Bollywood Film Director & Writer
Interview By : Zu Anjalika Kamis Gunnulfsen
An industry that has been around for more than 100 years, Bollywood definitely have won the world over. However, it was not until the golden era of 1950s when Bollywood truly captures the world’s attention. Beautiful and glamorous people, cinematic and exotic charm, vivacious songs and dances – what is there not to love?
So, when Fab! Talk was presented the chance to speak with a Film Director and Writer from Mumbai, we not only jumped, we catapulted all the way to India, albeit digitally.
Catch Fab! Luxe’s Diwali feature with Tarun Mansukhani, the man behind movies you might have been spending your nights with.
Zu Anjalika Kamis Gunnulfsen
When, how and where you first started
I was born and brought up in Mumbai. We lived in the south Mumbai region, known as the original Mumbai. It hosts all the colonial buildings and landmarks and is populated by the business families. It is the most separated region from the film world. And yet somehow, films found me.
I was always more inclined towards drama and debating more than academics in school. My schooling was at a boarding school in North India where I had the good fortune of having teachers that recognized my potential and pushed me in that direction. They nurtured the acting skills and didn’t force me to excel in academics only. From the 6th grade I was the leading actor for all school plays and won several acting awards at inter-school festivals.
Post-school, I returned to Mumbai where I joined one of the most prestigious colleges. Somehow I got lucky there as well as the teachers once again pushed me towards acting. Inter-school competitions became inter-college competitions and I won several acting awards during that time also.
It was during one such festival where I was playing the character of a school principal. Being all of 16 years old, I had greyed my hair and rehearsed the body language of my own college principal. One of the judges of the competition was a television serial director. Post-show, he came backstage and met me and asked me to play a character of a 16-year-old boy who runs a business empire. It sounded exciting and I immediately said “yes”.
It was my first time ever on a set. I have vivid memories of that day. Everyone running around – what seemed like headless chicken but were actually like ants; random but co-ordinated. Everyone had a job to do. Acting for a television serial was very different to theatre. If you didn’t get it right the first time, you could stop and do it again. That was a luxury unavailable to theatre. After having shot for two days, I felt boredom strike. As an actor, one had to wait for long periods between shots. The momentum would drop. It didn’t feel as exhilarating as the stage did.
After the shoot, I spoke to the director and told him I am not enjoying this and why. He smiled and said, “in that case, don’t leave. Work as an assistant to me. See how you feel behind the camera”. I thought about it for an entire minute and said ‘yes’.
The next day, I returned to set but instead of heading into my make-up van, I joined the ants. The adrenalin was crazy. It was non-stop. Typical workdays lasted 20 to 22 hours. Most days, one went home only to shower. As tiring as it was, it was exciting. More than all the parties and weekend getaways, my other friends were doing. Within a week, I knew that this is the world I wish to be a part of. I was lucky that life had moved me in that direction from my school days and I didn’t really have too struggle to be a part of it.
I assisted on various projects from the age of 16 to 20. From television serials to advertising agencies to music-based shows. Each one was a greater experience than the previous one.
When I turned 21, I got a call from a stranger who was directing his first film and asked me if I would like to assist him. Moving to film excited me and I then started my journey with the now world famous Director, Karan Johar. At that time, I had no idea that this would be a 20-year journey together.
Films Written / Directed
I’ve assisted on several films. My first film as an assistant was Kuch Kuch Hota Hai then, came Mohabbattein, Kabhie Khushi Kabhi Gham, Kal Ho Nah Ho, then Paheli, followed by Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna.
It is at this point that Karan asked me to start writing a film for myself. I had never written anything. I didn’t know if I could even write. But Instead of wondering about that, I just opened my computer and started typing. Several months later, I had the first draft of my film, Dostana ready. I gave it to Karan to read and he loved it. It was instant green-lit and sent into production. The film was released in 2008 and was a critical and commercial success.
Post that, I set on a journey I didn’t anticipate. I spent several years trying to write the sequel to Dostana with no success. The scripts weren’t good enough. My thoughts moved from happy fun films to dark themes. I wrote several of those scripts too but none were ever given the green light.
Finally in 2017, almost a decade later, I wrote Drive. It was released in 2019.
Upcoming / Latest Projects
I am currently working on two film scripts and a web-series. The pandemic has helped my writers and me get some time to get our writing done. Now that the world has started returning to normalcy, I am moving forward to get the cast together.
What Diwali mean to you?
Diwali is our Christmas. During my childhood, firecrackers excited me but by the time I became a teen, it didn’t hold the same sparkle. As work happened, Diwali became a time around which every film I have worked on is released. So now in my head, the run up to Diwali means lots of work and Diwali weekend means the release of a new film.
I am not a gambler and don’t enjoy playing cards, but Diwali is that time that oddly excites me to. On that one night, I play to lose – and I do. I am unlucky in cards, and since am single, I can’t say am lucky in love either!
What will you do this Diwali?
This will be a strange Diwali. There won’t be the usual Diwali parties and gatherings. Things (hopefully), will be a lot more intimate. I know I’ll still be at my friends’ house, playing cards for one night and losing money – some traditions should never change!
Your personal style I have always been good at knowing what looks good on someone else; just not on myself. However, now I am enjoying it more. I’m learning to try new styles. My personal all-time favorite is a suit. I love wearing suits. If the weather in Mumbai permitted, I’d wear suits everyday – even to shoot.
Best book you’ve read this year I like reading biographies and historical books. The book I’ve enjoyed the most this year is Rakesh Maria’s Let Me Say It Now. He was the Police Commissioner of Mumbai during it’s darkest times. It’s a great flashback into Mumbai of the 90’s.
A movie (you have watched or directed) that changed everything Oh! The list would be endless. Crash (for its writing), Love actually (for its simplicity), Dark Knight (for its characters). There are just so many that keep inspiring and pushing me.
The Aha! moment that changed your life That would definitely be my first few days as an assistant as I mentioned earlier. The hustle, bustle and craziness of that world was an absolute Aha moment. It changed my life moving forward.
You are fascinated by People! They are a study. I love sitting at a coffee shop and people watch. Understanding their body language. Overhearing their conversations!! What makes them tick. What are they not saying!
Best gift you’ve received I’m gonna be cheesy and say, my family and friends. I have been truly blessed to have such a group of people in my life. They’ve cheered me when I was high and held me when I was low. I don’t know who gifted these people to me (not gonna thank God as am an atheist) but whoever did… Thank you! Best gift ever!!
Best gift given That’s not for me to judge. The receiver can tell you if it was the best gift and I ain’t giving you the names of the receivers!! 🙂
Favourite country / city to visit New York and Spain. New York for it’s energy and Spain for it’s lack of it!!
Favourite country / city to shoot a movie Take me to any beach side location… and I’m in my element!!
Country you can’t wait to go back to It’s not a place I want to go back to as I’ve never been there – Brazil; can’t wait to get my feet there.
Things you’ll always have in your fridge Wine, chocolates, ice-cream (for my guests) water (for me as I don’t drink).
Best things to do in Mumbai Eat the street food. Nothing builds your immunity like Mumbai or rather Indian street food does.
Best places to chill in Mumbai I love the sea, so the sea front promenades in Bandra are my favourite.
What have you come to appreciate in 2020 Myself. The lockdown gave me lots of time to love myself more. I had stopped for a while. 2020 brought that back.
Where are some of your biggest inspirations come from People. I now get to watch people on social media. It is unbelievable how much we reveal about ourselves on social media. There is a lot of lies on it. People pretending to have fun. But there’s also a vulnerability they show when they post a quote. Or talk about the small business they’re starting. Or talk about something they did for the first time. Their choice in music. Shows. There are so many entrepreneurs and talented people out there who inspire me to do more.
Your icons My icons are the women in my life. First, would be my mother! She’s my biggest success story and biggest inspiration. Then is my sister, followed by my three (girl) friends who I’ve know since I was 16. My sister in law and my first leading lady, Priyanka Chopra. Each of them is so inspiring and so strong. True icons!
One gadget you can’t do without My Phone. (Can’t live with it… can’t live without it)
Favourite podcast(s) I don’t listen to podcasts! (Should try it though!)
Last music you listened to Jerusalema by Master KG (it’s my current happy song. I love the kids dancing in the video)
Thing that surprises people about you Everyone gets shocked when they get to know that I don’t drink alcohol. They will all start to think back to all the times we’ve been together and it’s like a bolt of lightening hitting them that they have never actually seen me drink. Next, they wonder how I can be this crazy without alcohol!! (That’s for another interview)
If you weren’t a Director, where do you think your path will take you I think life would bring me to films in some form or the other. If not directing, I’d produce or write or be a spot boy (server) on set. But I’d be a part of films somehow!
Your philosophy in life Never Give In. (It’s my school motto and it’s taken me through some tough times).