We all are guided by some principles. Being socially relevant drives Manish Mundra to make films which other filmmakers may pass up in favour of commercial viability. This is the core of his production house Drishyam, which has produced such critical and award-winning films as Rajat Kapoor’s Ankhon Dekhi, Neeraj Ghaywan’s Masaan, Amit V Masurkar’s Newton and Nagesh Kukunoor’s Dhanak, among others.
“Our philosophy is to offer soulful stories that are Indian and realistic in nature, and feature characters who are around us,” Mudra told mid-day over a phone call ahead of the premiere of his latest offering, Siya. The film marks his directorial debut.
Starring newcomer Pooja Pandey and the versatile Vineet Kumar Singh, the viewer follows 17-year-old Sita Singh [Pandey] into the country’s hinterlands as it tells the story of her brutal abduction and rape. Then ensues a fight for justice in a flawed justice system, reigned over by men.
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The idea, says Mundra, came from real-life crimes. “[In one such incident] there was a huge hue and cry for a couple of days before everyone moved on to the next news. But my heart and mind stayed with that survivor,” says Mundra. “I was stuck to her journey, [in awe] of her choosing to fight [while] knowing that the road to justice is tough, and that she and her family might pay a heavy price for it.”
Mundra made a study of several such cases that ended in death. “We saw a pattern—a powerful bahubali is either the perpetrator or supporter, and tries everything in his power to silence the survivor. But she still wants to fight for justice, he harms her,” he adds.
Mundra enlisted a script writer, but wasn’t content with the first draft. “I didn’t want to glorify the martyr, but present the story of their fight for justice. So, I decided to write it myself,” he says.
Pooja Pandey plays the titular character. The film tells the grim tale of a minor’s fight for justice after being raped
The film, co-written with Haider Rizvi and Samah, has been applauded by most critics but for one who called it a film “without hope”. “How many girls actually get justice?” is Mundra’s response, “It takes years and years to get any [form of] justice. This is one of the reasons most cases go unreported. We might think Mumbai is safe, but the latest data shows that it reported the second highest number of rape cases in India, right after Delhi. The idea was to shake the audience by showing them how difficult the world is for someone who wants to fight for justice. The idea was to leave them disturbed, and I think I have managed to achieve that.”
The film will be pitted against Brahmastra, which released a week ago. Why didn’t he take the OTT route well-trodden by similar films? “We make films for theatre,” he says. “Even during the pandemic, we released Ramprasad Ki Tehrvi in theatres before it went online.”
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Mundra lives his personal life without rose-tinted glasses too. He was struck by cinema very early in life, but knew a strong font of money is needed to be and stay in business. He is CEO and managing director of a petrochemical firm in Africa, which is his primary source of income. He routes this into his production company.
“I have a career that looks after me, and allows me to make films that others would find challenging,” he says, “[but] they all have been received well critically and I am hopeful they will find space among the masses as well. I will continue to make these films as long as I am empowered, and there will come a time when they will be commercially viable, as they are in many parts of the world. Meanwhile, if films like Siya touch the lives of even a handful of people, we will consider it a just reward.”