Ahmedabad: Manish Saini stands out as a rare writer-director within the realm of Gujarati cinema, a distinction amplified by his achievement of not one, but two National Awards for his creative ventures. His initial triumph was born from the film “Dhh” in 2017, featuring Naseeruddin Shah, followed by securing the prestigious Golden Lotus for his movie “Gandhi & Co.” at the 69th National Film Awards in 2023. What truly distinguishes him is his thematic focus: a storyteller whose cinematic narratives revolve around the world of children.
In an open conversation, Saini unveiled his artistic approach, admitting, “My childhood is an integral part of who I am; it resides within me. Writing about children and guiding them through the filmmaking process comes to me effortlessly. While others might find fascination in romantic dramas and the complexities of adulthood, I’m drawn to the unfiltered perspectives of children. Their pure and innocent view of the world continues to captivate me.”
Against the backdrop of a prevailing trend where Gujarati filmmakers often set their sights on transitioning to Bollywood after garnering local recognition, Saini is charting a distinct course. He candidly shared, “The Bollywood landscape is fiercely competitive, with scripts sometimes languishing for six months before even being considered. I recall pitching a script to a Mumbai studio, only to be advised that sports-themed films were in demand. So, I returned to Ahmedabad and started writing a sports-themed script. However, by the time I returned, the audience’s interest in sports films had waned!”
Within the realm of filmmaking craftsmanship, Saini acknowledges the unique advantages Gujarat offers. He remarked, “Gujarat provides a relatively smoother filmmaking journey. Here, I can create a film within six months. The ease of finding a producer and realizing the creative vision makes the journey incredibly gratifying. As for my Bollywood aspirations, that’s not on my agenda.”
Hailing from Haryana, Manish Saini embarked on his creative journey in the cultural hub of Ahmedabad, Gujarat. He honed his artistic skills at the esteemed National Institute of Design (NID), known for nurturing creative talents.
Reflecting on his early days, Saini recounted, “After completing my studies at NID in 2009, my friend Aditya Gupta and I delved into scriptwriting.”
“Once we shaped our story, I reached out to numerous producers and financial advisors, hoping for a green light. But as is often the case for emerging directors, rejections were abundant. That’s when I decided to pool funds from relatives and friends, giving birth to my directorial debut ‘Dhh’ in 2017.”
Amidst the backdrop of the 2021 COVID-19 pandemic, Saini’s creation “Gandhi & Co.” emerged, featuring accomplished actor Darshan Jariwala alongside Jayesh More, Druma Mehta, and young talents Reyaan Shah and Hiranya Zinzuwadia. The film’s script took root during the lockdown and materialized as the initial pandemic wave waned.
Saini fondly recalled, “Like many, I found myself confined to a room during the lockdown. Amidst cooking and navigating the unfamiliar territory, I crafted the story of ‘Gandhi & Co.’ Shooting commenced as the first wave of the pandemic subsided.”
Regarding “Gandhi & Co.,” he remarked, “When the topic of Gandhi is depicted on screen, it often takes on a preachy tone. I was determined to avoid that path. The heart of ‘Gandhi & Co.’ lies in its warmth, humor, and the ability to leave smiles lingering even after the credits roll. Crucially, the film conveys its message without adopting a didactic stance.”