How to give up the cushiest job in the US and make people laugh could be his one-line story. The 40-year-old scientist and computer whiz has just completed an indie ‘crossover' movie which takes an affectionate look at the foibles of NRIs and features Shabana Azmi as a high-society warbler who can kill to win the Desi Idol contest in New Jersey. Brand-new filmmaker Manish Acharya in conversation with Shaikh Ayaz
I have a science background. I did quite well academically and was sent off on a scholarship to the US. I studied Physics and Computers from Grinnell College, Iowa. I even made some short films... you know how it is.
Sounds very Nagesh Kukunoorish.
Yeah? I don't know.. maybe..
You are a South Mumbai guy, aren't you?
Yes, from Breach Candy. We had a small one-bedroom place.. but no car. We've been in Breach Candy before it became ‘Breach Candy'.. guess dad got lucky going for a small house in a neighbourhood that became big.
Kumar Shahani and Udayan Patel live in the Sagar Darshan high-rise..did their intellectual vibes ever rub off on you?
I left India when I was only 18. I didn't know them, although I'd bump into them in elevators. I'd just gape at them.. aware of the fact that they're very brainy.
<b1>How did Loins Of Punjab Presents happen?
My co-writer Anuvab Pal and I were hanging around in a coffee shop in Manhattan.. gabbing about the movies and talking about how the west looks at the Bombay movies as kitsch.. for me, Bollywood is magical.
So, did you want to pay homage to Bollywood or lampoon it?
I don't know if I'm qualified enough to pay homage.. but it's certainly not a lampoon or a spoof. I've loved the comedies of Woody Allen and Hrishikesh Mukherjee. The story of Loins.. is populated by characters who're real. I've only heightened their endearing qualities as well as their idiosyncrasies.
How did Shabana Azmi come into the picture?
It took just one phone call. As a star, I thought it must be her defence mechanism to be inaccessible to strangers. She must be getting hundreds of phone calls in a day but she was on line, it's amazing how accessible she remains.
When I contacted her, she was going off to Kashmir. I had to rush and give her the script before she left for the flight. When she returned at 9 am in a few days, she said she had read the script, by 10 am she was on board.
Did you write her character keeping Devil Wears Prada in mind?
You mean the scary Meryl Streep? Well, let me tell you that the movie came out long after my script was complete. Nope, Mrs Kapoor.. the character played by Shabana, I thought was an exciting one to pull off. She feeds on both ruthlessness and generosity .
Is there actually a
Desi Idolsinging contest for Asians in the US - and specifically so in New Jersey?
No, there's no such singing contest there. We registered the name.. and then some event managers actually called up to ask if they could organise such a talent event. Now, I wasn't about to go there at all..(laughs) it was a classic case of life imitating art.
What's your take on Indian Idol?
It's thrilling to see an anonymous person becoming a star overnight. It expresses every person's dream come true. And who doesn't love a success story?
What do you think of Abhijeet Sawant?
Immediately after he won, he had a huge following. I may be wrong here but he's no longer the star that he was. Talent shows like
provide a platform.. that's at plus... but it's difficult if not impossible to keep the euphoria going. As an actor, you perform an Amitabh Bachchan song in the film.. and also deliver a half-minute lecture about him.
Anyone one who's grown up on his movies, the way I did, can't not be a Mr Bachchan fan. I've gone through this major Vijay influence.. Vijay's aspirations, his take-on-the-system attitude. Today, when I see him doing a
Nishabd, Cheeni Kum
Ram Gopal Var ma ki Aag
, I find him to be a very brave actor.
Yes..just the fact that he had the guts to play Gabbar. I haven't seen the film yet though.
If you were in my place, what would you ask yourself?
I would ask, "How would you like to be known as a director?"
How would you like to be known as a director?
As a director who makes all kinds of films.. someone like Ang Lee.. who continues to balance a martial arts epic, a period love story and a movie about gays with such ease.
So, has that one bedroom Breach Candy house become bigger?
(Laughs) Oh yes, tremendously.. I'm still in Sagar Darshan but there are more rooms now.
And pray, how did you get yourself a beautiful wife who's an artist to boot?
Dhruvi and I've been married for 12 years. I was the best man at a friend's wedding.. I saw Dhruvi for the first time there and fell in love instantly. Exactly nine days later, I proposed her to but she said let's wait, let's see. Three months later, we got married.. and so here I am.