Meri Pyaari Bindu producer Maneesh Sharma talks YRF, films, and the power of nostalgia

His short stature and simple demeanour might give you a misleading first impression of Maneesh Sharma. Often whispered to be among the most powerful and trusted people in the films division at Yash Raj Films, Maneesh holds a strong position in the company’s hierarchy today. His role as producer for four YRF films is also a first for the studio. But Maneesh doesn’t wear any airs about this.

At 37, Maneesh is the man behind Fan, Band Baaja Baaraat and Dum Laga Ke Haisha. I meet him on a hot, sweltering afternoon at the studio’s corporate office. Casually dressed, and balancing a bunch of tasks for the forthcoming YRF film, Meri Pyaari Bindu, that he is producing, Maneesh settles in a for a chat.

Maneesh’s forthcoming film Meri Pyaari Bindu presents five chapters to the audience — each seeped in nostalgia. The 30-year journey of the two protagonists, Abhimanyu Roy and Bindu, is peppered with songs from a bygone era. The nostalgia element was there in his last produced film, Dum Laga Ke Haisha, too. The mise-en-scène of Kumar Sanu songs, cassette tapes and a Bajaj scooter conjured up images of small-town '90s.

Maneesh Sharma (right) with Akshay Roy, the director of Meri Pyaari Bindu

Maneesh Sharma (right) with Akshay Roy, the director of Meri Pyaari Bindu

Dum Laga Ke Haisha, a sleeper hit, garnered both love and a National Award. “I think everyone is fond of nostalgia. I am the youngest in a family that’s besotted with films. My dad, mom, sister and elder brother all hold sacrosanct, ‘Har Friday ko cinema hall jaana hi hai’.  My father was a big fan of films of BR Chopra, Bimal Roy and Dara Singh and listened to songs of Sahir Ludhiyanvi. I was exposed to songs from '50s, '60s and '70s since my childhood, so yes there definitely is an affinity towards that,” elaborates Sharma.

It was this love for cinema that ultimately took him to California Institute of The Arts to make his obsession, his career. A younger Maneesh preferred to play rather than watch films or TV, but thanks to his uncle — who coaxed him to watch Chetan Anand’s Indo-China war epic Haqeeqat — the seeds of cinema-love were planted. It was in 2001 when Maneesh enrolled at the film school in California. “I was a typical Delhi boy then. I knew no one and there was no way I could figure out the task of assisting someone. Delhi is big in terms of news media but there is nothing that remotely concerns cinema. I had no option of assisting other people then, so I opted for a film school,” he recalls.

It was during his college years in Delhi that he came across Akshay Roy, who would go on to direct Meri Pyari Bindu: Roy and Maneesh were both DU students, but in different colleges. Cultural activities at the India Habitat Centre and film festivals ensured that their paths often crossed. In Maneesh’s parlance it was a ‘one-degree-of-separation’ thing with Akshay. Career choices took Maneesh to California while Akshay preferred staying in Delhi and pursue a similar course from Jamia. “After I went to LA, Akshay landed an opportunity to assist for Farhan Akhtar’s Lakshya. The move also took him to Mumbai and there he got involved in the ad circuit. When I finally came to Mumbai after I finished my course, he was assisting for either Mira Nair’s Namesake or for Deepa Mehta’s Water — I don’t remember — and then we reconnected. When I came across the script of Meri Pyari Bindu, the first name that came to mind who could do justice to the film was Akshay Roy,” says Maneesh.

The three years that Maneesh spent at Cal Arts gave him a certain worldview, though he says he would have traded it for three years of an internship under Yash Chopra. “I had to fend for myself as I didn’t have financial support. In my third year, I met my dean and showed him my grades and work. I categorically told him that if he is not giving me a scholarship, I wouldn’t be able to pursue my studies. I even told him that if he feels that there is another deserving candidate then we need to talk. Thankfully I got the scholarship and finished my degree. It was not a cheap course but my family was very supportive, “ recalls Maneesh.

So was he able to catch a glimpse of any of the celebrated alumni from his school — Tim Burton, Sofia Copolla, Don Cheadle? "yes, and no," Maneesh replies. He didn't meet them on campus, but he did catch other Hollywood stalwarts at the famed Kodak theatre. With child like enthusiasm, Maneesh often narrates an incident: “One day we got this e-mail about a play — ‘The Nick Adams Stories’ by Ernest Hemingway — at the Kodak Theatre. Some 18 passes were issued to us students on a first-come-first-serve basis. The moment I saw the mail, I rushed in and called to book the seats but we were told that our number was wait-listed second. The play had 14 powerhouse performers from Hollywood, including Jack Nicholson, Annette Benning, Matt Damon, Julia Roberts. It was un-missable. Luck was on our side and my friend and I were able to manage confirmed tickets. While queuing for the show, Matthew Perry was behind me and Dustin Hoffman was there too!”

Fan was meant to be Maneesh Sharma's first film. Instead, he made his directorial debut with Band Baaja Baaraat

Fan was meant to be Maneesh Sharma's first film. Instead, he made his directorial debut with Band Baaja Baaraat

During his LA days the would-be-director had decided that barring YRF, he would work with none. Fanaa provided him the opportunity and also a close proximity to YRF scion Aditya Chopra. While his cinematic journey continued with Fanaa and Aaja Nachle, an opportunity was presented to him during the making of Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi to direct a film for YRF.  The first script that Maneesh presented to Adi was the script of Fan.  The pat on the back was followed with a caution that Fan could not be his first film. “I was frustrated and I was stubborn — Fan would be my first film. At that time, the postponement of Fan sounded more like a rejection and it was this rejection that gave birth to Bittu and Shruti’s story amidst a milieu I was familiar with,” says Sharma.

Maneesh has often been accused of making films about his home turf — North India. While Band Baaja Baaraat had Delhi as its milieu, Ladies Vs Ricky Behl took the plot to Lucknow. Shuddh Desi Romance was based at a place just four hours from Delhi and his debut film as producer took him to Haridwar.

“It’s more of a creative process and I am not the sole judge of the film. You would be surprised to know that Dum Laga Ke Haisha was initially based in Agra and the setting was contemporary. The decision to shift the base to Haridwar and weave it around the beginning of the '90s came out of the several jam sessions the team had,” says Sharma in his defense.

It has been an eventful decade for the man who in the history of YRF is the sole outsider to be credited as a producer apart from the senior and junior Chopra(s). So does that make him the most influential person in the organization after Adi Chopra? The hesitation and the evasiveness in giving a clear-cut reply also says a lot about the organisation, which believes in protocol. “I don’t know about this. I think it’s a media perception. I have a great equation with Aditya Chopra and it's got to do more with the creative synergy between both of us. I have assisted him on his films and it’s a relationship that developed over years. When I am told that I am the only outsider to produce for YRF, I know it’s a big deal,” he says. It must be added here that Maneesh is also producing Aditya Chopra’s wife, Rani Mukherji’s next film — Hichki.

Carrying forward the mantle of quality cinema, in the commercial space, Maneesh is consumed by both Meri Pyaari Bindu and Hichki. His next directorial venture, meanwhile, is in the offing. But that's a subject for another conversation.


Published Date: May 08, 2017 06:24 pm | Updated Date: May 08, 2017 06:31 pm