“Onir is an institution” – Sundeep Malani

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Sundeep Malani is a well-known director down South and just about to break into Hindi films. However, that doesn’t stop the actor-writer-director-choreographer – yes, he is multi-talented – from having lots to say about his line of work. In the near future, the Malani’s script Hello India starring Akshay Kumar and Udita Goswami will release. At the same time, Malani is also a part of Onir’s I Am series where he takes on the role of Assistant Director for two films: I Am Abhimanyu and I Am Omar. A devout Sridevi fan and clearly passionate about cinema, Malani speaks to BollySpice about direction, South films and his plans for Hindi cinema.

Start at the beginning. How does a half Sindhi – half Catholic get into directing South Indian films?
Well, that’s because although my dad is a Sindhi and my mom is a Mangalorean Catholic, we have all our life been settled in Mangalore. I have studied and grown up there and as my interest was in films, I got into acting in the local language films, Konkani and Tulu, and then when I got into Bangalore where I did Kannada films too. From acting to writing and then into direction. I assisted K Subaash, who was with Mani Ratnam and worked for three language film, One Two Three in Kannada, Tamil and Telugu with Prabhu Deva and his brothers. That was the beginning of my career, with my first film only in three languages. Then I went ahead and did one Tamil and one Telugu film as assistant and later directed two Kannada films. Miss California, which was co directed by me and SMS 6260, my first directorial debut.

Tell us about your experience working in South films.
I have very good experience of working with established and well known actors, who were my costars in films when I was into acting, and also directing them. Well, as every one knows the dedication and the timing is important factor down South. A film finishes in just fraction of few days, fast work and quality work too. I value the most memorable experience of working was with Prabhu Deva, in two films, 123 and Manasella Neene, a Kannada film. He became my buddy and even today, he is a good friend. I had the opportunity to direct him for the guest role he played in the Kannada film. Jyotika is one of the best artists I have worked with. To sum up, my experience of working in South has been tremendous and has given me lots of experience as I had the opportunity to be associated with some big names.

What can you tell us about your upcoming film, Woh 5 Din?
Woh 5 Din is a fun filled suspense thriller. I have shot the film in virgin locales of Bhimtal, Jungliyagaon and the surrounding jungles and deep valleys close to Nainital. Besides that also a major portion in the beautiful town of Barielly. The film will take you to an era that has been forgotten. While the first half of the film is fun filled, more to cater today’s generation, the second half is suspense thriller and it reminds you of the film of the eighties.

This film will mark your directorial debut. Why have you chosen to begin your directorial debut with a suspense film?
I have always loved watching suspense and horror flicks. When I got the opportunity to do this film, I grabbed it. And purposely I have chosen the plot and the theme to be more of the bygone era in terms of the treatment of the film. I used to love Ramsay films, in the horror genre and BR Chopras in suspense thrillers and also Ram Gopal Varma thrillers. The film was offered to me by Bless Films Banner (Piush Anand) who had this subject and I reworked on the script and at the end of it, I am happy that I did this.

Additionally you’ve chosen to cast the film with a number of newcomers. Who are these new actors and how have they performed in the film?
Let me tell you that, I have always worked with newcomers, and I would be one of those directors who has had the maximum number of actors/actresses to have introduced to cinema. My film down South SMS 6260 also had a bunch of newcomers, and with this film Woh 5 Din, you will see me introducing seven artists to cinema. Piush Anand is the backbone of the film, who plays the leading role. He plays the role of a struggling actor and he is apt for his role. Akash Hora and Anant Joshi play the characters of Software Professional and a DJ, and they have been very natural in their performance. Hunny Hora, who is a good dancer and as a guitarist has done a good job. The female leads are Bhagyasri Rao, Jenica Kalra and Ruby Anand. Jenica Kalra is a surprise packet in the film. She has performed very well. And Ruby Anand will find a place to be the item number in couple of films to follow. It also gives me pleasure in introducing a new music entrant to Hindi films with Ricky Kej, whose songs will rock. He has done a couple of work down South in Kannada, and has been successful, and with Woh 5 Din, his music will hit to chartbusters.

Do you feel it hard to get into the world of Bollywood with no “Godfather”?
No. I never had any difficulties at all. Neither in South nor here. As I didn’t have any Godfather and I don’t believe in one. It’s just the path and the fate that leads to your destination. Yes, you would meet people on the way, actors, directors, technicians with whose help and support you will get contacts. But, if there is someone whom I would be considering like a Godfather and more of a well-wisher, then its director K Subhash, with whom I started my film career down South years ago and he was the one who supported me and welcomed me to Mumbai to Bollywood.

You’ve also co-written Helloo India. What is it all about?
Hello India is a forthcoming Bollywood film that stars Akshay Kumar, Suniel Shetty and Udita Gowswami. Yes, I wrote the fresh scenes for this film featuring these artists. Whereas the film also has Namrata Shirodhkar and Amrish Puri. And the film was made years ago. Titled Purab Ki Laila, Paschim Ka Chaila, the film is being directed by Shabnam Kapoor and the present scenes that I have written with additional star cast is directed by debutante, Amit Kapoor. You will have to wait and watch for the film to see how the new change has been blended to the old film.

How different is scriptwriting from direction and which do you prefer?
I started my career with being a Film Journalist and a Critic, then I went on to do scripting. Later I ventured into direction. Even today, I love to write. Besides Hello India, I have written a couple of other scripts for films and have written scripts for my film as well: SMS 6260, Woh 5 Din, Moments, Shaayad and now Facebhook. Direction is my passion and I have a long way to go to fulfill my dream project. I can’t choose between the two as both are equally important for me.

Tell us about working with Onir. You are a part of two of his I Am series. What can you tell us about working with him and both the films you are associated with: I Am Abhimanyu and I Am Omar.
Onir is an institution. I was a part of his direction team and I was happy to be a student there. Being around in his set, at his work area, around him; you get to learn so much. Although I have directed films and have had worked with renowned directors, working with Onir as his assistant for I AM films has been a wonderful learning experience. Everything there is so perfectly planned. The timing, the schedule everything falls in place as per plan. He gives importance to minute details too. Even his props and costumes play a central role in the film. I am truly honored and blessed that I am associated with such meaningful films. I am proud to be part of these projects. These films will always be very special to me.

What was Onir’s brief to you when he asked you to be a part of his directorial team?
Let me make it very clear. I approached Onir to be part of his team. And when, Onir asked me, why as I myself have directed films, I told him, that does not matter. It’s my pleasure to be associating with you. I have loved all his three films especially My Brother Nikhil which is such a sweet film that I treasure as one of his best work. I voluntarily agreed to be part of his team, and as said earlier, I am one ‘lucky’ person to be in his direction team as there were and there are a big queue waiting to get a chance to work with him.

You have a number of achievements to your name. Tell us about a few of them.
I have had the opportunity to have worked in films of eight languages till date. Kannada, Tulu, Konkani, Tamil, Telugu, Hindi, English and Japanese. Yes. I have acted in films of some of these languages, besides did a documentary in Japanese and working now in Hindi. Its about entertaining all section of audience, and I am seriously looking forward to make a film in my father tongue too, Sindhi. I have been a actor in stage, done a few shows in my home town. Turned journalist for films and then scripting and direction.

Who are some of your favorite directors in the industry? And which would you like to work with?
My all time favorite directors are Mani Ratnam, Yash Chopra, Mahesh Bhatt, K Balachandar and Balu Mahendra. Not to mention, Onir of course. My dream is to work for a Yash Raj Production.

Which would you say is your all time favorite Hindi film?
A couple of films. Mostly those of Sridevi. But If I have to pick the best, then Lamhe, tops the list. I could watch this film, anytime, every time!

Can we safely say that you have shifted priorities to Hindi films completely or will you continue to direct films in the South?
No no. I am right now doing Hindi films. But I have not shifted here permanently. In fact, there is a film that I would be directing soon in Kannada. Everything is finalized, but will let you know when time comes.

What do you feel sets you apart from your contemporaries?
I am not here to compete with anyone. I am happy being myself, Sundeep Malani. And people knowing me in the future as Malani’s films.
What will we see coming out from you after the immense work you have on your plate as of now?
On my direction front, there is Woh 5 Din, a fun filled suspense thriller starring Piush Anand, Akash Hora, Hunny Hora, Anant Joshi, Bhagyasri Rao, Jenica Kalra and Ruby Anand. There are a few short films Moments based on IPL match with Jeet Sachdev, Deepti Dua and Vikramjit Chaudhary. Shaayad a bold sensual film with Jenica Kalra and Viviek Mishra. Actor with Maanuv Bharadwaj and Tripti Sharma. And a fun comedy film, titled. Facebhook! A sensitive subject with kids I luv Hritik and Once Upon a time. A feature film titled NRI. Besides this, a Kannada feature film and a musical video titled Jadoo Hai Nasha Hai.

What is it you love about Sridevi so much?
Ah! There goes a question that I am eager to answer. But, seriously speaking, I don’t have an answer for this, because I can’t explain. I have been a die hard fan of Sridevi right from my childhood; from the time I have known about the actress much before she did Hindi films. I have watched all her Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam and Kannada films too. I used to have a collection of her photographs made into bundle of books. My room wall was all of Sri. Her audio, video cassettes were my collections. I have written biography of her life and her films individually. I run a fan page of hers in Facebook. Although she has been out of feature films from quite some time now. She is still my all time favorite and no one can take her place; not even the present actresses.

Have you ever met her and told her you are her ultimate fan?
Unfortunately, no. I missed the chance of meeting her twice. Once, when I was in Chennai, shooting at a hotel, got to know she was also residing in the same place. I did go to meet her, but it was Boney Kapoor who welcomed me and Sri wasn’t around. Missed meeting her.
It was again a second time, when someone told me to come to an event where Sri was. I rushed and by the time, I reached – she left. Well, this is fate. But, I am confident enough that one day and not too far to count the days, I will meet her for sure and let her know that I am the biggest fan of hers in this entire universe. I would love to show her my collections of her pictures and her individual film details. This would be a surprise and a collective gift for Boney and Jhanvi and Khushi too. Besides, I am looking forward to make a documentary on Sridevi’s life! I hope, she agrees for this. And this would be a gift to all her fans worldwide.

Watch out for more from Malani in the upcoming months ahead!

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