'My mother has one complaint -- I die in all of my films. She has told me to stop dying now.'
Actor Manav Kaul on his ascent to the big league.
One of Bollywood's most spoken about talents these days is Manav Kaul, seen in prominent roles in Jai GangaaJal, Wazir and Kai Po Che.
It has been a long and difficult climb for the talented actor to rise where he has.
His story starts in Kashmir, where he was born, and leads up to his struggling days when he worked in Hindi films as a junior artist, and gradually become an actor to reckon with.
Manav tells Patcy N/Rediff.com how a national-level swimmer became an actor.
'My memories of Kashmir are very beautiful'
My father worked in Kashmir while my mother is a housewife. She hails from Hoshangabad, near Bhopal. She has a double Masters degree in Hindi literature, and my fondness for books comes from her.
My mother, brother and I shifted to Hoshangabad when I was five years old. My grandmother had had a paralytic attack and my mother wanted to be with her.
My father would visit us every month, and we would visit him during our summer vacations.
My memories of Kashmir are very beautiful. I had lots of friends and we would play in the snow.
We lived near the border, so every few hours we would hear announcements to switch off the lights. We could not even light a candle. We would hear army boots everywhere.
If you stay near the border, you understand these things because you see soldiers everywhere.
Later, the problems in Kashmir started, and my father took early retirement. He left everything behind and shifted to Hoshangabad. I was in the 10 standard then.
After my father's retirement, we became a lower middle class family, and had a lot of debts. We had to sell our ancestral house in Srinagar.
'My family thought I wouldn't be good at anything'
I lived near the Narmada river in Hoshangabad. My friend and I would dive in the river and look for money thrown by devotees.
Once when we were doing that, a coach saw us and thought we were good swimmers. He took us to a swimming pool, and that was the first time I saw one.
I was selected for the Sport Authority of India for two years, so I shifted to Bhopal. That was the first time I left my village.
Soon, I got tired of swimming, and gave it up.
During that time, I saw a play in college and wanted to try acting.
My family thought I wouldn't be good at anything. I was bad in studies and most things. So when I wanted to be a theatre artist, nobody objected.
As soon as I finished college, I joined a company that sold floppies in the daytime. In the evening, I would do theatre. I did this for three years.
I got bored with theatre in Bhopal because there were limitations. I could do only two or three plays in a year.
Also, life was tough because I earned about Rs 800 from my job, and would pay half of that as rent.
'Money did not attract me'
My parents have always supported me. One day, I just told them that I'm going to Mumbai to see what I can do there.
I was 22 and naive. I chose Mumbai because I like the line from the song Zara Hatke Zara Bachchke Yeh Hai Bambai Meri Jaan (from the song Ae Dil Hai Mushkil Jina Yaha in the 1956 film CID).
I came with Rs 2,500, which I earned from selling my bike in 1998.
I was in the train, waiting for the 'Bombay' station, but the station never came! So I asked around, and people told me I was already in Bombay. I got off at the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus.
I took a cab and asked the driver to take me to the cheapest hotel. He took me to one in Charni Road (South Mumbai), where I had to pay Rs 50 for a bed. I stayed there for 12 days.
I had some telephone numbers of friends who worked in my theatre group in Bhopal. One of them lived in Borivali (north-west Mumbai), and he asked me to stay at his home. Later, I shifted to a chawl in Malad (north-west Mumbai).
I would meet people and drop my photographs, but I did not get any work as I looked like a kid.
After three, four, months, someone told me to go to Prithvi theatre. I learnt that Dubeyji(the late theatre legend Satyadev Dubey) was conducting a workshop.
My brother, who was working with Airtel in Indore, would send me money sometimes. I also took up odd jobs to get by.
Dubeyji/em> soon cast me in a play, and that's when my journey in theatre started.
Theatre does not pay well, but I did not think on those lines. Money did not attract me. I wanted to do theatre, and so I did it.
'It is a tough life for junior artists, it's not something anybody would wish to be'
I started working as a junior artist in films, but life was very tough.
One of my first jobs was in Champion, starring Sunny Deol. I was sitting near the camera when Sunny Deol was shooting, when some assistants came and shouted at me.
I had not eaten, but I wasn't allowed to even move from my place.
It is a tough life for junior artists, it's not something anybody would wish to be.
Someone told me that the casting for Jajantaram Mamantaram was on, and that I should try my luck. So I went and gave an audition.
I got the role.
I was paid very little: I got Rs 30,000.
Then I did a serial, Banegi Apni Baat, which also starred Irrfan Khan. I would get small roles and my interest in acting was fading. I gave up acting in 2003.
I started writing poems and plays.
My plays -- Shakkar Ke Paanch Daane, Peele Scooter Wala Aadmi, Mamtaz Bhai Patang Waale -- were often staged in Prithvi theatre, through my drama group, Arannya, which I started in 2004.
I used to write short stories as well. Now, 15 of my short stories will be published in a book, Theek Tumhare Peeche.
'I did not get any good scripts after Kai Po Che'
One day, I got a call from (casting director) Mukesh Chabbra. He was casting for Kai Po Che.
I was asked to meet Gattu (Abhishek Kapoor, director). He rejected me, saying I had a very sweet smile and that the role was tough. Mukesh insisted that we do an audition and then decide.
By the time I did an audition and emailed the video to them, the shooting had already started. Gattu saw the audition and I was called for the shoot.
I consider Kai Po Che my first film because when I started shooting for it, it was the first time I enjoyed acting. I thought the industry had changed a lot from the time I had begun.
The characters had become important. The directors were important. Performances were being valued. It made me want to be a part of the industry.
I did not get any good scripts after Kai Po Che.
I wrote and directed a film, Hansa in 2011. It's a story about children. I did a 10 day workshop with children, selected the cast and shot it over 21 days.
I have also directed a film called Tathagat. The shooting is complete, but I do not feel like editing it, so I have kept it aside. It is the love story of a sadhu and stars students from the NSD (National School of Drama.)
I wanted to work with Hansal Mehta, so I took up CityLights in 2014. After that, I had to wait for a year before I got Wazir.
My family is very happy with my progress. They liked CityLights a lot. But my mother has one complaint -- I die in all of my films. She has told me to stop dying now.
'Once I start working in a film, everyone in the cast become characters'
I worked with Amitabh Bachchan in Wazir, and people ask me about that. Once I start working in a film, everyone in the cast become characters, whether it is Amitabh Bachchan or Farhan Akhtar.
As a child, I was star-struck by Amitabh Bachchan, but when it comes to my profession, they are a part of my work. They are my co-actors.
The first time I shared space with him, his films like Don, Do Aur Do Paanch and Sholay came rushing into my mind.
After a while, I realised how professional he was and the hard work he puts in.
I was amazed just observing him.
I wish I had more scenes with him.
My next film is a beautiful love story called Dobara. The film will have five Pakistani and five Indian directors. All the directors will make a film each. My film is with Bijoy Nambiar.
I am also doing Albert Pinto Ko Gussa Kyu Aata Hain. I have seen the original film. The story is based on today's angst. It's just a coincidence that it has the same title, otherwise, it's a totally different movie.
'I am not lucky, that's why I am not married'
I am offered negatives roles, but thankfully, they are very good. I have never done such an emotional role before what I did in Jai GangaaJal.
My neighbours and friends in Hoshangabad have been aspiring politicians. I had leaders in my college also. So I have seen many such people. I incorporated traits from these people for my politician character in Jai GangaaJal.
I spent a lot of time with my director, Prakash Jha. I was with him for almost four months, much before the shooting started. He gave me 12 drafts to read. We spent so much time discussing that I know exactly what the director is expecting from a particular scene.
I have done a psychological thriller called Maroon, directed by Pulkit Singh. ;We completed it in 15 days. After doing that, I was disturbed for almost a week.
I would like to work with Shoojit Sircar. He is a very talented director. If I get a chance to work with him, I'll treat you to coffee! (laughs)
I am not lucky, that's why I am not married. I have not found the right girl yet. I need to be more serious.