Manav Kaul is an established theatre director, playwright, actor and a filmmaker. Known for his brilliant performances in Kai Po Che, Wazir and Citylights, Kaul is now one of the most recognised faces in Bollywood. Kaul has recently penned down his first book Theek Tumhare Piche making his debut as a writer.
He speaks to Guardian 20 about his love for theatre, cinema and the written word.
Q. You started the theatre group Aranya in 2004 in Mumbai. What was the idea behind going for theatre?
A. I always used to do theatre in Bhopal and also started my theatre there. I also did theatre in Mumbai with Pandit Satyadev Dubey. It is just that I got bored with acting and I left it completely in 2002. I did not know what to do next in my life when I started writing plays and then I opened up this theatre group with my play Shakkar Ke Paanch Daane and that’s how my journey started.
Q. Among your notable plays are Ilhaam, Park and Shakkar ke Paanch Daane, which last was your first venture as a playwright and director in 2004. What is your take on Hindi theatre scene in India? Is it dying?
A. I think if it has to die then it should die. If theatre is dying, let it die. I am not here to take theatre onto a different level. I do it because I love it, I seek entertainment from it. I don’t seriously think about what is happening to Hindi theatre or whether I am the one who can save it. Say, if English theatre is replacing Hindi, it should replace Hindi. I don’t mind that. I think it’s a market. If there is a need for theatres, you will see theatre happening and if there is no need, you will not see it. And this need should come from people. People have to create this need, it cannot be forced. Theatre is not education, it is an intellectual form of entertainment and for such things, the demand should come from the people. If there is no demand, it will die.
And it’s not only about theatre. We generally do not respect writers in India. People don’t read here that much. So, Hindi is suffering, films are suffering and theatre is suffering as we don’t give enough credit and due to writers so that is why there is a lack of original writing in India. I think we should as a state or an individual give credit to writers because most of the plays are translated or adapted from outside. We are very unaware of what is happening around in our own country. We need original playwrights.
Q. You recently wrote a book called Theek Tumhare Piche which is a collection of twelve short stories. Which writers inspire you? Are you planning to write your next book?
A. There are many writers who inspired me to write this book, like Vinod Kumar Shukla, Nirmal Verma, Albert Camus, Jean-Paul Sartre, Franz Kafka and many others. These are all amazing writers who inspire me in life and luckily my book is doing very well and the young audiences are loving it, which is very encouraging. Yes, I am working on my next book also. It will be out in the beginning of next year.
Q. In your plays, you tend to focus more on human-interest stories. What draws you towards such stories?
A. That’s what I have lived and what I like. I am more of a philosopher than a poet and a writer. My whole philosophy is existentialism and human sufferings, happiness, loneliness interests me. So, I write on such issues because the way I live is the way I write.
Q. You are an actor, director and writer. Which attracts you the most?
A. Life attracts me the most. I want to do many things. I want to surprise myself every time. I am afraid of boredom. I always want to go for something bizarre in life. I think there is so much time that I can do everything. So, nothing anyone does attracts me. Everything that I do attracts me. I like fighting challenges.
Q. You have been praised for your performance as a right-wing politician in Kai Po Che! in 2013. How did the journey from stage to screen happen?
A. In 2013, I was tired of doing theatre because for 12 years I was continuously into theatre. It was monotonous and I was looking for something else in my life. So fortunately I got this film where I played the character of Bittu Mama and I had lot of fun doing this film.
“In 2013, I was tired of doing theatre because for 12 years I was continuously into theatre. It was monotonous and I was looking for something else in my life. So fortunately I got this film where I played the character of Bittu Mama and I had lot of fun doing this film.”
Q. In three of your recent films, Wazir, City Lights and Jai Gangajal, you play the antagonist. Do you have a preference for dark characters?
A. It’s not me but people choose me for dark characters. I have always done what I have been offered. So, till now I have been offered these kinds of roles to play but I am trying my best to surprise the audience and maybe this year or by next year, you can see different aspects of my acting.
Q. You played a Kashmiri politician in Wazir and you are originally from Kashmir. How do you view the problems in Kashmir?
A. I have a very emotional connection with Kashmir. I feel very sad about whatever is happening in Kashmir. But it is much more complex than what we see from here. I can say that people living there are suffering and those who have left Kashmir they too are suffering. It is a sad state but it is a very beautiful part of our country so we should handle it very delicately. The situation in Kashmir is very complicated and I cannot comment on it. If I have to do something for it, I need to live there because I cannot sit in Mumbai and comment on it. I don’t want to be a hypocrite. I am an emotional fool where Kashmir is concerned.
Q. We have seen you reciting Vinod Kumar Shukla and Nirmal Verma’s work. How do they inspire you in your life?
A. There are many writers and when you read them, they will inspire you in many ways. Good writers will always have good effect on you. And Vinod Kumar Shukla and Nirmal Verma are among the best we have. They are fantastic writers.
Q. Who is your favourite director in world cinema?
A. There are many and everyone is doing great work. I can’t name any one but directors like Wong Kar-wai, Alejandro González Iñárritu are doing a great job. I have seen some amazing films in 2015-16 and every director is so different. So, it is very difficult to choose.
Q. What kind of films do you expect to be made in Bollywood?
A. Our kind of entertainment is very different from theirs. We are changing a lot. Every year four or five amazing films are released like Titli or Aankho Dekhi. Things are changing and they is changing for good. I hope in India, in the next five or 10 years, we have amazing cinema. And independent cinema is also rising as films can be made on low budgets and there are a lot of young directors and writers working. So, you will see a kind of change in the years to come. Young people will change the face of cinema and I am very optimistic about it. This is the best time for any director, writer or an actor to work in films.