Published: 31st May 2022
Through his lens: Gujarati Director Manish Saini is here to change the future of childrens' films
Gujarati Director Manish Saini's first film for children won the National Award. One can only imagine where the second film, Gandhi & Co, will reach...
With the film Gandhi & Co, filmmaker Manish Saini has made an attempt to ensure that the ideologies of our beloved Father of the Nation resonate with others, but not through sermons or preaches!
It is through the two mischievous protagonists of the movie, Mitoo and Mitra, that the idea is conveyed. Because when an unexpected accident corners, Mintoo proclaims Mahatma Gandhi as his role model. He soon starts mimicking our Father of the Nation but is nowhere close to imbibing Gandhi's values.
"It may be easy to look like Gandhi but it is very difficult to be like him," shared the director of the movie in an exclusive chit-chat with Edexlive.
Though this movie is fictional it might as well be a reality as many students see Gandhi as their role model but have little idea on how to imbibe his qualities.
Manish Saini is the same director who received a National Award in 2018 for the Best Gujarati Film for his debut directorial venture, Dhh. Starring Naseeruddin Shah, no less! One can only guess what his second film, Gandhi & Co, is capable of. For starters, it has already won the Best Children Film at International Gujarati Film Festival (IGFF) 2022 and turns out, he is just getting started.
The film had actually premiered for the first time at Bangalore International Film Festival, where it won the second-best Indian film. And the movie is now ready for its fifth premier in the Czech Republic.
It is a must-watch and is a lesson, but not in a textbook way, on non-violence, truth and honesty, forgiveness and perseverance — all the qualities that Bapu held dear to his heart. The director tells it all in an interview with us:
First and foremost, how did you start making films?
I studied at the National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad. In 2009 when I completed my course, my friend Aditya Gupta and I started working on a script. Once the story was completed I approached many producers and financial advisors. But like every young director, I faced a lot of rejections. And that was when I decided to borrow money from my relatives and friends and produce plus directed my first film, Dhh, in 2017.
And it actually went on to win the National Award for the Best Gujarati Film. That is really commendable. Could you share a few fond memories associated with Dhh?
I remember when I first narrated the script to actor Naseeruddin Shah, he loved it. One day, he called me and said that he is on board. Throughout the shoot, he encouraged me and stood with me like a rock. In 2018, the film received the National Award for the Best Gujarati Film. After this, the movie was released by Viacom18 and was also a part of the Toronto International Film Festival Kids. I believe that was when my journey as a filmmaker truly began, Dhh gave me immense confidence.
Behind the scenes
What inspired you to make Gandhi and Co and why did you choose Gandhian values as your backdrop?
I am really fond of Mahatma Gandhi. Also because I hail from Haryana and studied in Ahmedabad, Gandhian values have been instilled in me from a very young age. But on the contrary, today's children find him very boring. School textbooks present Gandhi in a very mechanical way. And this is what inspired me to make the film Gandhi and Co.
Through this movie, I made an attempt to help young minds resonate with the simple yet significant ideologies that once helped our nation gain its independence. Initially, I started writing the script inspired by an Iranian film.
Now, the movie is about two friends, Mintoo and Mitra (both 11-years-old). These kids are very mischievous and find stories about the Father of our Nation, which is taught in their school, very tedious. But an unexpected event happens when their friend, Bharat Bhai, tells them that Bapu is actually the country's superhero.
Though in the first instance the duo aren't convinced, they end up understanding the real Gandhi. In one of the instances from the film, Mintoo dresses as Mahatma Gandhi for a fancy dress competition at his school and starts mimicking him, but he is nowhere close to imbibing Bapu's principles. And that is when his friend Bharat Bhai takes it upon himself to change the boys. My main intention was to project Gandhi and his values to the kids in a comical way.
Since comedy is considered to be a difficult genre, how difficult was it for you to tackle it?
I agree that comedy is a difficult genre. But it depends on how you project it. If you are trying to force it, then it might be hard. Except if humour is already there in your story and in the characters' dilemma, then it will be interesting and presentable. If someone watches this film they will realise that the scenarios are comical and are based on irony. And therefore the correct word for the movie, according to me, is actually satirical than comedy.
Tell us about how the idea was conceived and when did you find the time to execute it during the raging pandemic.
We started the project on March 18, 2020, right before the pandemic. Though I finished working on the script during the first lockdown, in 24 days flat, we could start the shoot only in December. It was a 30-day schedule. But since the main cast of the film consisted of elderly people and children we had to pay a lot of attention to the protocols. We somehow managed to finish the shoot in January 2021.
I decided to edit the movie by myself during the second wave. And in the third wave, the film premiered for the first time at Bangalore International Film Festival, where it won the second-best Indian film.
From the film
How hard was it casting the main leads of the movie?
I believe it is from casting that the actual process of the movie begins. It's very important that you cast the correct characters. For instance, for this film, I wanted naughty and mischievous children, so if I was to choose very simple boys, I knew it wouldn't work. We conducted an open audition and selected around 20 kids from Ahmedabad and Surat since the film was in Gujarati. After organising a workshop, I finalised the kids based on their rapport. As a film director, I always prefer fresh faces as their library is zero. Even for my first film Dhh, I had cast newcomers.
And in this movie, the main lead, Shah Reyaan, faced the camera for the first time as well. It always helps. As a result, I really had a fantastic experience working with both the kids.
Mr Jariwala on the other hand, who played the role of Bharat Bhai in the film is a very experienced actor and has done many movies in the Bollywood film industry. It was very easy working with him, he fits into any kind of genre. The best part was that he and the kids gelled very well which made my work very easy.
Tell us about working with children specifically...
When I was working with the kids, many people asked me how difficult it was working with them? But I found it very easy because children are raw. They just follow you and trust you. I really liked working with them. On the contrary, when working with experienced actors they normally come with a lot of baggage and ego. Whereas kids just mimic you and act without any constraint. Talking about the crew, for this movie I had a chance to work with a brilliant DoP (Director of Photography) from Kerala, it was his first movie as well.
How different was your originally envisioned idea from the final cut?
Sometimes, when you are working with non-actors, especially children, it is important that you are open to improvising. We did not compromise on the script but were open to incorporations.
Since your first movie Dhh was a success, did you feel any pressure with Gandhi & Co?
Though Dhh was critically acclaimed and well appreciated, it did not see any commercial success. I don't believe in the 'box office collection' notion, I believe in good cinema and a good story. Even with my second movie, I wanted to tell a good story. But from producers' point of view, recovery is also very important
According to you, where does the children film's genre stand today in India?
The number of children's films available in India are few and far in between. In the name of childrens' movies, we see stories that are themed around animation, loud comedy and fantasy. As a parent, I'm always afraid of what my kid is watching, because we can't trust children's content anymore. Our country's future will be shaped by this new generation so it is very important that you pay attention to this issue. The approach must be changed. I personally feel children's content should be like textbooks, both interesting and educational.