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Supporting Star

How Manish Mundra became an unlikely champion of Indian independent cinema

I CAUGHT MANISH MUNDRA, by fortunate chance, in June, on the weekday afternoon he was in Mumbai for the launch of the Indian trailer for Masaan. The entrance to the suburban theatre hosting the event was dominated by posters announcing an upcoming big-budget release. In the lobby, a somewhat thin crowd of journalists mingled with Masaan’s cast and crew, as well as several luminaries of what are called Mumbai’s “indie film” circles.

Masaan has, by the standards of mainstream Indian cinema, an unconventional story—involving a sex scandal, inter-caste romance, and an orphan boy who dives for coins in the Ganges. It was shot in Varanasi, and had a comparatively small budget of Rs 6.5 crore. The film’s credits list several producers and co-producers from India and France, but it was Mundra who provided the initial financing that got the project off the ground.

 A few weeks earlier, Masaan had premiered at the Cannes Film Festival, under the prestigious Un Certain Regard category, and had won two awards—including one for its debutant director, Neeraj Ghaywan. Mundra was present at that screening, and for the standing ovation that followed it. The film’s rapturous reception in France had created an air of anticipation, and encouraged its backers to release it relatively quickly in India. The trailer release was the first step in that process.

I found Mundra standing at a remove from the action, red-eyed but buzzing. He had arrived that morning from Nigeria, where he works, via Dubai, where he lives with his family. He was dressed in a casual, corporate style, and was flanked by a handful of staff from his recently founded production house, Drishyam Films, as well as some old friends who had come out to witness his success. As the crowd moved towards the auditorium, we ascended the stairs together. Voices chattered in the dark: “You must see my film,” I heard, followed by “It’s not good cinema, but it’s fun.” I took a seat at the back of the theatre. Mundra, after a moment of indecision in the aisle, moved towards the front.

Taran N Khan is a filmmaker and journalist based primarily in Mumbai. She has also worked from Kabul, collaborating with Afghani filmmakers and TV professionals.

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