With a bag full of interesting life experiences, Manu Rishi Chadha thrives on being a storyteller.
When actor Irrfan requested for some poetic lines for his character in Sudhir Mishra’s Yeh Saali Zindagi (2011), dialogue writer Manu Rishi Chadha was trying figuring out a way to make his corrupt chartered accountant-cum-political fixer character mouth Gulzaresque prose. “But he was also a Karol Bagh guy, who has some innocence left in him,” says Chadha. To describe the character’s feeling in love, he found the unlikely metaphor in “jaise maa ke haat ke rajma chawal.” After the film’s success, Chadha was invited to be a part of a panel discussion at the Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi, on the topic of the new found rawness and simplicity of Hindi film dialogues. “I didn’t have anything intellectual to say. It was a line my younger brother told me over the phone from his honeymoon, to describe the joy of a much needed holiday break he took from the family business,” he recalls.
This is essentially how Manu Rishi Chadha works, absorbing real life experiences, internalising them and then expressing them, as an actor, dialogue or screenplay writer. “I firmly believe that you can pick up things from people you meet anywhere and they become your own. Nobody can stop you from learning,” he says.
Chadha has an unassuming persona. He could be seated next to you in a coffee shop and you wouldn’t recognise him. Ask Chadha.
Recently he was somewhere and the TV was playing his film Ek Deewana Tha (2012). A group of friends was discussing his acting chops, with Chadha sitting right next to them. But nobody noticed him. However, Chaddha has no complaints.
He’s content as long as there is genuine appreciation. However, once you see him on screen then you are unlikely to forget “the guy who played the sidekick in Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye!”.
Even in small roles in films such as Phas Gaye Re Obama (2010), Band Baaja Baarat (2010), or the more recent Ankhon Dekhi (2014), Chadha leaves a lasting impression. He also doubled as a dialogue writer in Oye Lucky.. (which fetched him many awards), Chance Pe Dance (2009)and Aisha (2010). His next release, Vijay Raaz’s ‘Kya Dilli Kya Lahore’ is his first as a screenwriter. “When I was approached as dialogue writer, I felt there were some inadequacies in the screenplay.
While suggesting the changes, I got into co-writing it (with Aseem Arora). I’ve tried to channel all the Partition stories I have grown up listening from my father and grandmother,” he says. With such involvement, it is little wonder that he bagged one of the two lead roles in the film, that of Samarth Pratap, an Indian soldier from Delhi with a Lahori origin.
Chadha’s artistic journey started as an actor with Arvind Gaur’s theatre group Asmita in Delhi. Although, from a fairly affluent family — his paternal side was into business of construction, and spare parts of scooter accessories and helmets — he was on his own when he landed in Mumbai in 1999. “Punjabis pamper their children till the time they share the same dreams as them. Once you part ways, you have to be on your own,” he says, with a laugh. Now he lives in a suburban apartment with a breathtaking view of the sea. “The breakneck speed with which we work in the city, I really need this peace,” says the 41-year-old actor, who got his first work with actor-director Rajat Kapoor, who he terms as his “cinema guru”. They are long time collaborators and friends — Chadha’s first screen appearance was in Raghu Romeo (2003) —and predictably it was fun working in Ankhon Dekhi. “I was visiting him on the sets when he made an impromptu role for me. I shot for three days, stayed at my own house, gorged on chaats and pakoras with Rajat and his friends,” says the actor who considers Piyush Misra, Suhdir Mishra and Dibakar Banerjee as inspirations.
Chadha would rather romanticise about his struggle in Mumbai than complain about it. “I don’t understand when people say they have gone through a lot to make their mark. It’s a path we have chosen for ourselves, a passion we pursue on our own will then we shouldn’t complain about it,” he says. For Chadha, pursuing his passion for cinema is akin to magic, which continues with Zalim Dil which is a day-long romance that he’s written about a Delhi boy and a Mumbai girl.