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Features & Opinion

Remembering Mani Kaul

By Nandita Dutta • Published on July 6, 2011

A still from Naukar ki Kameez

[O]ne of the greatest names redolent of the “Indian New Wave” in cinema passed away; leaving behind a rich cinematic legacy, and a trail of memories. Friends, associates, students and cinema lovers are mourning Mani Kaul’s death alike.

Vinod Kumar Shukla is a well-known writer in Hindi; Pankaj Sudir Mishra acted in Kaul’s film Naukar ki Kameez and is now a creative director for television; and Gurwinder Singh is a filmmaker who assisted Mani Kaul in one of his workshops at the FTII. Three of them, who have been associated with Mani Kaul at various points in their lives, reminisce…

He wanted to make a film on my book “Deewar Mein Ek Khirkee Rahati Thi”: Vinod Kumar Shukla

I met Mani Kaul for the first time when he had come to Bhopal for the launch of Satah Se Uthta Aadmi which was based on Muktibodh’s novel. When my book Naukar Ki Kameez was published, he wanted to make a film on it and would communicate this to me every time we met. But to make a film is difficult, and he eventually made it.  He was a learned filmmaker; he had invented a creative language which could not let a habitual viewer be. The viewer was transformed and transported into another world with his films.

He, like Ghatak had set off on a different road with his creativity. That road appears empty to me now. He experimented with the medium of cinema to express himself. His aim was neither to make money nor to earn fame through his films. He persevered despite all the criticism; but never got the kind of success he deserved.

Mani Kaul wanted to make a film on my story Deewar Mein Ek Khirkee Rahati Thi . Few months before he was diagnosed with cancer, he had sent me the script based on the film and I had mailed him back the Hindi translation of it. He told me that he was getting the team for this film ready. But 3-4 months back, he called to inform that he was severely ill and would not be able to make the film. The last words I spoke to him were—“I’m sure you will be able to make the film”. And this morning I heard about his demise!

He was an institution to me: Pankaj Sudir Mishra, actor of Naukar Ki Kameez

I was born and brought up in the town of Bhilai in Chattisgarh. The first time I came to Mumbai was with Mani Kaul for the shooting of Naukar ki Kameez.

I stayed with him during the one year that Naukar Ki Kameez was filmed. During the course of the film, I told him that I was not interested in acting and that I wanted to learn filmmaking. He told me that I was free to learn whatever I wanted to. He had realized that my interest lay in filmmaking and then he asked me to be a part of the editing process of the film. He has been my only teacher in filmmaking. More than a director, he was always a teacher to me. I feel I was too young at that time to understand a person like him and his passion for cinema. He was an institution to me. This is a mail that he once wrote me:

“Are you now Dheeraj, Pankaj or Sudheer? Mishra is certain. Is there anything to a name? I wonder if I ever told you a story about Shatrughan Sinha. Like you, Shatrughan had no work, freshly out of FTII (or FTI as it was called then) he used to spend his time running between studios. He was a little uncertain about his name too. He thought he would become a villain in the film industry and following the tradition of a then popular villain K.N. Singh, imagined that his own name should be S.P. Sinha (Shatrughna Prasad Sinha). I immediately told him drop Prasad from your name and make the Sanskrit Shatrughna into Shatrughan and call yourself Shatrughan Sinha. He told me that was a long name, difficult to pronounce. I said, try for a few months, if it works good, if it does not drop it. Somehow my suggestion stuck in his mind and he began to call himself Shatrughan Sinha in studios he began to visit from the next day. Within a week he got a single shot assignment. He had to enter a room and say a line. That’s all. That little part was a total success. He never looked back.

A rosy story! Difficult to repeat. But there is something to a name even if Shakespeare disagrees with us. Nothing superstitious – just practical. It is a sound. Not a meaning. And that sound carries a reverb. It seems like a long suggestion for something quite small.

Things take their own time. When time appears to bring about change there will be a hundred intimations from the void within your being. Have courage and continue!”

He wasn’t against commercial cinema: Gurwinder Singh, filmmaker and teaching assistant to Kaul

I was Mani Kaul’s teaching assistant when he took a workshop for Direction students at the FTII in 2005. I have recently made my first feature film funded by NFDC and was asked to pick a mentor which naturally happened to be Mani Kaul. I chose him as my mentor and I shared my script with him. But it all happened at a time when he was bed-ridden. I visited him with my entire crew and spent a couple of days with him at his Delhi residence. I showed him my rushes. This was about a month back.

It was afternoon, and he started playing some music which one of his students had composed. I was listening to it and felt that it would go beautifully with my film. When he finished, I told him that I thought I was listening to the soundtrack of my film. That’s exactly what I thought you would say, he said. That was him; he would open up things for you, he really valued your individuality. He never wanted his students to make films like him. He wanted them to discover themselves, and make films their own way. It is wrongly understood that he was against commercial cinema. You could be his student and yet want to be an ad filmmaker. He would tell you how you could do that better. He really understood the pulse of his students.

Mani Kaul passed away at his Delhi residence this morning.

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One Response to “Remembering Mani Kaul”

  1. Tanuja Chaturvedi says:

    Such wonderful, witty, wise words to Pankaj. Mani truly belonged to all of us. Like my friend wrote “ours.”

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