Manjeet Singh’s next,Chenu,about a boy who gets dragged into a caste war,features in the L’Atelier section of Festival de Cannes

Manjeet Singh’s next,Chenu,about a boy who gets dragged into a caste war,features in the L’Atelier section of Festival de Cannes

The son of a Navy officer,Manjeet Singh had a regular middle-class upbringing in Mumbai. He grew up travelling in trains,dancing at pandals during the Ganapati festival and navigating the crowded streets of the city. However,it wasn’t until he went to the US for higher studies that Singh started to see the true nature of what he had left behind.

“The middle-class in India live like zombies — we are self-centred,focussed on paying bills and EMIs. We hardly ever notice the children who sing in trains begging for alms,or the boys who make a living by fishing out the coins we throw into the creeks. We all enjoyed watching Ramayana and Mahabharata,oblivious to the fact that they strongly perpetrate the caste system,” points out Singh. “Everyone may not be actively biased against the underprivileged,but we subconsciously imbibe the caste system,viewing them with a patronising eye. For instance,we ignore that our watchman may have a life beyond the box where he spends the day manning our building,” he adds.

This “fresh perspective” that his stint on foreign shores brought reflects in Singh’s movies today. “Real life is unreal enough to be absurd,so that is where I seek my stories,” he explains. His feature debut Mumbai Cha Raja was a coming-of-age story of an underprivileged Mumbai boy in the face of domestic violence,told in the backdrop of the Ganapati festival.


This year,even as he works on the pre-production of Chenu – his next – it has been chosen for the Festival de Cannes’ L’Atelier section. This will allow the writer-director to network with some of the biggest producers and distributors in search of a co-producer. “It is the best platform the film could have got,” adds Singh,who will be travelling to France for the festival that starts on May 16.

Chenu is the fictional story of a Dalit boy from North India who finds himself caught in the crossfire between the Naxalites and the feudal gangs of the landlords. The setting derives from several incidents of atrocities against Dalits in Bihar,some are as recent as three months ago,says Singh.

He wrote the original script after the completion of his filmmaking course at the New York Film Academy. However,since the subject was vast and needed resources beyond his own means,Singh knew that it could not be his debut project. “So I sought other stories and the city I grew up in supplied me with plenty of those as well as interesting characters. That is how Mumbai Cha Raja happened. But Chenu is now ready to be made.”