By Subhash K. Jha
Mumbai, Sep 22 (IANS) Writer-director Manish Acharya has recently shifted base from the US to Mumbai and feels far more at home here - except when strangers walk up to him and wonder why he has misspelled the leonine word in the title of his first movie "Loins of Punjab Presents".
Manish explained: "Actually the title is a homage to my love for Bollywood conventions. Yesteryear villain Ajit was known to pronounce lion as loin. An elderly Punjabi gent actually asked me, 'I hope you know there are two meanings to the title.' But seriously, I must be the only filmmaker in the world to have used the L word in my title and be proud of it."
Manish's pride melts in his rather unguarded appreciation of his leading lady. "It was Ayesha Dharker who suggested that I sign Shabana Azmi for the role of Mrs. Rrita Kapoor. Please don't miss the two 'r's. I wanted to take a dig at the Indian film industry's fascination with numerology. If you see the film once you'll miss the two 'r's in Shabana's character's name. There are many such references in the film that I put in for people to go for a repeat viewing."
Returning to how he signed Shabana, Manish said: "I was hesitant. Would she do a comedy, and that too with a first-time director? When I met Shabana in Mumbai she was receptive and open to the idea. I've become her huge fan and want her to be in all my films. For me those filmmakers who don't have a crush on Shabana don't exist."
About Shabana being known as a serious dramatic actress and with a penchant for histrionics, Manish clarified: "This isn't a comedy in any obvious way. None of the characters in the plot find their own actions funny. It's like Charlie Chaplin eating a shoe. We found it funny. But to Chaplin it was a deeply tragic moment. To me, comedy is what Chaplin or Woody Allen or nearer home what Hrishikesh Mukherjee did. No fancy camera movements, no trolley shots, just a straightforward narration."
In fact, Manish chose the crew for his first film on the basis of how each member empathised with the plot and characters.
"And to carry the authenticity to the outer limit I've got every actress who participates in the singing contest to speak English in her own authentic accent. Shabana speaks in an Oxonian-St. Stephens accent. The ladies also sing a song each in their own voices. I didn't want to have artificial recording-room voices," said the young filmmaker who now lives in Mumbai with his wife and two sons.
Remembering his first shoot with Shabana, Manish said: "I told her at the outset that the convention of actors watching themselves on the monitor after every shot won't be followed on my sets. I find it distracting. On the first day of shooting she did go to the monitor and I did comment that I'd have to let all the other members of the cast take a peek at the monitor. After that Shabana never returned to the monitor. I started the film with having a crush on Shabana the actress. I finished admiring the human being."