Thursday, May 16, 2013

Meet Manav Kaul: Life is nothing but a journey of normalization of surprises!

I met Manav Kaul as a fan, inspired by his plays, stories and poems. Later I spent some time with him at various places. This interview was taken in mountains of Uttarakhand, during Sonapani Film Festival where Manav was one of the three featured filmmakers, along with Sriram Raghavan and K.U Mohanan. It was late in the evening. We were having a random conversation. I asked Manav if I can record our conversation. He allowed and here it is- an interaction with Manav Kaul.
Manav Kaul looks with a calm face during conversation
Photo: Pooja Sharma

Nihal: Manav, you have been into theatre for a long while. Now you are making films as well. What is the major difference you find in both the medium?

Manav: Major difference is of ‘History’. Theatre does not create history. It is a momentary art. Film creates history. You capture a frame, and that is history. Cinema is closer to life. You have to live life every day. You cannot a live a good day and that is over. You have to live everyday- morning to night-morning to night- evening. Living a good day is a tragedy, because you want to recreate it, just like we do it in theatre. And that is a trap. Even film is a trap. But that is captured. That is history. Now it is your problem how much you carry it on your shoulder. If you do not carry it as a baggage then you are a great person. If you carry it, then you are a very small person.

Nihal: What do you mean by baggage?

Manav: It is not a baby. It was teamwork, and it is over. It is history.

Everything you do has significance. It can give you happiness for a small period of time, and that is all- nothing more than that. That’s what life is. You liked one evening, maybe this one. Now you want to recreate it. You want everything similar- same bonfire, same songs, everything same. But that is not happiness. Happiness comes when it is most unexpected.

When are you surprised? You watch a play for the first time. Second time you will not be surprised. You will want to recreate the surprise in the third time, but for no use. I know that I do not know filmmaking. And this feeling is amazing. Our life is nothing but a journey of normalization of our surprises.

Nihal: I read one of you interviews few years back. The interviewer remarked that theatre is dying. You replied saying let it die. Why this approach?

Of course yaar. It must die as soon as possible. If it is dying let it die. I will kill it. Because if it will not die how will a space be created? It needs o die for something new to emerge. And most important: how many of us need theatre? No one needs theatre. We all are joking around. “We must save theatre”, “Theatre needs to survive”- non sense. Who goes to watch theatre? Those who are doing theatre shout aloud to save it. It is a business for them. If you make shoes you will like everybody to buy shoes. If people start buying slippers you will go mad.

Nihal: I was attracted towards your writing. I always felt you write different from other contemporaries. You have read a lot of literature. When did you start reading- College or school?

Manav: I never used to study. I started studying when I came to Bombay.

Nihal: When did you come to Mumbai?

Manav: 1998. One must study when he feels like studying. You start smoking not for the sake of smoking but to look cool. You consume alcohol to prove that you have grown up. You never like smoking or drinking. Similarly you start reading- to show that I also read. “Who is Chekhav! Who is Brecht! I will also see!”

Many people say you came to Mumbai to become an actor, but… . You know most wonderful people are those who changed themselves because they wanted to lead a great life. I admire those who still want to do something new at an age of 50 or 55. I do not see myself making films in the long run. Money is the most worthless thing I have come across. Since childhood we all have been scared by the society. Society sells LIC policies to us- if you do not save money you will have a bad life.

Nihal: What influenced you most- any particular incident or a person?

Manav: My laziness inspired me most. Every human is basically lazy, and wants to keep himself in a comfort zone. So I write, because I am a writer. But actually I sleep a lot. I do not want to do a ‘daily job’. I want a comfortable life.

Nihal: Didn’t Nirmal Verma influence you?

Manav: Of Course yaar. Your writing gets influenced by different people. Nirmal Verma, Vinod Kumar Shukl, Coetzee- they all influenced me. Camus influenced me most. I have read ‘Outsider’ numerous times.

Nihal: You are reading something right now?

Manav: I am reading Coetzee these days.

Nihal: You influenced many people in my university- D.U. Many colleges used to perform your plays. You watch your plays performed by others?

Manav: Never. People often call me to watch my own play. But I do not even watch my own directions. I feel so naked because I have written it, and I have also directed it. I watch the grand rehearsals. That is my show.

Any fiction is auto-biographical first. When you write a diary, you do nothing but lie. But when you are writing a story, you are honest.

Nihal: Why is it so?

Manav: Because when you write a diary, you are hero of the story. Everybody wants to be a hero. That is why fiction is more interesting. You do not even realize and you share your complexes, your dilemmas, et al. I am old now. I may have forgotten incidents, but the experiences come in my stories. I like ‘Mamtazbhai Patangwaale’.

You know the most interesting thing?

Nihal: What is it?

Manav: ‘Nobody knows anything’. I tell this to every youngster. Nobody knows anything. Everybody is essentially afraid. And when everybody is afraid, why shall we take any tension? Say whatever you feel like.

Nihal: You are a philosopher…

Manav: Arey, nothing like that! (Laughs). I feel mind can’t work with anything. But we need reasons to live. How will you live? You do a certain work once and spend entire life just accumulating reasons for it. I do the same.

Nihal: You justify yourself?

Manav: I will not call it ‘justify’. No one is asking you anything. You are looking for reasons to live, reasons to say that what I am doing is the best. And then you meet likeminded people who say ‘Yes, you are doing a great job.’

Acting is a lie. Stories are lie. Narration is a lie. Direction is a lie. I create a false life, and try to put truth in it. How is it possible? But then, one looks into his personal life and realizes, “how false is our own life?”

A bird is most amazing. It is enlightened. We all are fools, because we are looking for reasons to live.

Note: This interview is an English translation of the original interview in Hindi. The Hindi interview can be accessed here:

This interview first appeared in on May 11, 2013.

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