“It is because of the interview’s pressure that I am being serious, otherwise, I am a boisterous man.” While talking to actor-writer Manu Rishi Chadha, one can see shades of different characters that he has played over the years – the sinister friend Bengali in “Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye!”, the gossipmonger in “Aankhon Dekhi” or the quirky wannabe gangster from “Phas Gaye Re Obama”. Recently, he impressed as a Haryanvi tycoon who owns a T20 team in Amazon Prime’s “Inside Edge”.
While talking, Manu constantly makes gestures to explain his point. He even performs dialogues from classic Hindi films in his colloquial style which impresses the people around. He showcases the same warmth and sense of humour that sets him apart in all his roles as an actor.
“I am from a Punjabi family and we are loud people. Whatever you see on screen is what I have observed around me while growing up in north India,” he chuckles. His Delhi-Punjabi dialect has worked well in films as his skillset of adapting to different local accents goes well with his ever-changing physical appearances.
His upcoming film “Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan” depicts such quirky yet real characters amidst a gay love story set in the Hindi heartland. Manu says,. “I am playing the character of Jeetu’s chacha. I was in the mind of Hitesh Kevaliya, the director, but he politely asked for an audition. I immediately agreed. Seldom do you get to work with such a stellar ensemble of brilliant performers and a gripping story which is set in a traditional setting and yet talks of contemporary issues,” he says.
He spent a lot of time with his father and uncles and connected their impressions with his own experiences. “I did not use any method in the film. I simply remained younger brother of Gajraj (Rao) ji throughout the shoot. The characters were written in detail. The director especially asked us to keep away from underlining anything. I did not follow any particular mannerism to highlight the character.”
Son of a businessman father and an art connoisseur mother, Manu was born and raised in Delhi. Most of his teenage years went into reading “Dharmyug”, a popular Hindi magazine, and delving into Hindi literature. His parents supported his theatre career as his mother is a great admirer of theatre. From a very young age, he took part in discussions on serious parallel cinema and Delhi theatre circuit of which his mother was a regular visitor.
“ ‘Julius Caesar’ was my first play. Theatre shaped my viewpoint about the world, socio-politically. I did professional theatre for eight years before coming to Mumbai at the age of 29,” recalls Manu, who was introduced by noted theatre director Arvind Gaur
For Manu, who was trained in theatre, shift to films was not sudden. He spent time with actor-director Rajat Kapoor.
“Rajat is my cinema school. I have learnt like Eklavya from him. He does not believe in educating but asks to be around. I met him during his play where I used to do sound, lighting and sometimes acting. He told me that cinema is all about internal conviction and if you are internally convinced, the reactions on the body will be accurate,” he reminisces.
Theatre actors are often blamed for having loud emotions and animated faces which sometimes becomes difficult for the medium of cinema. Manu agrees. “Use of body in cinema is different from the projection required in theatre acting. For the cinema, you must understand the frame and the lenses. While speaking, you do not have to be loud but understand how far the other character is from you. One thing that separates a good actor from the rest of the crowd is how you maintain the rhythm and pace of acting. You must wire your mind according to the mind space of the character. It helps you to give similar reactions in different timelines. You must maintain the same rhythm in rehearsal, actual shoot, and dubbing.”
Reflecting on his first film, Manu reminds that he wrote the dialogues of “Oye Lucky!, Lucky Oye!” as well. “Whenever I used to write dialogues keeping old films or cinema as a reference, Dibakar (Banerjee) would correct me and ask me to go colloquial,” informs Manu.
He goes on explaining how in those years collective efforts of people from similar experiences resulted in a shift in cinema. “It was because a similar school of thought came together. A perfect synchronisation happened because while we were observing life as actors, someone was observing life for writing a story or a novel. They have the same process. The coming together thus resulted in extraordinary results which pushed Hindi cinema to a new level,” he explains.
On the growing popularity of character actors, Manu says, “Twenty years ago, people could not relate to the hero of the film because he was larger than life. Today’s hero is a normal guy going through a situation. It compels actors around him to be equally believable.”
A writer himself, he wants to tell his own stories which have defined his approach towards life and informed him as an artist. He has written scripts for films, including the recent “Naanu ki Jaanu”, and dialogues for several films. But he considers his professional writing is different from his personal writing which has not appeared yet. “I remember many such incidents which can work as research material for my fictionalised world. They have inspired me and shaped my socio-political perspective of the world. One day, I will share those feelings with the world,” he sums up.