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Manav Kaul: A man of many parts

Payel Majumdar Upreti | Updated on April 26, 2019 Published on April 26, 2019

Screen shot: Manav Kaul and Nandita Das in their latest film Albert Pinto ko Gussa Kyun Aata Hai

Bollywood actor and theatre personality Manav Kaul opens up about his life beyond the silver screen

The last time I saw him he was playing a complex army officer in the horror series Ghoul. It is difficult to connect the affable man sitting in front of me with Colonel Dacunha. But then that’s Manav Kaul, a versatile actor whose new films Albert Pinto ko Gussa Kyun Aata Hai and Netflix original Music Teacher have just been released.

The former is not to be confused with the Saeed Mirza-Naseeruddin Shah classic. “This is actually a completely different film. The director of the film, Soumitra Ranade, had narrated the script to us, and when we heard it, we said, ‘This is Albert Pinto!’ The characters’ perspective and names are similar, but it has a new plot line and script.”

Kaul has made quite a name for himself as an actor who can play disparate roles. Another of his Netflix films Maroon, a psychological thriller, is not an easy watch. He plays a professor of creative writing who slowly falls apart after his wife goes missing. “The film was made on a low budget over many years. Now Netflix has acquired it. Good scripts don’t go to waste,” he says. Kaul likes to see himself as a man not to be tied down to a singular identity or a profession, for that matter. A chance encounter with theatre at Bhopal Bhawan, and a mentor in Alok Chaterjee, a well-known theatre professional from Bhopal, inspired the 37-year-old actor to turn to theatre. He has, since then, acted and directed plays such as Shakkar ke Paanch Daane and Bali and Shambhu. His first breakthrough in film was when he played Jeran in the Javed Jaffrey film Jajantaram Mamantaram in 2003.

He is also a screenwriter and director, apart from being a theatre person. “I have a lot of people inside me, and I can’t tell which bit about me I enjoy playing the most.” His directorial debut Hansa (2012) is about a young boy and girl who go looking for their absconding father in the mountains.

“For Hansa, I went with my theatre group to the Uttarakhand hills for 20 days and shot the entire film there. We just went there with a script. It was rather impulsive, but we had the best time. The film has got critical acclaim so I’m happy,” he says.

Kaul grew up reading all he could in Hoshangabad in Madhya Pradesh. Though he was born in Kashmir, he has little memory of the state. “But I feel at home when the smell of the mountains is in the air,” he says, and then adds, “I’ve felt at home everywhere I’ve been to. A person is always seeking familiarity, but when you travel, it makes you much more tolerant.”

Someone who was weaned on a diet of Czech literature — thanks largely to his “favourite writer” Nirmal Verma who translated the works of many Czech authors into Hindi — Kaul’s love for literature trumps all his other passions. “I used to read to impress girls, and at that time, you could buy all these translations at a nominal price, about ₹10 a book.” Verma introduced him to Russian literature, too, and the books later led him to theatre.

The play Red Sparrow directed by him, according to him, is “...totally indulgent, with references from Dostoevsky to Nirmal Verma. The audience might not have got it in bits, but a creator’s job is to make them think.”

Kaul says he is not greatly bothered that theatre no longer has a large following. “People don’t give a s**t about theatre, and while you might think that’s a bad thing, it gives theatre artistes a lot of space and freedom to produce challenging work,” he argues.

He is also appreciative of the fact that he has not been stereotyped as an actor. His role as Vidya Balan’s husband in Tumhari Sulu was greatly relatable, he says. “They’re familiar as a couple, they could be anyone’s bhaiyya bhabhi,” he adds. But Dacunha was another story. “Ghoul was a claustrophobic shoot, because of the conditions we were shooting in, as well as the role. Working against Radhika Apte was great, since if the person opposite you is good, it ups your own game.”

Now in Delhi for a series that he says he cannot talk about, Kaul adds that he likes to roam around the city’s tree-lined roads during his free time. He likes to watch shows on platforms such as Netflix in his free time. “You develop a relationship with these shows, and want to watch one episode after the other,” he says. He enjoyed watching a serialised version of the Coen Brothers’ classic Fargo, as well as the British comedy Sex Education.

He is also impressed by Delhi Crime — based largely on the 2012 rape and murder of a young physiotherapy trainee in Delhi.. “I think it has raised the bar on how shows have to be made — on everything, from the plot to the acting.” Gung ho about the proliferation of small budget films releasing on digital platforms, Kaul believes this is the time for talent to shine. “Where else would Shefali Shah’s talent get the space otherwise,” he asks.

His own fans are happy to see that Kaul has got the space to display his considerable prowess. From a complicated conniver to a man-next-door, he has a role for all occasions.

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Published on April 26, 2019
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