He’s an acclaimed theater actor. He’s played both, lead and supporting roles in movies. He’s been a part of the Hindi film industry for almost 19 years. But the audience still sometimes struggles to put a name to the familiar face of actor Manu Rishi.
In conversation with ScoopWhoop, Manu Rishi talks about his initial struggle, the importance of character artists, different mediums of entertainment, and his upcoming movies.
When Manu Rishi first decided to pursue acting, it wasn’t an easy journey. Because his family’s love for movies did not translate to their approval of acting as a profession.
As an audience mera film background hai. But not a film family. Theatre, cinema, poetry – was part of my family. My mother did theater too. My father was very introverted, but in his diary, he used to write poetry. Par main joint family se hun. So with parents and relatives ghar mein, acting was a big no because of the uncertainty. I was told, ‘take care of family business’. Insecurity thi parents ko, ki bacha bhatak nahin jaaye.
However, he was determined to pursue his passion, and convince his family. And thus began his theater journey. After six years of working with the Asmita theatre group in Delhi, he finally got the much-needed approval. Sadly his mother–who was the most supportive of his decision–never got a chance to watch him play.
I convinced my dad, then my uncle, to come see my plays. That’s when they agreed I could do it. Par 6 saal lag gaye. I think every dad is against love marriage and theatre. Lekin, dheere dheere he supported me. Mom always pushed me, but she never saw me work. She was happy that I was into acting but she never saw my play, because before she could see it, she expired. I had recited my dialogues to her before I went for the play and she liked it.
The shift from theatre to cinema took eight years in total. And during the time, his fondness for theatre and its live feedback almost overcame his original love to act in movies.
While he spent a considerable period learning the craft, he feels the ‘outsiders’ of today have it much easier. At least, as far as popularity is considered.
It is damn easy to become popular now. But actor ban na depends on the expectations you have for yourself. We are of the generation jo ma ke haath ka paranthe ka wait karti thi. Ab 2-min Maggi aur order wali generation hai. Jab main aaya tha TV ubhar raha tha. Balaji aa raha tha. Tab tha, TV ya film, kisi ek mein popular hoge. Ab kahin bhi popular ho sakte ho. Lekin, actor ban ne ki expecation hai toh aap hamesha dissatisfied hoge. Jaise Aamir khan hain. He is growing as an actor. Woh popularity se aage jaana chahte hain.
Despite his belief that popularity is easier to claim these days, he is yet to gain the kind of recognition that most actors enjoy. However, for him, popularity is no longer a concern.
In the director’s vision, we (character actors) get importance. Agar character strong hai aur script ko support kar raha hai, then audience support bhi milta hai. But humari mehnat ki popularity nahin hoti. People did not recognize my face. Woh mujhe dekh ke gaur karte then, aur kisi ko shayad kabhi character ka naam yaad aa jaata tha. Haan, popularity nahin hai. But if you continue to do work, aap iss lack of reaction ko bhi bhul jaate ho. After working with Dibakar, I learned character ki importance kya hai. Har character hero nahin ho sakta. Lekin authenticity ke saath jab hum likhte hain, toh ek teenager ki story mein bhi father ka role hai.
At the same time, he believes that no matter the role offered, he will continue to remain an ‘actor’, and not a ‘star’.
Meri film aa rahi hai, Doordarshan. Usmein meri zarurat thi for the lead role. Toh phir chahe main mota hu, maine main role ke liya aaya. Baaki main role ho, tab bhi hum character hi hote hain. Ab star toh nahin hai na. Uske liye toh gym jana padega. And I can’t sacrifice butter chicken for my dreams. Ranbir kapoor nahin ho sakta. Main humesha kehta hun, agar main gym jaun, toh sab actors ko bhi bolo ki theatre jaayein. Varna mujhe kuch mat kaho.
While he may not seek out the fame that people assume to be a given within the industry, there is no denying the fact that he is a talented actor. And he is just as talented a dialogue writer.
Something he proved when he worked with Dibakar Banerjee on Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye! and won both, an IIFA and a Filmfare for Best Dialogue. But, he would have perhaps never been on-board the film, had he not understood Dibakar’s vision.
I still remember asking Dibakar, “aap kyun iss chor ki kahaani banana chahte ho? Aap chor ko achcha dikhana chahta ho?” He said, “woh chor achcha hai.” Tab I thought, hum society ke point of view se dekh rahe hain, woh chor ki life dekh raha hai. He gave me a few scenes from the screenplay. Main ghar leke aaya aur maine haath se likha kyunki laptop bhi nahin tha. Next day, dost ke paas gaya, uss se type karvaya. Lekin jo e-mail bana rakha tha uska password yaad nahin tha. Naya password banake phir mail kiya and after 2 days, Dibakar confirmed. To date I think, ki ek chor ki kahaani got me excited.
He also talked about how he draws on his life experiences while writing relatable, humorous dialogues. And in his opinion, he does not believe that vulgarity has any role to play in comedy.
If you have a sense of timing and understanding of a character, then you can write non offensive comedy. Jab hum personal hote hain, community ko target karke joke karte hain, then that is bad. Like Sardar ka joke. Sardar se Santa Banta kar dia. Joke wahi raha. Mera belief hai, bina hurt kiye aap comedy kar sakte hain. Charlie Chaplin ek word bina bole bahut kuch bolte the. Unse hi seekh lo. Pushpak mein koi dialogue nahin tha, main usse dekh kar bhi hasa tha. Offense humor ka part nahin ho sakta. Comedy mein jo purity hai, jo pavitrata hai, woh kisi ko khush karna hai. Toh woh kisi ko offend nahin kar sakti. Agar aap offensive jokes kar rahe ho toh dono, jo uss par has raha hai aur jo bana raha hai, dono galti mein hai.
It has been 12 years since Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye released and while his character still remains memorable, he agrees that there is a need to have diverse, age-appropriate roles. In this case, though, he feels the responsibility also lies on actors to do more age-appropriate roles.
Actors ko maan na bhi padega ki unki age ho gai hai. Like Anil Kapoor ko bataega kaun ki unko dad ka role karna chahiye. Woh kabhi buddhe bhi honge? Neena, Gajraj, Main, hum accept karte hain. Aur ab commercial value waale actors ki bhi umr ho gai hai. Aur audience educated hai. Unke paas options hain.
While mainstream cinema may still be warming up to the idea of roles that focus on an actor and not just persona, web series have definitely broken this barrier. In fact, web series and streaming platforms are coming up with fresher, more relatable content.
And Manu Rishi, who’s been a part of web series like Inside Edge, Mirzapur, and others, wholeheartedly agrees with this. However, as a viewer, he still finds binging a difficult task. And he does worry about what the popularity of web series signifies about the future of cinema.
Web platforms are superb. They have more freedom and web se rozgaar sahi tareeke se divide ho raha hai. Lekin, thoda sa main old school hun. I worry about cinema. Kyunki, yeh kaunsi audience hai, jo phone dekh ke cinema dekh rahi hai. Ghar se nikalna, film ke liye jaana, mushkil ho gaya hai logon ke liye. Koi film hall mein hoga toh bas Salman, Akshay, Shah Rukh ke liye hoga. Manu Rishi ki achchi film dekhne kaun aaega? Bas iska kabhi sochta hun.
As far as fresh and relatable content is concerned, his upcoming film Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan, which is the second mainstream Hindi film to deal with a same-sex love story, appears to completely fit the bill.
According to him, movies like these play an integral role in changing the way the LGBTQ+ community is perceived in India.
Acceptance bahut cheezon ke liye nahi hai duniya mein, but yeh issue pyaar se juda hai. Koi platform mile, humein share karna chahiye. Agar aapko knowledge hai, toh aur logon ko sikhao. Aap janwar se pyaar karte ho, par insaan pyar kar raha hai toh accept nahin kar paate. Yeh bas ek gay love story nahin hai. Yeh ek family ki acceptance ki bhi story hai. Inn movies ki intention bahut pure hai. Dheere dheere samajh aaega, but be ready to accept it. As parents, fikr ho sakti hai, I agree. Dhyaan iss par do, ki fikr nahin, apne aap ko acceptance pe kaise laayein. 10 saal lagenge acceptance mein. Lekin jab mera beta bada hoga, usko samajh honi chahiye. Aur main bhi usko samajh sakun, yeh change aana chahiye. Umeed hai, dunia se, ki end mein achhi cheez mein hi jeet hogi . Hitesh spent a year making this film. Mazaak nahin hai. Par haste haste, he says a very important thing.
He also talked about how, finally, there is a positive change in the kind of movies being made by Bollywood.
The films are changing. Pehle kahaaniya ‘meri’ hoti thi, ab ‘humari’ ho gai hain. Pehle it was, ek hero hai, jo alag kaam karta hai. Ab kahaani alag hai. Story has become the hero. Log apne experience se bana rahe hain movies. Kisi ne apne complex ko story banaya hai. (eg of Bala and Badhaai ho). I feel this era started with Oye Lucky Lucky Oye. Because we thought, story likhte hain, phir hero dhundte hain. Pehle hero hota tha, story baad mein aati thi. Ab story important ho gai hai. Aur logon mein himmat hai, society ko improve karne ki.
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And Manu Rishi, whose upcoming movies include Doordarshan and Angrezi Medium, is clearly no stranger to experimental cinema. Here’s hoping that we, as an audience, continue to grant him the same love and affection that he pours in every character he plays.