Manoj Night (Nelliattu) Shyamalan, the Indian-born American film director and actor, turns 41. He is best known for his work on the movies The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable, Signs, and The Village.
Hallmarks of Shyamalan's films include unexpected plot twists, realistic treatment of horror or science fiction themes, camera shots taken at unique angles, and a cameo appearance by Shyamalan himself in each film. Born in 1970 in Mahé, Puducherry, India to a physician father and obstetrician and gynecologist mother, Shyamalan spent his first six weeks in Puducherry, and then was raised in Penn Valley, Pennsylvania, an affluent Main Line suburb of Philadelphia.
Shyamalan had an early desire to be a filmmaker when he was given a Super-8 camera at the age of 8. Though his father wanted Shyamalan to follow in the family practice of medicine, his mother encouraged Shyamalan to follow his passion. By the time he was 17, Shyamalan, who had been a fan of Steven Spielberg, had made 45 home movies.
Shyamalan made his first film, the semi-autobiographical drama Praying with Anger (1992), while still a student of New York University's Tisch School of the Arts, in Manhattan (where Shyamalan adopted the nickname Night) using money borrowed from family and friends. It was screened at the Toronto Film Festival on September 12, 1992, and played commercially at one theatre for one week. Praying with Anger has also been shown on Canadian television. Filmed in Chennai (Madras), it is his only film to be shot outside of Pennsylvania. In 1994, Shyamalan sold the rights to a screenplay called ‘Labor of Love’ to FOX for a whopping $750,000, though the movie remains unproduced to this day.
Using the money earned from ‘Labor of Love’, Shyamalan devoted all of his time to his burgeoning career as a filmmaker, eventually landing a deal with Disney to write and direct a drama called ‘Wide Awake’ in 1995, released in 1998. His parents were the film's associate producers. The drama dealt with a 10-year-old Catholic schoolboy (played by Joseph Cross) who, after the death of his grandfather, searches for God. ‘Wide Awake’ was filmed in a school Shyamalan attended as a child, and earned 1999 Young Artist Award nominations for Best Drama, and, for Cross, Best Performance.
Though the movie was a financial disappointment, it impressed executives at Disney enough to finance his next film - a supernatural thriller entitled The Sixth Sense (1999). That same year Shyamalan wrote the screenplay for Stuart Little. Shyamalan achieved commercial success in 1999 when he wrote, directed, and produced The Sixth Sense. The main element of interest about the movie is a disturbed child (Haley Joel Osment) who claims to see people who have died. The film had a $40 million budget, and grossed over $600 million box office worldwide. It was one of the most commercially successful films that year. The Sixth Sense was also nominated for six Academy Awards, including Best Editing, Best Supporting Actor, Best Supporting Actress, Best Director, Best Picture, and Best Original Screenplay. It won the Nebula Award for Best Script, given by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. His next film was Unbreakable starring Bruce Willis.
Shyamalan’s next commercially successful movie was Signs (2002) - a science fiction drama of a rural Pennsylvania pastor who has lost his faith after his wife's death, and regains it with his family as they witness the worldwide events of an alien invasion. Budgeted at $72 million, Signs grossed $227 million domestically and $408 million worldwide. The Village (2004), which he wrote and directed- earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Score.
The film polarized audiences, and though it wasn't quite the monster hit that Signs was, The Village managed to gross over $100 million in the US and proved that Shyamalan now had the power to open a movie based solely on his name. Shyamalan's Lady in the Water (2006), a fantasy, had much controversy swirling around it, stemming from the filmmaker's participation in an upcoming tell-all book. After helming four straight movies for the Disney studio, Shyamalan decided to take Lady in the Water over to Warner Bros. following a heated dispute with Disney production president Nina Jacobson. Lady in the Water went on to receive four Golden Raspberry Award nominations, three of which were for Shyamalan himself (Worst Supporting Actor, Worst Director and Worst Screenplay), as well as Worst Picture.
His The Happening, a co-production between 20th Century Fox and UTV Motion, which did financially better than his previous effort but was also panned by critics; in its entire American run, it grossed only slightly more than Signs made in its opening weekend. The Last Airbender (2010), based on a popular animated series on the Nickelodeon kids' cable channel, received extremely negative reviews in the United States and won 5 Razzie Awards, but has gone on to make nearly $320 million internationally at the box office. Last year, he also produced and wrote the story for Devil but did not direct.
In 1993, Shyamalan married Indian psychologist Bhavna Vaswani, a fellow student whom he had met at NYU and with whom he has had two daughters. Shyamalan was also awarded in 2008 with Padma Shri, one of India's highest civilian awards, standing fourth in the hierarchy after the Bharat Ratna, the Padma Vibhushan and the Padma Bhushan.
(With inputs from News Tomorrow)