In an exclusive conversation with ETimes, Manish spoke candidly about the casting of his film, how he manages to develop a screenplay based on true events, and shared valuable advice for the Indian filmmakers.
Was One Friday Night always meant for OTT release?
Not really. We made this film for a theatrical release but considering how several films have been crashing at the box office, we decided to take the OTT route. You will see that the movie has been shot in real locations with several drone shots to give a larger-than-life cinematic experience for the viewers.
Several movies have been made on extra-marital affairs and infidelity in the past. How different will this film be?
So, there are two different perspectives in this story. There is an affluent married couple Raveena and Milind. And despite having a beautiful, intelligent and sexy wife, this man tends to fall in love with a much younger woman to fulfill his unsatisfied needs. Then there’s a debate happening between Raveena’s character and this other woman played by Vidhi. Both are sharing their own sides of the story. It’s a very big area. There is no right or wrong in it. I have left it to the audience to decide who’s right and who’s wrong or both are right or wrong in their own places.
Tell us about your experience of working with Raveena, Milind and Vidhi together.
So, I wanted a woman who is around 49 years old. But at the same time, I wanted her to look very beautiful, glamorous, tall and very smart. The character is of a leading senior gynecologist in Pune who’s around 49, who’s very rich and a well placed person in the society. And yet, the man is having an affair with a 22-year-old. That’s the beauty of the story. If you show that the wife is average looking, then it’s understandable that he’s going to a younger girl. But I wanted to show that his wife is beautiful, she’s got a lot of sex appeal, poise and everything in her. She doesn’t lack anything, neither intellectually nor physically. So Raveena Tandon was a perfect choice. I have seen her work in very old movies like Shool and Satta. I liked her performance in these movies and then I decided to cast her.
Now when I wanted to cast a husband, I needed a 50 plus man. A man, an actor who’s a known actor around 50 plus in age. At the same time I wanted a guy, an actor who’s very sophisticated, looks like a high profile businessman and is so good looking, fit and handsome in a way that a 22-year-old girl will actually fall in love with him. So that’s why Milind Soman was the apt choice. Now when I was thinking of Milind Soman, I was thinking I need to make him act. So I came across a video on YouTube where he was talking about his real life wife Ankita Konwar who is some 25 years younger to him. He was speaking in a very candid manner about him and his wife, despite people criticising him a lot for their age gap, but he doesn’t care. And she also doesn’t care. When I saw that video, I thought this is the character in my film. So Milind’s character in real life is very similar to my character in the film.
A 50 plus man who’s having an affair with a 22-year-old girl. And he thinks there’s nothing wrong with it. So I told Milind that you don’t have to act. So don’t act at all. Because then it’ll look fake. You just be yourself and however you were speaking in that video, just speak normally like that. I did a 7-day workshop with Milind and Vidhi and I made sure that he acts like this. So the result was that Milind gave the performance of a lifetime in this film. You’ve never seen Milind acting so well.
Now coming to Vidhi. She has acted in my previous film called 420 IPC. She did a small role in that but I liked her performance so much that I decided I must cast her in this film in a full fledged role. I found her performance very, very electric.
You have earlier said that you had some creative differences with Raveena. Was it about acting?
Not at all. Nothing to do with the acting. It was to do with her makeup, her lipstick and her earrings. Because see, Raveena comes from a background of glamour, big budget commercial movies, which have a little pronounced makeup like heavy lipstick, big jewellery. So she wanted a bit of makeup, lipstick, earrings to look glamorous for the role. So she took a little time to understand my vision and I also took a little time to understand that she is a very famous name and she is known as a very glamorous actress. So she was a little uncomfortable doing that no makeup kind of look. That was it. Nothing to do with the acting and all that. In acting, she is very cooperative and she does what the director says.
Did you also go through the same with Milind and Vidhi?
Nothing at all. They did exactly what I told them to do. Whether it’s makeup, costumes, jewelry, hair, or anything.
How difficult is it to keep it all realistic and authentic for the audience?
Very, very difficult. I showed Raveena as a gynecologist. So I shot in an actual maternity home. And inside an actual operation theater. I didn’t make a set because you can easily make out that it’s not real. So I went to the actual operation theater in Malad, there’s a big maternity clinic. And I made Raveena wear the clothes of a gynecologist. Plus, during the operation, the hospital’s nurse, midwife, who does a lot of deliveries, she’s also in the shot. She is the actual nurse, an aged, elderly nurse. Then, the actual instruments are used. In close-ups, I showed that Raveena is using them. Then I consulted some gynecologists about how complicated surgery is. So they told me all that. And the midwife was very experienced. She also guided me a lot. So in this way, I captured the whole realism. It’s not easy. It takes a lot of time, a lot of patience. You have to work very hard. But that is the difference between my films and other films. In my film, the realism and authenticity are very clearly visible. And in my film, the research is also very heavy. Apart from that, I also showed the interior of the hospital clinic that Raveena is coming out of the operation theater. When I was shooting in the real hospital, obviously, there were many patients in the hospital. So I had to shoot in the middle of the patients and had to maintain a lot of silence. We couldn’t get too many crew members inside. So it was very difficult to shoot.
Tell me about your journey which started from the Amitabh Bachchan starrer Sarkar.
So I started off as a writer. And Sarkar was my first film as a writer. I had a great experience working with Amitabh Bachchan, Abhishek Bachchan and Ram Gopal Varma. After Sarkar, immediately I got into direction with a movie called Darna Zaroori Hai. I directed one story in the anthology. Then I directed The Stoneman Murders which was a thriller based on a true serial killer case. Then I directed Rahasya, which was based on the Aarushi Talwar murder case. Then I made Section 375, which was based on the Shiny Ahuja case. And most recently, I directed 420 IPC, which was based on an economic offence case.
So over the years, I have created my own genre where I take a real case or a real incident or a real phenomenon of our society. And I weave a suspense film around it. So that is a sort of genre that I have created. It is my genre. And it’s very effective also because I do a lot of research. Plus, over the years after having made so many movies of this genre, I have mastered this particular genre. I make sure a lot of research is done in every department such as the costumes, the props and everything that is shown in the film. It should be very real and authentic. A lot of detail has to be put in. It’s very different from a commercial film. This is my personal style of filmmaking.
So do you want to continue doing this genre?
Yes, I will continue this genre. Because one should always do what he is good at. And that way you stand out against odds.
You have been making movies with a small budget into very effective form. What do you think about big budget movies with big star cast that are failing at the box office?
These big budget movies have no script in them. That is the problem. They do not work hard on the script. They do not give any importance to the script. They take the script for granted. Their whole focus is on the stars, their costumes, dance and songs. That is why all these big budget films are flopping. Now I have created my own genre where I make a very realistic movie based on true cases. And I make it on a very tight budget and the recovery happens 100%, whether it is on OTT or theatrical. I have formed my own formula. I am like a Maruti Suzuki. I make a very good product which is very strong, relevant and robust and it also covers its cost. I have made my own business formula which is working very well for me.
What if a big production house approaches you with a big budget to make a movie? How will you work in that situation?
I don’t work like this, where I am approached to make a movie. I always have my own stories. And I have my own vision for a film. And then I raise the money for that. So there is no question of anybody approaching me with a big budget and all that. I am not a service provider. What is the problem these days, directors are becoming service providers. There is a producer or an actor or a studio and they want to remake a movie or make a movie based on a book. And then they approach the director. I don’t do that. I can very proudly say none of the films which I have directed have been remakes or based on any book. Each and every film that I have directed has the original story written by me. All the stories are my brainchild.
What do you think about the remakes?
I don’t understand what a director achieves out of a remake. Aren’t these directors ashamed of themselves? Not ashamed of copying South Indian films so blatantly? Most directors are either copying South films or foreign films. I don’t believe in this whole formula of remaking. The public has become very smart. Whether it’s a foreign film or a South, everything is available on OTT. People will watch the original film. Why will they watch the remake? A remake can never match up to the original because you can’t copy someone else’s vision. So that film will never succeed. Cinema is an art form. You have to have a lot of passion. Then it will work. If you do it to make money, that formula will never work. That’s why it’s failing.
Every month, on an average, I get one offer to remake a South film. Producers come and they share links and say, ‘We have bought the remake rights. So we want you to adapt the screenplay and direct this film.’ I say no. I have refused so many. And I have been refusing for decades now. I will tell you what used to happen. In the early days, producers used to bring DVDs, either French film, Spanish film or English film and say this is a copy. Now the same thing is happening. They are bringing the remake rights. Producers just want the easy way out. But making a good film is very difficult work. It takes a lot of hard work, a lot of energy.
What advice would you like to give to filmmakers which will help the industry a lot?
My advice to all filmmakers, either junior or senior to me, is that, first of all, stop touching the actors’ feet and stop treating the actor like a god. Right now, the actor has become the director. Earlier the director was the captain of the ship. Now the actor is the captain of the ship. Projects are being made according to the actor. Now the actors are removing the directors. And they become the directors themselves. This has become a fashion. It is because the directors and producers are weak. They have bent their knees in front of the actors. They shouldn’t do that. Directors should hold their own. That I am the director. I am the captain of the ship. I won’t do it that way. It should be like that. Then only the industry will improve. Otherwise the domination of the actor will continue.