From his Instagram and Facebook updates, it’s evident that he has been living out of a suitcase for a while to promote his upcoming film, Jai Gangaajal. He has been to Bhopal, Indore, Nagpur, Pune and Kolkata — all in a week’s time. But it’s not just the film that’s keeping director-actor Manav Kaul (39) on his toes these days. He also has his first book — Theek Tumhare Peeche (an anthology of 14 short stories) launching next month. When we caught up with him at a diner in Versova, during his two-day break, before he sets out for yet another promotional tour, Kaul admitted that he has never been this busy.
In fact, his life was a far cry from performing arts. “We were a middle class family living in Kashmir, but during the riots in the ’90s, we shifted to Madhya Pradesh. There, we became a lower middle class family. My parents expected me to open a tea stall or a paan shop,” says Kaul, adding that although he was interested in theatre, he could never think of pursuing the arts academically.
After living in Mumbai for over 18 years — with a string of noted films (Kai Po Che! in 2013 and City Lights in 2014) and plays (Shakkar ke Paanch Daane in 2004 and Peele Scooter Wala Aadmi in 2006) to his credit, Kaul, today, is a name to reckon with in cinema as well as theatre.
But he is “excited” about all that he is currently up to. He says he was “stunned” when he was approached to publish his short stories. “My first reaction was, ‘Are you serious?’ Scripting plays was my job. I knew people were going to see that on stage. Writing short stories was my way of relaxing; it was absolutely personal,” says Kaul, who began writing the short stories back in 2001, when he also took a sabbatical from acting.
Kaul confesses he was never interested in being in front of the camera. It was a way of earning some easy money. “After 2002, I worked in a few films here and there, because that would mean free travel. I acted in 1971 (2007) because that meant staying in Manali for two months. I wrote my play Bali Aur Shambhu there,” he explains, adding that although he was living hand-to-mouth back then, those were the “most productive years of my life”. During his early years in the city, Kaul jokes that he lived in almost every suburb between Mira Road and Andheri.
It was also around the same time that he started visiting Prithvi Theatre, and enrolled himself for late thespian Satyadev Dubey’s workshops. He credits the legend for paving his way into theatre. “He selected me for one of his plays. After that, I would simultaneously work in six-seven plays. Then I formed my group, Aranya, which completed 12 years last month. I don’t know why he chose me; I had a heavy Kashmiri twang in my Hindi. My Hindi spellings are still quite atrocious. I have asked the publishers not to edit my writing, but only correct my spellings,” he smiles.
But ask him about the state of Hindi literature today, and the smile disappears. “Society gets the art it deserves. Ask yourself if there is any recognition for Hindi writing. Is the government doing anything for Hindi playwrights or writers? If people like Chetan Bhagat, they get Chetan Bhagat,” he says, adding that there’s an equal dearth of good directors in theatre and cinema today.
Kaul, who will conduct a workshop at National School of Drama (NSD), Delhi, this weekend, is of the opinion that workshops should be conducted on direction, and not acting. He would like to direct films in the future and insists that he will not make mainstream, commercial films; his cinema will be an extension of his brand of theatre — unabashed, layered, experimental and honest.
The social media writer
Kaul’s Instagram feed is filled with photo stories from his everyday life and travels. He calls himself an Instagram writer. “What you read on Instagram is my instinctive writing. I am planning to publish a coffee table book with a compilation of those snippets,” he says.
Theek Tumhare Peeche will be on stands in March.
Publisher: Hind Prakashan
Price: Rs 98
You can pre-order the book on amazon.com