He grew up in a middle-class family in north Delhi’s Pitampura area. But film-maker Maneesh Sharma had bigger dreams that eventually led him to Mumbai. As the young director is busy editing his next, which he actually hoped to make his directorial debut with, we talk to him about his journey, and more.
Did your family try to dissuade you from becoming a film-maker?
No, I didn’t face any such problems. But my relatives were like, “Yeh film course kya hota hai (what is this film course)? Film kaun padhta hai (who studies film)?” I’m talking about the early 2000s. That time, it was an alien thing to them. But my parents were supportive.
The general perception is that you got a dream launchpad (with Band Baaja Baaraat; 2010) with such a big banner, very easily.
Everyone used to tell me back then, “You have made a film with such a big banner, but you have an actor (Ranveer Singh) making his debut with it?” It was a given that if it’s a Yash Raj film, there has to be one big star in it. Even my family members said, “Your hero is unknown, plus your heroine is also relatively new.” There is great pleasure in being an underdog because there are no expectations. So, I had nothing to lose. I could focus on what I was making. I wasn’t thinking of anything else.
Watch the Band Baaja Baaraat trailer here
You next film stars Shah Rukh Khan...
I am finally getting to make my dream film. It’s my biggest movie, as I’m working with a star. The process of making this film and the relationship with SRK, as a director, has been very special for me. I have made this film the way I wanted to, without any commercial pressures. Adi (Aditya Chopra; producer) has kept me dreaming for a long time (laughs).
There is a perception that you are a serious person…
I have no idea why such a perception exists. One’s personality is mirrored in their work. By that yardstick, I shouldn’t be considered serious. According to me, I am a regular, working guy (smiles). I am just serious about my work.
Were you always interested in film-making?
Absolutely. Even before I started college (Hansraj College, Delhi), I was doing theatre. I guess it was during my first or second year that I realised I wanted to be a film director. But neither did I know anyone in the industry, nor did I have any family members who were doing films.
You are among the few directors who have formal training in film-making...
When I graduated in English (Honors), like any middle class guy, I thought, ‘Ab kya (now what)?’ I had two choices — to come to Mumbai and assist a director, or study film. I went for the latter. I did my three-year Masters in Fine Arts degree in Los Angeles, USA, from the California Institute of the Arts. That’s where I was formally exposed to film-making. In 2005, I moved to Mumbai, since I was an assistant on Fanaa (2006). Since then, the journey has continued.
When did you know what kinds of films you wanted to make?
There was nothing to find out. After Fanaa, I showed some of my short films to Adi (Aditya Chopra; producer), which I had made in film school. I also told him that I had a couple of ideas. One of them was the story of Fan. He really liked it, and asked me to develop it. One day, he asked me if I wanted to work on Madhuri Dixit Nene’s comeback film, and I was more than happy. Then Adi asked me to assist him on Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi (2008), and I said yes. Soon, talk about Fan started doing the rounds. I thought, ‘I have to make this film.’ But Adi advised me, saying, ‘It’s a great script, but don’t make it as your first film. It’s a tough, risky film that requires a star.’ He knew that I wanted to make it with SRK. He said, ‘You direct a few mid-sized films first, and then make Fan.’ I was very unhappy. So, that ‘rejection’ at that time gave birth to Band Baaja Baaraat (BBB; 2010). I wanted to make a character-based film.
Watch the trailer for Fan here
You have been largely slotted as a rom-com film-maker…
I don’t have the body of work to make me a rom-com expert. But I know that the films I have made have a correlation with young people and their relationships, or middle class sensibilities. But nothing is by design. My desire is that my body of work should have a variety of films. I want to explore different genres, except horror films. I don’t think I will ever make a horror film in my life.
Will you ever surprise your fans by making a film like Dhoom (2004) or Dabangg (2010)?
I would love to make a film like Dhoom and Dabangg, even though I may get slotted and judged by the media, as well as the public and the industry. I am detached from such tags. I have to be excited about making a film.
Where do you get your inspiration from?
I am influenced by everything, and my world view definitely affects my thinking, presentation and work. The spaces and characters in my films are people that I have always been aware of. Even BBB was close to my personality. [As a director] you are capturing moments and designing scenes using your understanding of life. It could be wrong, or right, mature or immature. I am sure that, subconsciously, film-makers or films that I have hated or loved have influenced me.
What’s your film-making process like?
I am not a planned director. The thrill lies in figuring out what to do on the sets. That’s why I love to shoot at real locations. On [real] locations, something special comes out of the energy. I keep the process organic. I work in tandem with everyone. Also, since I went to film school, I know how to work with a team. Theatre also has the same discipline.
Has your experience in theatre helped you?
Keeping the momentum intact is more exciting when you are shooting a film. In theatre, you get used to working as a team. Also, it helps in extracting performances.