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Jayati Godhawat

IWB Blogger

We Zoom Into The Life Of This Bollywood Kid Who’s Now A Hollywood Director

  • IWB Post
  •  August 30, 2018

Every year the American Film Institute selects eight women directors for its prestigious Directing Workshop for Women, and since the time it was founded in 1974, only two Indian women have been a part of the workshop.

One amongst them is Manjari Makijany. Daughter of the late actor Mohan Makijany aka Mac Mohan who is most remembered for his role as ‘Samba’ in the iconic Bollywood movie, Sholay. Manjari had grown up visualizing herself as a storyteller and a filmmaker and started her career as an Assistant Director straight after graduation. Manjari has worked with ace directors like Vishal Bharadwaj for ‘Saat Khoon Maaf’ and Ayan Mukherjee for ‘Wake Up Sid!’. She also got a chance to work for the Indian schedules of ‘Mission Impossible 4’ and ‘The Dark Knight Rises.’Manjari Makijany

Three years ago, she shifted to Los Angeles and assisted in movies like ‘Wonder Woman’ and the recently released movie, ‘Dunkirk,’ amongst many others. Meanwhile, she also wrote and directed two award-winning short films, ‘The Last Marble,’ and ‘The Corner Table.’

After that, she was selected for the AFI’s Directing Workshop for Women 2016. As a part of the workshop, she made a dramatic thriller short film, ‘I See You,’ which has been garnering much attention and acclaim at Cannes Film Festival where it was showcased under the Emerging Filmmakers Program at the American Pavilion. Now, it will be screening at the 40th Asian American International Film Festival in New York on July 27, 2017.

In a candid chat with IWB, Manjari opens up not only about her work and vision, but also gives us a glimpse into her life beyond filmmaking.

Let’s begin with your experience at the AFI’s Directing Workshop.

So, this program is a really difficult one to get in as only 3% of the applicants are accepted. After I had applied for the program, there was a rigorous interview process before being selected. It’s an intensive workshop in narrative filmmaking and each participant is required to complete a short film that’s then showcased at the Director’s Guild of America by the end of the program.

Before this, I didn’t study filmmaking, so the program was a stamp of validation for me. Also, it helped me understand ‘narrative perspective’ in theory better. It’s truly been a nurturing experience for me.

BTW, it is because of this prestigious program that I was approached by The Gersh Talent Agency, who now represents me.

‘I See You’ is gathering much appreciation at the film festivals. Tell us about the behind-the-stage memories of working on the film.

‘I See You’ was a challenging film to make as it was shot at various real life locations and studios in L.A. It involved VFX, special effects, stunts, explosion and working with children! It was an ambitious project given the budget but I got tremendous industry support. My husband, Emmanuel Pappas, who produced it, put together an incredible team to make this film possible.

You can know more about the film on Manjari’s website here.

When did you write your first script?Manjari Makijany

In 2011, I decided to take a break from assisting so I could write and direct my first short, ‘The Last Marble’ and soon after I made another one in 2013, ‘The Corner Table’. All my shorts were produced through Mac Productions, a company my father had started and which is now run by my sister, Vinati.

And, where do you find inspiration for your stories?

The resilient human spirit fascinates me and I love themes where the human spirit conquers against all odds. So, I find myself drawn to human dramas that either inspire or move you to think in ways you wouldn’t otherwise. And I only pursue writing a story if I’m intrigued enough by an idea and if it keeps popping up consistently in my head.Manjari Makijany

My approach to screenwriting is quite journalistic. Before I start writing, I dive deep into understanding the story world, from watching relevant interviews to making mood boards and listening to a playlist that gets me in that zone. But to the outside world, it looks like chilling! *Laughs* Emmanuel and my sister, Vinati, keep asking me, ‘Why are you wasting your time and not working on the script?’ In reality, I am!! Once I have done my in-depth research, I sit down and write the script quite quickly.

Interesting! So, what challenges did you face while shooting your first short film, The Last Marble?

While making my first film, I didn’t have much time or money and it was a tight schedule. Plus, there are so many things we had no control over. We were not shooting in a studio but in real-life locations, which isn’t easy. The lead actor, who was an 8-year-old kid, had never visited a slum before and he burst into tears on arriving on location! So working with children and bringing out the best in them is very challenging but quite gratifying as they are like clay.

What was your biggest learning from working as an Assistant Director in India that helped you in Hollywood?Manjari Makijany

I learned a lot from all my directors. I focused on the craft of filmmaking while working with Vishal Sir. His approach towards everything including the way he conducted himself on the set. When he walked on set, the entire crew felt reassured. He’s a great captain of the ship. I learned how a director’s mental state affects the entire environment on set and plays a big part in building your team’s trust.

Many female artists have spoken about the prevalent sexism in the industry. Did you ever face it, and as a female director, what changes are you bringing to ensure equality?

Though I never thought of myself as a ‘female’ director, I agree that there needs to be equality behind-the-scenes. The only way I can combat that is by doing good work, so I keep my focus on that. There are so many talented women out there in this field that I often collaborate with them on my projects. As it is, Jayati, there’s such a less number of female directors in the industry but they are out there, waiting to be hired!

There’s definitely an unconscious bias. You know, I once went to a meeting and the guy said, ‘Why do you want to be a director? You have such a pretty face. You should be an actress!’ It’s so annoying, you know!

Tell us about your most memorable stories from your childhood with your father.  

*giggling* So, as a child, I used to make up a lot of stories at home, including creative prank calls. I used to write letters to my parents and a lot of poems too. I remember my father was so encouraging that he would show my poems to his friends including Kaifi Azmi, the legendary poet, and Shabana Azmi’s father. He would encourage me with compliments and also correct my Urdu pronunciation and ask me to repeat words like,‘Sa-mun-dar’ (sea) from my poems. These memories are so vividly etched in my mind and in some way, shaped my choices early on.

Did you accompany your father on film sets? Share with us your memories from the studio as a little girl.

We were raised in a protective environment and seldom accompanied our dad on film sets. But I remember going on the sets of Andaz Apna Apna with Raveena (Tandon) didi. We weren’t ever star-struck and to be honest, it was quite boring to be on set if you just had to watch. The same stuff was being shot, again and again, so many retakes, ugh, it was just waiting, waiting, and more waiting!

More than the films, we enjoyed accompanying our dad to Prithvi Theatre. In fact, one of the things that drew me to storytelling was watching that stage transform into so many different worlds.

If you were to make a film on your father, what aspect of his life would you bring forth?

Funny you say that! I’ve been researching and collecting material to make a documentary on his life, but there’s so much to do to before I can actually get it on paper and give it shape. It’s been an interesting journey as each time I meet someone who had worked with him, I discover a new thing about my father. Most of his films happened before I was born so it’s like rediscovering him through his works and connecting all these dots. People know him only for his roles on screen, especially as ‘Samba,’ but I want to tell the story of what his life was from a daughter’s point of view and how this villain in reel life was a hero in real life.

In the ‘Making Of The Corner Table’ video, your sister, who plays the protagonist in the film, spoke about how you would come to her and ask her to do the shot well and with minimum retakes. Tell us about your equation with your sister.

*laughs* She has been doing theater for eight years now and is a brilliant actress. However, at the end of the day she’s my sister, so even on set, I cannot have a formal code of conduct with her. She thought that I was more respectful towards the other actors than to her and she would complain about it often. But we’re like best friends and know each other’s strengths and weaknesses. I knew that she didn’t need more direction than she did. But, of course, she thinks that I boss her around anyway!

“I, too, have an elder sister. So, I think I would believe her,” I interrupted and we both chuckled.

Honestly, we keep inspiring each other and motivating each other all the time. In fact, we’re currently writing a feature film together!

We also saw a lot of food pictures on your Instagram. Cooking skills you wanna boast about?

A good Indian Meal for @epappas75 #Rajma #baiganbharta #eggplant #BrownRice #cucumber #Carrots with #GreekDip

19 Likes, 2 Comments – Manjari Makijany (@manjarimakijany) on Instagram: “A good Indian Meal for @epappas75 #Rajma #baiganbharta #eggplant #BrownRice #cucumber #Carrots with…”

Haha! So, till 2014 I didn’t know how to cook, at all! My sister and I didn’t enter the kitchen much and I am not proud of it. But, when I moved to L.A with my husband, we didn’t have mom or a cook to make food for us. I would Skype-cook with my mom giving me directions and I swear at other times – Youtube Zindabaad! I am not very fond of cooking, thankfully, my husband is a great chef! And those Instagram food pictures are only there because I gotta boast when I cook something decent. It’s an achievement for me! LOL. My mom is often surprised on how well my Indian recipes turn out! Haha!

We also noticed that you do pottery. What other things do you love to do in your free time?

My amethyst pot is glazed and ready! #Pottery #BeforeAndAfter #LaborofLove

47 Likes, 3 Comments – Manjari Makijany (@manjarimakijany) on Instagram: “My amethyst pot is glazed and ready! #Pottery #BeforeAndAfter #LaborofLove”

*sighs* Hopefully, it’s not a fad as I truly enjoy pottery! This summer, I signed up for another ceramics class. There’s a lot I can apply in my life from learning different disciplines. For e.g., pottery taught me patience and how I need to get each step right before going to the next. If I rush even one step, in the next step the clay gives in and you gotta start all over again!

I think I enjoy learning and creating new things. It’s one of those ‘need based’ things for me. I recently did a Diploma in Perfumery from Grasse Institute of Perfumery, France. So every now and then I make my own natural handmade perfumes from essential oils. Pottery, painting and perfume making are hobbies that allow me to draw a lot of inspiration into my filmmaking.

Apprentice Perfumer! ?? #Grasse

66 Likes, 6 Comments – Manjari Makijany (@manjarimakijany) on Instagram: “Apprentice Perfumer! ?? #Grasse”

One of the most memorable compliments you have received for your film from a stranger.

Ahhh, that’s the beauty of showcasing your films at film festivals, so many strangers come up to you and talk about your work and how it moved them. When people come to me and say my work has inspired them, it’s my biggest reward. It’s truly humbling! I remember that someone came to me after watching ‘I See You’ and said,‘You changed the way I think about hate and terrorism.’ It was such a touching moment for me!

How much time does it take for a director to get financially independent?Manjari Makijany

There’s no set process or time period like there is for other professions like law etc. In filmmaking, it really depends on what you make and where and by whom is your work seen/ recognized? If your film is appreciated at festivals and gets a lot of traction, there’s a higher chance that it’ll open that ‘heat window’ which can lead to the next thing. But if you are doing this just for money, then please don’t do it. You won’t be able to sustain. It’s like gambling with your life! It demands hardwork, persistence, and most importantly, a lot of patience.

P.S. To know more about Manjari and her projects, you can visit her website, here.


First published on Aug 31, 2017.

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