Interview with Manish Acharya
Posted by Vivek on September 24, 2008 | No Comments
A little about Loins of Punjab?
It’s a laugh-out-load, sing-out-proud romantic musical comedy, about a
singing contest set in a small town in New Jersey. The movie is in English and has been a huge hit in India, and won many awards at international film festivals, and been critically acclaimed by press in India and the U.S.
On Manish – what made you take to direction and what is your background?
My academic background was in Physics and Industrial Relations. I was the founding member of a successful software company before getting into movie making … all that was a way to make sure that my parents didn’t ever worry about me. I am from a middle-class family and the idea of having a “stable career” is so very paramount. (Of course, nowadays after the financial services meltdown, it is quite unclear what is and isn’t “stable.”) Plus I was the only child and so it got even more important to be “well-settled.”And I felt it was selfish, after seeing how much my parents sacrificed for me, to say that I will do whatever makes me happy and not worry about them.
So…after my company was successful, I felt like I could “indulge” myself. And for some people, their indulgences are good food and drink, or fancy cars, or great vacations. For me, it was a new career.
Movies were my “friends” when I was growing up … during my teen years. And so, maybe this career choice is just me trying to go back and play with some old friends.
Anyway, I applied to Masters program at the Tisch School of the Arts, at NYU. Surprisingly, I got in. 3 years of graduate school, and “Loins Of Punjab Presents” is my first feature.
Loins of Punjab has been out there and getting favorable reviews for a while, what took so long to get it out in theaters? Since our newsletter has readers from all over, when is the release planned for places like UK?
I think this movie has the potential of really reaching out to the non-Indian community, and defining it in a new and positive way. The desire to go with a US distributor stemmed from that. If anyone was going to get this movie to break out from just the Indian-American theaters, it would have to be someone who was not Indian or Indian-American. And so I waited until we had a US distributor to release in theaters here. As I mentioned earlier, it released in India in 2007, and was a huge hit. And then it played in a bunch of festivals and won awards. I think it was the India run and the festival success that got the American distributors interested. An employee of Emerging Pictures, Myrna Moncayo, saw the movie at a festival, loved it, and got me in touch with the head of the company. And now Emerging Pictures is bringing this movie to American theaters.
We are excited about the US theatrical run. Our success here is largely dependent on our core audience, the South Asian diaspora, showing up in the theaters, and then loudly evangelizing this movie amongst their non-desi friends and colleagues. It’s what the Greek-American community did with My Big Fat Greek Wedding, for example. So I guess you can say that our US marketing strategy is perhaps based largely on the kindness of strangers.
About the rest of the world, I know we will be distributing in UK, Canada, and Australia next. And then let’s see.
On the actors and crews of Loins of Punjab and their characterization?
I think most of the characters come from real life in some way. My family members were the inspiration for many of the Patels. Bokade was a combination of an actor we knew from NY, and a TV executive we ran across while writing the script. Sania is a synthesis of a bunch of Indian actresses from New York. Mrs. Kapoor is a dead ringer for a Long Island socialite that we have interacted with. So … these characters were “born” from reality but then we exaggerated or emphasized certain characteristics for comic or dramatic reasons.
The thing is that I really like these characters. And therefore, if we do poke any fun at them, it is not mean-spirited in any way. From our screenings, I can safely say that the audiences feel this vibe and respond in the same good-hearted way to these characters.
What is the genre of the film?
NY Times calls it a “witty-musical-comedy with a political edge.” We think it’s a pretty good description.
What’s next on the platter?
I am working on 3 different projects right now, all of which should go into production in 2009. The film I am most excited about is a comic thriller set in Tokyo and Mumbai.
Two of the three projects are Hindi films with well-known actors and songs.
However, I do think I will bring my own sensibility to the project and it
will still be for lack of a better term … “zara hatke” (a bit different).
LOINS OF PUNJAB PRESENTS is now playing in NY/NJ and opens Sep 26 in Chicago. It then opens on Oct 10 in the Bay Area, San Diego, Dallas, and Houston
Loins of Punjab trailer: