Manav Kaul can slip into roles that may not be central, but manages to leave a mark on the audience. Unassuming, grounded and one who would rather melt into the background than attract much attention, Kaul has straddled many mediums, moving from theatre to cinema and from acting to direction. He is now behind the camera for his second directorial venture, Tathagat. It was part of the National Film Development Corporation’s (NFDC) Work-in-Progress Lab at the International Film Festival of India (IFFI) 2014, where it garnered rave reviews.
Kaul resisted the temptation to sign a flurry of films after Kai Po Che (2013) and City Lights (2014). “I don’t want to do too many films, only those I really want to be a part of. If you give me three scenes I will still shine in them because that’s how I am. I guess it comes from being a sportsman and a swimmer; I know I have to perform,” says. the 37-year-old, who has signed Vidhu Vinod Chopra’s Amitabh Bachchan-starrer Vazir.
Tathagat is the story of a monk, who has renounced the world but wants to return. “I got this idea while directing a play at Film and Television Institute of India in Pune, which was about the lives of saints and what makes them opt for a life of loneliness, like Buddha did. Tathagat is also one of the names of Buddha. I lived in McLeod Ganj for a month and met many monks and realised each of them had a story to tell. I wanted to explore the emotion of guilt.
What happens when one wants to come back to the world left behind?” he says.
His first venture Hansa (2012) was an extension of the way he did theatre, without any funds or backing. “I have improvised with Tathagat though I am far from what I want to be as a director. I am still struggling with the craft. Perhaps my third will be better than both of these. I want to create poetry through my films,” he says, wistfully.
Incidentally, unlike most other filmmakers at IFFI, Kaul has not pitched his film for funding. “For me, what I am doing is like a game and one that I am enjoying thoroughly. Sometimes you succeed and sometimes you don’t. So how can I ask anyone to put their money on my personal journey? I would rather burn my own,” says Kaul.
He admits this makes it difficult to survive in an industry driven by money and multi-crore films, but he would not have it any other way. “That is why I also stay a bit away from the industry and am careful not to become an integral part of it,” says the small-town boy from Hoshangbad, Madhya Pradesh. “I am very shy. I don’t know how to approach people, I feel I am intruding on their privacy. I still don’t know what I am doing here at IFFI. But someday perhaps, I will be this cool Mumbaikar,” he says.
So has the man who has shifted from one medium to another finally found his calling in cinema? “I don’t know. I may just do something different; I have always wanted to run a chai shop,” he says.