Telling the story of Manjunath
He is very clear that he wants the real Manjunath to come through the film, along with what really happened to him. Director Sandeep Varma has come up with a film on Manjunath Shanmugam, an IIM-Lucknow graduate and an Indian Oil Corporation Sales officer who took on the oil mafia and got shot dead for his honest work. The film, Manjunath – Idiot Tha Saala – released on May 9 and despite being a low-budget film with no big names attached to it, it has already garnered praise.
Sandeep clearly states that the film starts where the media coverage ends. “The advertisement assignment had come to me from the Manjunath Shanmugam Trust. There was no talk of a film. I did a lot of research. As much as we admire people with charisma, there was nothing like that with Manjunath. He was contrary to what I expected in him. He flunked in subjects and was average. Yet he was extraordinary. You did not expect someone like him to be a hero. I wondered what transformed him to do what he did.”
Sandeep decided to show the person in Manjunath who went to do an honest job. “I wanted to show what happened after his death. Many fought for his justice, including cops and lawyers who saw a lot of things. They went out of their comfort zone to help. At that time, no one spoke about what happened to the story behind the headline and him.”
Sandeep feels the emotional investment which he did in the film could not have happened, if he was not interested in the story. “When I was working on it, I realised that Manjunath is someone who did not have the courage to become the person he is because of his simple background. So I jumped into the creative zone to know what happened in his life to do what he did. Earlier, I was too sensitive about things on the streets and it haunted me. Something was building up, but I lacked the courage which Manjunath had. That is what hit me and so I tried to make a feature film on him and his courage. At least, I should have courage to tell his story and take risks. It was Manjunath who was the courageous one in life and he got me in touch with the real me.”
In the case of Manjunath, all the permissions were taken. “I went ahead and got permission from his parents and his trust. I had to take permission from IIM Lucknow as I had to shoot there during the academic year. I got the permission only after showing them the screenplay. The family did not have any problem. When I decided to make the film, funding problem came in. The story was scaring off people which was good in a way. They might have asked to change the script.” Shooting in real locations meant not letting anyone know that the shoot was for a film on Manjunath. Apart from a few main people, most thought this was a romance film.
Sandeep’s way towards casting was slightly different, exactly like his choice for debut film. He knew the fact that certain trade pundits are cynical of such films and think a big star will carry the film forward. “I always told the people that my film had the biggest star. When they guessed the actor’s name, I said that Manjunath was the biggest star here. Everyone agreed to be a part of the cast because of the story. Manjunath has such goodwill that people are backing the film and sharing the trailers. That is the stardom of Manjunath. For the main lead, the actor had to look South Indian and he had to be young. I had to go for a new actor. He had to also speak good Hindi.” He got lucky in Bangalore where Mumbaikar, Sasho Satish Saarthy walked in on the last day of the auditions. After four months of workshop, he was ready to face the camera.
After completing the film, Sandeep first showed it to college students to see their reactions and as expected, it was good. He also showed it to prominent journalist Rajdeep Sardesai who praised the film in the video. “I wanted to show the film to Manjunath’s family and so I screened it at IIM Bangalore. Krish Gopalakrishnan of Infosys was with them at that time and asked if he could come.” Needless to say, Gopalakrishnan liked the film and has been supporting it.
The biggest compliment or support for the film came from Manjunath’s father who said while seeing the film, he felt as if Manjunath was talking to him. “Later, he did not talk to me for a few days and I thought something was wrong. But Manjunath’s brother called and said that their father got to know the reactions of Manjunath when he got killed,” Sandeep reveals.
Films like Manjunath – Idiot Tha Saala are a rare occurrence especially in terms of release and screen presence. “There is a perception that issue-based films do not work and that audience wants mindless films. Sensitive films work well. If you can take the efforts with the story and pace of the film, things work well. I took certain approvals deliberately. The film is far more universal. The film is releasing in 20 cities which is good. My hunch is we might see more cities this week. There is a personal and emotional angle to a film too which is covered here and it will help us,” he signs off.