The name Manav Kaul may not be as familiar as his face, but he’s one actor who has been quietly making the industry sit up and take notice. Manav, who has his roots in theatre, has done some good cinema so far. After delivering an impressive performance in a negative role in Kai Po Che, he went on to play another complex character in City Lights, which was highly lauded.
Manav seems to have found his groove in the grey zone, and in his last film Wazir, his turn as a cold-blooded Kashmiri politician was much lauded, and the film was the first big hit of 2016. Right now, the actor is jet-setting across the country for promotions of Jai Gangaajal. Upon reaching Bhopal, he managed to make some time to speak to us over the phone. After a prolonged work schedule, the actor got to spend one night with his family in Indore, before leaving for Bhopal. The relief in his voice is palpable. “I have just reached Bhopal. I was in Indore and after the events, I spent time with my family. That has rejuvenated me,” he says.
Even though he has played some crucial roles in his previous films, as an actor the spotlight was never on him during the promotions. Does he feel bad about that, we ask. “I like this industry very much; it doesn’t waste your time. It has no room for illusions. During those films, I understood that I was a nobody, someone who wouldn’t be able to add anything to the promotions. When the film releases, I am revealed as a surprise package. I have faith in my performance. I know where I stand and I don’t have a fan following.” But that’s slowly changing now. “With Jai Gangaajal, I am getting to add my bit to the promotions and that’s very fulfilling. Earlier it would have been a waste of money and energy for the producers.”
He’s enjoying his time in Bhopal as alongside work, he’s also catching up with old friends, hanging out at his favourite tea stall. His last film Wazir, where he played a Kashmiri terrorist-turned politician, had taken him further down the memory lane during the making. Manav, who was born in Kashmir and had spent his childhood there, went back to his home state after 27 years. “I am a Kashmiri Pandit, born in Baramulla Khawaja Bagh. I studied there till the 4th standard before moving to Bhopal. Till my 9th standard, I remember, we used to visit our ancestral home in Baramulla that was called Bira Niwas. Then we faced what every other refugee faces and my father had to sell off the property. I vividly remember the smell of Kashmir — the kehwa and the rajma-chawal and of course my friends,” says the actor.
“I went back to my house in Kashmir after 27 years,” Manav says, adding that it was more on a whim than a long planned journey. “I had always wanted to go back. After the 2005 earthquake, only the skeleton of the house remains. But I opened the door and found the place where I used to hide toffees. I cried a lot. I went to my school, St. Joseph’s School and the hospital where I was born. I went to the colony where my ancestral house used to be. But so much of construction has happened since then, and the house has been re-built, so I couldn’t trace it. I just stood in the lane for sometime and came back.”
Manav’s initial days in Mumbai were more dramatic than he had expected them to be. He recalls how he was picked up by the police for Gulshan Kumar’s murder. “It was 17 years ago. I had just moved to Mumbai with `2,500 in my pocket, sharing a flat with four guys in Dahisar. That week itself, the police came home and took us to the police station and asked us who killed Gulshan Kumar. After interrogating us for an hour they realised that we were in no way involved with the case, and let us go. But that was my welcome to Mumbai. It was funny,” he says.
Like most strugglers, Manav had to go through the usual drill, starting at the bottom of the pyramid. He worked as a junior artiste before bagging an actor’s part in Jajantaram Mamantaram in 2002. “But I realised I wasn’t ready for it and I didn’t enjoy it either. So I left acting altogether. I cut short my expenses and moved into a very small flat in Goregaon and started writing and directing plays. And then in 2013, Kai Po Che happened and that was the turning point in my life.”
His roles so far have been largely layered ones with tinges of grey. Is that a conscious choice, we ask. “City Lights was a flat role on paper. I like to have fun with my characters. I created the character in a different way and Hansal sir also gave me a free hand. A lot of people have told me that the film lifts when my character enters. Also with Wazir, I had actually refused the film twice. I didn’t like the way my character looked. When the makers called me the third time, I told them that this is how I wanted my character to look. They liked it and I was on board,” Manav says. He narrates one particular instance. “The scene where I come and sit down to talk to my daughter and ask her about Farhan’s character, I improvised it and showed it to Bejoy (Nambiar). I told him, let silence do the talking. I would just fold my sleeves and sit. Thankfully, everyone loved that scene. People told me that it gave them goosebumps,” he says.
Manav has also acted in another film that Bejoy has directed. “After Wazir, Bejoy offered me a short film — a one-hour film called Dobara. This is the first film that he had written and he wanted to work with south star Mammooty. Then he offered it to me. It releases in the middle of this year. I am excited for that too.”
The talented actor is now waiting for the launch of his first book, a collection of short stories that releases in March. It’s titled Theek Tumhare Peeche. His first love, however, will always remain theatre. Soon after finishing Wazir, he directed a play Peeley Scooter Wala Aadmi that even travelled to Lucknow, after finishing its run in Mumbai’s Prithvi Theatre. “I didn’t start doing theatre to reach anywhere. I will always continue to do it, because I love it."