Interview Hindi

Earlier, people watched films to escape reality; now they want to see real stories, says Manu Rishi Chadha


The talented actor and writer talks about his just released movie Doordarshan and about society.

Suyog Zore

Manu Rishi Chadha has played many roles in his 18 years in Hindi cinema and aced them all. The actor-writer-lyricist moved to Mumbai to chase his dream of acting in Hindi films after doing theatre in Delhi for 10 years.

Though Chadha did small roles in films like Saathiya (2002) and Ek Chalis Ki Last Local (2007), he received recognition after his work in Dibakar Banerjee's Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye! (2008). He was not only appreciated for his role as Mr Bangali, but also won his first Filmfare award for his dialogues.

Chadha has worked in many critically acclaimed films like Phas Gaye Re Obama (2010), Ankhon Dekhi (2014), Tanu Weds Manu Returns (2015) and Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan (2020). But in all these films, he played a supporting role.

Now, the actor is seen playing the male lead for the first time in this week's release Doordarshan (2020), which features an ensemble cast that includes Mahie Gill, Dolly Ahluwalia and Rajesh Sharma.

In an exclusive interview with Cinestaan.com, Chadha spoke about Doordarshan, both the film and the television channel. He also dwelt on how society and its values have changed in the last 30 years. Excerpts:

You have played supporting characters in many films. This is the first time you are playing the lead. What do you have to say?

I don’t believe in such categorization. Here also I’m just a supporter. There is no such thing as the lead. You are here to support cinema or a good story. So I will always call myself a supporting actor. But I am happy this story is told from my point of view. Being part of a good film is in itself a big thing. So I’m happy.

You are an award-winning dialogue writer. As an actor, do you find yourself making small changes in the dialogues given to you? Or do you go strictly by the script?

Dialogue writing is a technical craft that can only be achieved after keen observation of a character. Obviously, when I hear about a character, I decide how he should talk, behave. Dialogue should sound like natural conversation instead of dialoguebaazi.

I’m playing an ordinary middle-class dad [in Doordarshan]. There is a huge difference between how an ordinary, middle-class dad would speak and how a filmi dad would talk. If I feel that I can make it better, then I do sometimes make small changes in dialogues or dialogue delivery. But the director is the captain of the ship. If he likes it, he could keep the dialogue or politely ask us to go by the written dialogues.

Your role in Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan is being appreciated by viewers. What would you like to say?

I am part of an ordinary family [in the film] which has no understanding of this kind of a relationship. Even though the Supreme Court has acknowledged their identity, many Indians are still unaware of gay relationships, and I’m one of them. I play the younger brother of Gajraj Rao. He is a lawyer and the film shows how his perception of gay relationships changes and how he comes to their rescue when the police come to arrest them.

Doordarshan is set in the late 1980s. Did you watch a lot of serials on Doordarshan in those days?

I still remember, on Wednesday and Friday Doordarshan would air Chitrahaar. Wednesday was for old songs and Friday was for new songs. Sometimes we would eagerly wait for Friday to watch songs from upcoming or recently released films.

I would religiously watch  Ados Pados (1985), Yeh Jo Hai Zindagi (1984) and Govind Nihalani’s Tamas (1988). Tamas had a huge impact on me, not only as a viewer, but also as a student of cinema. It also impacted my writing.

The tune of Doordarshan was so catchy, we used to hum it in class. With this film, I got to relive some old memories in this digital world, where everything is instantly available at one's fingertips.

What is one trend from those days that you wish was back?

More than a trend, I would say if the lifestyle of that era comes back, it would be better. Life was simpler back then. There was a bond among people which I don’t see anymore. Older people and children had mutual respect for each other. Knowledge was passed down with care. For example, in those times news was shown with utmost responsibility and thorough research. It focused more on facts than on sensationalization.

Now society has become very opinionated. Everybody shares their opinions on social media, which is a good thing. But we must check the facts we are sharing. The world has become too loud. I wish I could press a button and go back to a time when there was less technological advancement, but people were more fond of each other.

We are seeing a lot of stories in Hindi cinema now about middle-class familes from small towns. Doordarshan is also one such. What do you think is the reason for the growth of such films?

People want to see real stories now. Earlier, films had an aspirational value. People only wanted to see the beauty of European countries. They wanted an escape from their lives. Now people go to the theatre to watch the reality of their lives.

The audience has finally realized that this is what we are and we should accept our identity. Though our economic condition has improved in the past 20 years, our roots are still middle class. Every product is produced for them, and cinema has also realized this.

How was the experience of working with Mahie Gill? Since it’s her first comedy, did you give her any tips during the shoot?

She is such a talented actress that she didn’t need much advice. On the first day itself, we became comfortable with each other. We had not met before but were familiar with each other's work. I personally think that a person who can laugh wholeheartedly can make anyone laugh. The person doesn’t need to learn how to do comedy. And Mahie has a beautiful smile, so I was confident that she could do comedy.

What would you like to say about the film?

It's an honest and simple story of a middle-class family. In this age, when we have too much violence, gore and sex in films, our director, Gagan Puri, and producer, Sandeep Arya, have tried to make a simple film and cast ordinary actors like us.

When Doordarshan was the only source of entertainment, people would come together to watch their favourite serials. Now, for a grandmother, the entire family has come together and tried to recreate those days. The film takes you back in time and will remind you of the days you spent with your family. It's a small film but will leave a big impact.