Manu Rishi Chadha seamlessly handles shades of every character he portrays. From starting his career in theatre to being an actor to persistently following his dreams of becoming a story teller, he holds multitudes. Audiences have witnessed his immense creativity in cult favourite movies such as Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye!, Ankhon Dekhi, Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan, RK/RKay and Rajma Chawal. Shooting in London and taking the time out to speak to me, the 51-year-old actor never gives offence, never talks ill.
His latest release, an Impressive short film called Baj Gai Seeti on Royal Stag Barrel Large Short Films feels like an extension of his jovial and zealous personality. A man truly passionate about good stories, the mind of a creator appeals to him best. Over the conversation, he shared many unprompted anecdotes from his days in theatre to his journey in acting to his own writing inspirations. “The smile on the face of a loser, an ordinary man with a dream is my biggest inspiration” he says.
Having spent over 20 years in the entertainment industry, it feels like he is just getting started. The ace actor opens up about his diverse creative choices and sheds light into an ever-evolving journey. Excerpts below:
From theatre to films, you have had a very interesting journey in the entertainment industry. In your own words, how would you describe it?
Manu Rishi : Like an ordinary boy, it was also my dream to become an actor one day. My maternal uncle was from FTII and my mother used to do theatre. So, I grew up listening to stories from them. I also learnt that in Chandni Chowk there was a place called Mandi House which welcomed many theatre groups. I went there and met a gentleman named Arvind Gaur of Ashmita group and joined him. This is how I started in my theatre journey. But in my heart, I knew that one day I wanted to act for the big screen. Eventually, that dream led me to Bombay (Mumbai), where I started my days of struggling as an actor. One fine day, I had the opportunity to meet Rajat Kapoor. Eventually, I started first with assisting him and then acting with him in his projects.
Over time, my journey with Rajat Kapoor became a part of learning about cinema as well. Even though I could not go to FTII, my conversation about world cinema with him became a theory lesson of sorts into filmmaking and when I featured in his films, I learnt my practical lessons.
Now if you ask me, I think I am at that part of my journey where I refuse to be satisfied. I have a habit of yearning for more experiences and I am on the way to achieve more. I am enjoying my journey with films, my journey with the new era of OTT platforms. A part of me has always been a story teller who likes to indulge in creating and sharing tales – that part of me has also led me to become a writer. A credit for that goes to Piyush Mishra who had once told me “Tum jo bhi baatein karte ho, ek kaam karo tum pen laga lo apne muuh me, aur likhna shuru kar do”
My passion for writing led me to meet Dibakar Banerjee which motivated me to write along with acting for Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye! I don’t look at my projects and think yes, I was a part of a hit or flop film. But over time I can say that I have been a part of some good films and some had a scope of improvement.
With Dasvi, Rk/Rkay and Raksha Bandhan this year you have been a part of three very acclaimed but varied movies. How do you select your roles?
Manu Rishi : I have a problem of not being able to say no. Hence, I do a certain number of cameos or smaller parts in films such as Dasvi, Raksha Bandhan. It is my friendship and industry camaraderie with filmmakers like Anand L. Rai that brings about these opportunities, even if it is one scene. These sequences are also a lot of fun to explore new characters. Big budget films also have a great reach which allows me to be a part of something more commercial that reaches across the country allowing me a certain exposure among audiences.
Do you think the entertainment industry has changed over the past two decades since you started? If so, how?
Manu Rishi : The world of entertainment has largely changed. From formula, it has evolved into more realism. There are steady changes in the industry. There is a word in Hindi, “Jigra” which keeps us alive and motivated. That same guts is now showing in people to tell better, bolder stories.
It is also a welcome change in the industry to witness strong female characters in films and shows. The narrowed perspective of how a woman should be portrayed on screen is being rewritten – the world of entertainment is truly evolving and with it, its portrayal of layered women characters. These changes are beautiful!
At 51, I am so excited that there are so many things which I feel like telling this world as a storyteller.
In this new era of OTT, do you think actors get a new lease of life to explore their career differently?
Manu Rishi : First things first, there is a lot more work happening on OTT. So, every actor is busy and stays occupied. And it is wonderful that more actors are working now. And it is quite impressive that actors are braver now with their choices, they are more open hearted. Artists are now not just chasing an idea of stardom; they are making choices that gets them interested resulting in a new life of actors for their skills as well as allowing a new era of content to take shape.
OTT has truly allowed for content to be put forth in more realistic and interesting ways. The older formula of films that guaranteed success are now being revisited. Creating a series with 10 episodes of 45 mins each allows makers to delve deeper into the story, which was an earlier constraint for theatrical films. Hence, stories are now showcased in more nuanced ways.
And even after these many positives, we hear that OTT platforms only have 30-40 percent content. Which means there is a lot to look forward to and the future of content is very bright! For makers and actors both, OTT stands as a rich interesting platform paving the way for exciting narratives.
Royal Stag Barrel Select Large Short films – Baj Gai Seeti is a very interesting story on values and morals. What about Baj Gai Seeti interested you?
Manu Rishi : To me short films are an interesting medium to tell a story. Short films allow one to tell so much within a small period of time – and I find that art very fascinating. Personally, I may not be picky about the kind of stories I choose for bigger, commercial projects. But when it comes to short films, I am very selective. I want to know all about the story, the character arc, the screenplay. It takes a lot of strength in good writing to make a short film stand out. Audiences are okay to sit in a theatre for over two hours to watch a full-length feature film, even if they might not like the story. Short films need to be immensely gripping to hold the audiences’ interest.
From the get go, this specific short film Baj Gai Seeti by Royal Stag Barrel Select Large Short Films had a lot to offer. It was a delightful opportunity to work alongside Gulshan Grover. It is impressive how in a little time, you can tell such an intriguing story.
Just like Large Short Films, I think more platforms should encourage short films as a format. I think superstars like Shahrukh Khan and Salman Khan should also act more in short films and movie theatres should also screen such films to support passionate makers and artists.
How was the experience working with director Dheeraj Jindal?
Manu Rishi : Superb! He has the perfect innocence and curiosity to tell a story. Before this project started, I watched his other works. I was prepared that if his stories can touch my heart, I would be delighted to work with him. When he told me this story, he had a great perspective which was also inspiring. Dheeraj understands very well how he has to convey what he is expecting from his actors, which is a brilliant skill to have.
Great chemistry between you and Gulshan Grover. How did that come about?
Manu Rishi : That was very simple! As an industry veteran and as my senior, I have a lot of respect for Gulshan Grover. He is almost like an elder brother for me in the industry. While acting for Baj Gai Seeti, I was treating him exactly how I would behave with an elder brother – which seamlessly blended into our character portrayal. All I had to do was to respect him like a “senior chor” while I was playing the role of a “junior chor’. I was only paying respect to Gulshan Grover which automatically interpreted on screen into great chemistry. He is also a legendary actor and his hunger for good acting is relentless and is truly awe inspiring.
What do you perceive as success?
Manu Rishi : To be very honest, success for me is in a nice car, a big house and such materialistic comforts. I will always strive to work more and by god’s good graces, I keep getting good and interesting work. But success is not necessarily a spiritual thing for me. For me my acting, my understanding of content is spiritual. But the formula of success is simple.
How do you deal with failure?
Manu Rishi : I deal with failure through my friendships. I argue with them, I spend time with them, I brainstorm with them and it makes me feel better. There is a line which I love “shukriya un doston ka jo kambakht dher saare hai”. My friends don’t let the failure get to me. We all take care of each other and we stand by each other through thick and thin. I also come from humble backgrounds and have always kept working. And as long as I am busy with work, I don’t think I am failing.
You are also a writer. What kind of stories do you like writing the best and is there anything that you refrain from?
Manu Rishi : I know better what I do not want to write and that is biographies/autobiographical stories. It usually comes across as very one-sided perspective. I want to tell the story of ordinary people. I want to tell the heroic acts of the common man. The story I am currently working on is based on a man who has been fighting a court case for the past 8 years. The story even took me to Pune so I could meet him and understand his motivations better. I believe that even the ordinary man has an Amitabh Bachchan in him; and as a writer I want to tell the story of that heroic Bachchan.
Between movies and series which would you usually prefer and why?
Manu Rishi : I don’t make choices based on the platform, the story is always my priority. I am happy to do television, OTT, cinema or theatre. It is the content that excites me most. For me every platform is important because they are all trying to represent a new story and that keeps me interested.
Future projects we should look out for?
Manu Rishi : I am currently working on two series for Amazon Prime Video and one for Zee. There is a film in the works as well along with two more short films. I will be a part of Mirzapur Season 3. Additionally, I have gotten back to writing more consistently. So, there is a lot in the pipeline and I am excited.
- A play you can watch or read endless times – C for Clowns directed by Rajat Kapoor
- You favourite song – Main Zindagi Ka Saath Nibhata Chala Gaya
- Your favourite travel destination – London
- Your favourite meal – Rajma Chawal
- Your one inspiration – Anyone with a dream