February was a great month for Manish Mundra, the new go-to producer for indie film-makers in bollywood. Rajat Kapoor’s aankhon dekhi, the first film he produced, won a slew of honours at the Filmfare awards. The second film, Prashant Nair’s umrika, won the audience award at the Sundance festival, and a third film, Nagesh Kukunoor’s dhanak, won the grand prix of the generation kplus international jury for the best feature-length film at the berlin international film festival. These films have hardly made any money, but Mundra, a dubai-based millionaire with interests in Africa, produces films because he is passionate about good cinema, and he is keen to produce many more. So if you have a good script, you know whom to approach.
What are your criteria for selecting scripts?
The most important aspect of any script or story is its ability to touch my heart. If a story does that, then l decide on the budget and viability of the project in terms of audience acceptability. Scripts that deal with human relationships also get me going. The third aspect is Indianness — the subject should have the flavour of our culture and national spirit.
What is your opinion of current mainstream Bollywood cinema?
I don’t believe in the term Bollywood, so I assume the question is about mainstream hindi cinema. Though I am new to the fraternity to comment on this, as an enthusiastic film buff, I think mainstream cinema has deteriorated over the last 15-20 years, and the impact we had in the global markets in the 1970s and 1980s does not exist any more. Today, film-makers have become businessmen and films are no longer a piece of art. They are commercial products that depend on star power, promotion and advertising, without any concrete focus on the content. While this is proving to be a successful formula, I don’t think it will be fruitful in the long run.
I strongly feel that content is the king and that should be the only mantra for hindi cinema.
Aankhon dekhi did not recover money for you. Do you think niche films have the ability to make profits?
While that is true, Aankhon dekhi created the urge in producers and film-makers to look out for good content in the industry. The film has earned so much love and respect, and i am overwhelmed with the response. Even today [almost a year after its release], people talk about the film. But, having said that, it’s important that a film recovers its initial investment. Everyone appreciates good content and I am sure, these films will make money too.
Even though it has big players such as anurag kashyap, why do you think the indie film movement has not taken off in india?
I think Anurag Kashyap single-handedly steered the indie film movement in India. We should not forget Rajat Kapoor, too, who has been doing it for years now. The idea is to join them, and under their leadership, we can become stronger and wiser to take the movement to next level.
Do you think indian actors also play a role in making mindless commercial films more successful?
The role and responsibility of so-called stars in indian films cannot be denied. They are the ones who have created this wide gap between commercial and indie films, and I think they should bridge this gap. They owe it to the audience. I agree that they need to experiment more and support young, talented and professionally qualified film-makers, by making themselves available for such content-driven films.
What are your most favourite memories growing up? Also, what was your turning point in becoming a film producer?
I have grown up in small towns and cities in India and survived on a steady diet of hindi films. For indians, hindi films impact our thinking, the way we behave and shape our attitudes. I always wanted to be a part of this fantastic world of cinema, but i knew i needed to earn enough money for that. So that’s what i decided to do.
The turning point was when Rajat Kapoor replied to my tweet when i had shown interest in producing aankhon dekhi. I could finally jump into this world and fulfill my dreams.