Cinestaan.com, Kaul discussed his life story candidly. Excerpts: 

Did you always want to be an actor or was it an accident that brought you to this profession?

I was born and brought up in Hoshangabad [in Madhya Pradesh]. There was a time when I was into a lot of activities. I used to visit the library for comics, used to teach dance, play table tennis, basketball, judo and karate, swim, etc. Now I realize it was my restlessness to move out of that village. Fate heard my calls and I landed up at the Sports Authority of India in Bhopal. While engaged in swimming, I saw a play there and realized this is what I wish to do in life. Thus began my affair with acting during 1994-95 and it refuses to end (smiles).

Which was the first play you acted in?

The first play I ever did was Muafze in Bhopal. Then I did Dhruvswamini. These were my initial plays.

How did you enter films?

I was tired of Bhopal so I shifted to Mumbai. I did theatre. I thought that would be a good idea as I had done it before. I was getting work. I was too young then; only 22. Later, I gave an audition for the film Jajantaram Mamantaram and got selected. After this film, I did some television.

But I stopped enjoying acting in 2002. [Though Jajantaram Mamantaram was released in May 2004, the film was shot in 2002.] I started concentrating on writing and direction in theatre. I continued this till 2013. This was when I rediscovered acting with Kai Po Che. From there onwards, I have had this craze for acting and I am loving it in a way I can’t explain. 

Along with plays, you also directed a film, Hansa (2012). Any plans of directing films again?

I have taken a break from writing and direction. I have just directed a play, Chuhal. I will keep doing this in between. But I will devote the majority of my time only to acting. So, for the next few years I won’t be writing anything. 

You have done mainstream Hindi films like Jai Gangaajal (2016) and Wazir (2016). At the same time, you have done a film like Maroon, which was an independent film produced on a shoestring budget. Do you think about a film’s scale while signing it?

No, I never think about such things because I always feel anyone can surprise in any way. What matters is a good story. If I like the script and director, I feel like being a part of the journey. During Wazir, I had liked the script, I enjoyed working with Bejoy Nambiar, so I did another film with him, Dobara. It’s a lovely film, which people should get to see soon. I only consider the script and director. I do very few films. I charge a lot to those producers who can afford it. But if I come across someone who honestly wants to make a film and doesn’t have money, I work free. I keep this balance. 

You said recently that you weren’t good at studies and were a backbencher. Your parents worried about your future. Today, when you think of those days of uncertainty, what do you feel?

I feel there are a lot of advantages to being a backbencher. There is not much responsibility. People don’t think you would amount to much in life, which is a good thing. I enjoyed my childhood. I studied less and played more. I always used to be ahead in dance and other extra-curricular activities. I used to do everything except study. So, my childhood was rich. Today when I think about my old days, I feel great about the splendid childhood I spent in my village. I think about those days and feel, ‘Arre yaar, yeh bachpan kitna pyara bachpan tha [What a wonderful childhood I have had].’

It’s fun thinking about those days. But today, after all these years, I wonder who was that person who used to live life that way. Now, I don’t even know that person who used to stay at Hoshangabad. 

Actors who come from a theatre background often say films don’t give them as much satisfaction. What is your take?

I don’t feel this way. I am hungry for work. Even if I am just travelling, I enjoy it as much as I enjoy acting, writing and direction. Whether I act in a play or a movie, it really doesn’t matter to me. If you do the type of work you enjoy, it shows in your entire body. It shows in your work. People appreciate your work only when they see how much you enjoy your work. Right now I am enjoying my work in every way. 

Theatre hasn’t been a reliable source of income in our country. Do you see things changing?

I never joined theatre with the intention of earning money. We have done theatre with limited resources. I feel theatre is a splendid medium where there is less responsibility due to less money being involved. You can do all types of experiments there. There is no burden of money, market, and economy. I love the freedom provided by theatre. So, even if someone pays me to do theatre, it is not my primary goal. The freedom is more valuable for me. 

Do you feel actors who are not trapped in the hero image and are able to fit any character have a greater advantage today as compared to, say, 15 years ago?

Arre, 100%! Not just 15, but even seven years ago. Five to six years earlier, we hadn’t thought that we would get to see Irrfan [Khan], Nawaz [Nawazuddin Siddiqui] and Naseer saheb [Naseeruddin Shah] play such brilliant roles. We are in such a good space and our cinema has changed for the better. I think this is the best time in the industry for a good actor.

I am looking forward to work. The kind of films I am getting, I am very surprised that such impressive films are made. Maroon is a prime example. Five years ago, I hadn’t even thought that someone could make a film like Maroon which would get such appreciation. I am very happy that I took the decision at the right time to resume acting. 

Talking about Maroon, playing a psychotic character must have been mentally and emotionally draining. How did you prepare for the role?

I had prepared for the role, but after going there, I was surprised to know that we had to finish the shoot in just 15 days. But as I went on performing, I kept getting inside the character and mentally I realized how disturbed I am starting to be. I had heard things like it takes time to come out of a character. I had never experienced it though. It happened with me for the first time with Maroon and I didn’t know what to do. It took me a week to come out of it. I didn’t know what it was like to come out of a character. This is difficult. But maybe this is my age and I have a lot of hunger that people ask me to play such difficult characters. I feel, okay, I will do some light-hearted roles later (laughs). 

You played a psycho in Maroon. Earlier this year you also played a psycho in A Scandall, though both films were very different.

I did A Scandall 4-5 years ago. It’s an old film. I didn’t know when the film was released. Maroon is a very different cinema; a kind of cinema I love. Also the character had many layers. The challenge was that it was a solo performance. I had to carry the film on my shoulders for 90 minutes. The director was also skilful and his screenplay was so tight. 

What are your forthcoming films?

There is Jolly LLB 2. I have also done a horror film called Ghoul with Radhika Apte. It’s a Phantom film directed by Patrick Graham. It might release early next year.