Indian filmmaker Manish Mundra has a remarkable presence in the world of Hindi cinema and fans of soulful movies in the language cherish him as the producer who has always backed entertaining cinema with a cause. He is the founder of Drishyam Films that has produced many critically acclaimed Hindi films over the past decade. These include Newton, Aankhon Dekhi, Kadvi Hawa, Masaan, Dhanak and Kaamyaab. This September, he made his debut as a director with Siya. Starring Vineet Kumar Singh and Pooja Pandey in lead roles. The film that released in theatres across India on September 16, traces the story of a 17-year-old village girl and her fight for justice after she is gangraped by her stalkers.
Siya is an important story for the Indian audience. It showcases the stark reality of the violence that women face in the Indian rural set-up and the struggles they go through. In this exclusive interview, Mundra talks about his new film, his career and more.
How do you view the way Hindi cinema has shaped up?
Hindi cinema needs to to spice up content and variety in acting, storytelling and presenting; just the way we see in Malayalam, Marathi and Telugu movies. They have a variety of stories and their shooting styles vary. With Hindi cinema, it is about one set pattern, some films make money but majority of the films fail. That is why we as Hindi filmmakers need to get back to the drawing board and work on creating good content. We have large audience for Hindi cinema both in and out of India, we just need to rise up to the occasion.
There have been many debates around the content of Hindi cinema ever since the pandemic induced shutdown of theatres exposed the Hindi cinema audience to films from other languages. Where do you think Hindi cinema is headed?
Hindi cinema right now is in a mess. but makers need to accept that things are wrong, and then learn, rework on things and then start working hard on the content and character. We can not just be playing around with stars and stardom. We need to come out of the three days’ box office race and the competition. We need to realize that the story is important and so are the characters. The film will stay (in theatres) if the story is good and has well-built characters.
Another important thing is that we need to realize the importance of the budget. Filmmakers are spending way too much in order to add star value to their films. That needs a correction.
Siya’s (the titular character in the new film) fight for justice is always by the book, and the anger is never apparent. Why does the film take a righteous stance rather than an angry one?
Real life is not like cinema we have seen, we seldom react in a way where a hero rises, avenges the less privileged and grabs justice. Not everyone can react and fight for justice. Many do not have the strength, resources or means, many of them cannot even speak about being wronged by the powerful. Mahendra (Singh’s character in the film) emerges the hero, but he does not do anything more than taking the right steps. Trying his best to lodge an FIR for instance, but he does not have much of a heroism in his fight for justice. It really is about those with power and those without. That is the issue – powerful people do what they wish to, with the powerless. These powerful people also protect those who commit such crimes.
How did your production house, Drishyam Films come into being?
I followed Rajat Kapoor on Twitter and wrote to him when he tweeted about seeking funds for Aakhon Dekhi. My intention was to make the film and get back. It was like checking one item off my bucket list. But, after the film and critical appreciation is where I felt it is a place to stay on. I am happy with all the films I have at Drishyam Films. I think anybody with the slate of films (as Drishyam Films) would be proud of it.
(The conversation has edited and condensed for clarity.)