(August 10, 2021; 10.30 am) Learning the art of filmmaking from maverick directors such as Christopher Nolan, Patty Jenkins, and Vishal Bhardwaj has put Indian filmmaker Manjari Makijany on the world map. She brings alive the stories that transcend borders and cultures, and that’s what makes the 34-year-old an exceptional filmmaker. A regular at the international film festivals, Manjari is a woman director who is making a difference with her unique storytelling.
Manjari was introduced to films by her father Mac Mohan, aka Sambha from Sholay. The Los Angeles-based filmmaker has now found her niche in independent cinema after years of learning from the stalwart of cinema.
For someone, whose stories were rejected a number of times, she never gave up – she is now helming the first Indo-American Disney film Spin which will be coming on Netflix.
Film background to film career
Born in Mumbai to Mohan Makijany, popularly known as Mac Mohan in Bollywood, Manjari’s love for cinema runs deep. Cinema was a way of life in the Makijany household, and Manjari’s tryst with films began early in life, thanks to her dad. As a child, she frequented the sets of her father’s films, but it was her love for plays at Prithvi Theatre that drew her towards storytelling and its visual impact. Watching the stage transform with each play as it transported the audience to a new world was a surreal experience for a young Manjari. She would often enter into long conversations with her dad and dissect almost every scene from the films that she’d watch.
View this post on Instagram
“In fact, my father was the one who once said that I had an eye of a director at an age when I couldn’t quite fathom what that meant,” she told Better India.
Entering into Bollywood was a very organic decision for Manjari. At 21, her real journey in the Hindi film industry began when she assisted filmmaker Ayan Mukerji on Wake Up Sid. Two years later, she found herself on the sets of Vishal Bhardwaj’s Saat Khoon Maaf, starring Priyanka Chopra. With no formal training in filmmaking until then, Manjari learnt the craft on film sets.
After learning the tricks of the trade from a master like Bhardwaj, Manjari went behind the camera to direct a short film The Last Marble in 2012. The poignant story of a street kid who makes things from metal scrap received a warm reception at international film festivals, and earned her the Best of Fest at the Clermont-Ferrand International Short Film Festival. This was the beginning of her innings as an independent director who had stories worth telling. One such story brought her to her next venture, The Corner Table (2014) that was not only nominated for best short film at New York Indian Film Festival but was also a part of Cannes Short Film Corner. But her journey hasn’t been easy: she had to face rejection many a times before she managed to get that one break. Not the one to give up so easily, she used every rejection to better her craft and bounce back with better stories.
Journey to the West
Her films helped her earn a seat at the AFI Conservatory Directing Workshop for Women in 2016, thus making her the second Indian woman to be a part of this program since its inception in 1974. It was here that her third short film I See You took shape; it later won Best Short at the Asian American International Film Festival.
This enriching experience landed her on the sets of Christopher Nolan’s 2017 film Dunkirk. Working with the maverick filmmaker is every cinephile’s dream, and Manjari got this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity with the war drama. This wasn’t her only brush with the Hollywood biggies as she soon found herself working with Patty Jenkins on Wonder Woman.
View this post on Instagram
The 34-year-old used every opportunity as a fertile learning ground that helped shape her as a filmmaker.
In a conversation with Quint, she said,
“When you’re an assistant director or an assistant in any capacity, you’re really a fly on the wall, you’re invisible. Whatever you are learning and whatever you are doing is pretty much through observation, and absorbing as a sponge. It’s been an incredible journey being on these projects and watching some amazing filmmakers at work. I never went to a film school. My first job was as an assistant on a set, that’s where I learnt the craft. I learnt cinema language from Vishal (Bhardwaj) ji where he would have a shot list and I would watch him sort of set a shot and somehow all of these things find a way when you’re working and when you’re directing.”
After gaining critical acclaim for her short films, it was in 2017 that the filmmaker decided to shift gears and move to feature films. An article on skateboarding in India helped germinate the idea of her first feature film Skater Girl. Fascinated by the fact that there were skating communities in India, Manjari knew that this needed to be portrayed on the big screen. Set in a rural village of Rajasthan, Skater Girl explored caste system, social taboos and age-old traditions through the lens of a sport film. Hollywood Insider hailed the film for being a “meaningful film that provides food for thought for young audiences.”
“I often gravitate towards simple stories that have regular people in extraordinary situations. I believe local stories that are inspiring have a universal appeal and can transcend cultures and borders. There is something so resilient about the human spirit that when an underdog conquers against all odds we all want to celebrate that triumphant and gratifying emotion. I wanted to capture that essence in Skater Girl,” she told Women and Hollywood.
And now the Los Angeles-based filmmaker is ready with her first live-in action Disney outing that has an Indo-American story at its heart. This is the first time Disney is releasing a film with an Indian-American girl as its lead protagonist, and with Spin Manjari is making sure to shatter all stereotypes that has been plaguing the Indian diaspora.
“When I came on board for directing Spin I felt responsible and excited at the same time. Excited because it is one of the great opportunities for me as an Indian filmmaker to show our culture and portray the right representation of the next generation Indian-American community to the international audience, to the Disney fans. I also felt responsible because it is a chance to break all the stereotype that is showcased about Indian community, culturally. I wanted to get those nuances right,” she told IANS.
Manjari’s stories are empowering, and she is one director who makes sure to create an impact with her work, something she has learnt from her mentors like Nolan, Jenkins and Bhardwaj. And that’s exactly what she is planning with Spin, a Disney film that talks about South Asian culture for the very first time. Manjari is definitely pushing the envelope with each of her films, and making a mark in an otherwise male-dominated industry.
It’s not every day that you come across a director who has had a chance to work with the best talent in Hollywood and Bollywood, but Manjari Makijany is one such exception. She has learnt her craft from the masters of filmmaking and is now putting her years of experience into telling stories that matter.