A Requiem for Mani

A Requiem for Mani.

For Shambhavi, Ribhu.

Track in zoom out, zoom in track out…

Mani Mama, Mani Mama, Mani Mama…

This ditty sung to the tune of a then popular Hindi film song from a Subhash Ghai film by all FTII students. It amused Mani no end. We were celebrating just one of the shots in Mani’s vast oeuvre.

Images jumble and leap…

Leaping orange flames from a log fire, the high-pitch tremolo of the crickets, the speaking silence of the wilderness. Sitting smack in the middle of the Ranthamabor forests where I lay my eyes on this large man with big deep eyes for the first time.

Dental Dilemma, a silent exercise we cut on pic-synch. Tall actor performing toothache.

Walking to the girl’s hostel in FTII and this tall, striking, vital man walking with his band of chelas/ admirers. And he sets eyes on me and rumbles – “Jaipur ki ladki. Kaisi hai tu?” (The tu being an acknowledgement of our common muluk).

Later it would turn to aap now in acknowledgment of my typical-film school-student-duh question. His voice sonorous, deep. The large, patrician nose. The handsome, powerful profile, the drawl – “Main swaant sukh ke liye film banata hoon.” Then turns full face and gazes into my eyes – “Swaant sukh samajhti hain aap? Tulsidas kahte hain jis sukh ka ant swayam mein hi ho.” And there would be a silent ripple. He turns back to profile shot, slinging one arm carelessly on a vacant chair. Large, muscular arm. Big hands. The perfect pose. Charisma oozing. I suspected he was a bit of an actor still.

Mani wearing a tomato red shirt post his Amsterdam life, sitting cross-legged at our house, regaling us with his endless repertoire of self-digs and flashes of his observation about life.

To use words about a man who only spoke the language of visuals is rather daunting and tough.

In my little koop-mandook (the frog’s well), the name of Mani Kaul first filtered from Fateh Singh Rathor, the Tiger man. Fatta ji, as I called him, nursing an unconcealed crush on him spoke and spoke about his school friend from Jodhpur who ‘makes movies.’ When I look back now, his school friend Mani and he shared a lot in common. A vitality, stylishness, both performers, both passionate. Mani about his Cinema. Fateh Singh about saving his Tigers. Both these adbhut men have been felled by cancer. Fateh Singh went before him.

My Father was posted as Collector Sawai Madhopur and after his office hours we would drive down 6-8 kilometers and be in the deep jungles of Ranthamabor. I was studying for my 12th boards, having recently lost my Mother. Papa and I couldn’t stick being inside a house in evenings. Fatta ji felt there was no future in studies and I should go into movies like Mani Kaul. And one evening Mani was there. Mani was very wan, distant, aloof. Fatta ji told me later that he was having a lot of trouble putting together a movie…. Which later got made – Duvidha. But once the daaru started flowing, Mani and Fateh Singh sang their childhood songs, limericks, ditties. The orange flames leaping, the long shadows of the trees dancing.

Calling Mani ‘Mama’ is a very personal feeling for me. We came from the same state. The same city, Jaipur. The city till then had sent 2 people into the haloed doors of the Film & Television Institute of India. Mani Kaul and Asrani they would say with huge pride. My Father was getting good bad-vibes from all our relatives at my decision to join FTII. Then one day Papa told me his buddies, two ladies were coming to check out whether I would make the grade and also to assure him that I was not going to wolf-land. They were Mani Mama’s sisters. On that sweltering afternoon, the older one drove down on her bike with the younger one.

They had gone for the Rajasthan spell of his new film, Mati Manas. They confessed they were clueless about how films are made. That’s how they expressed it. “Bhaiyya stares at a place, location these people call it, for long. Then the camerawala puts the camera. Then Bhaiyya goes and looks through the view-finder. Then he goes back and stares for long. Very long. Then he shows with his hands where he exactly wants the camera. Then he shows with his fingers a bit down, a bit up… And then we have no patience and we go to have lunch.” Years later when I recounted this to Mani he gurgled with laughter and said – “Poor things! But after that they never asked me to come for a shooting.”

His sisters told me films were dull affairs but seeing me set they assured me that if I wouldn’t die of boredom, I would be fine. What clinched going to FTII was their supreme confidence as they assuaged the fears of my Father. Film Institute is a nice place, nobody will eat her up. And then Bhaiya is there to keep an eye on her. Imagine! Mani Kaul keeping an eye on the latest Jaipur export! But Ma ke gaaon wala Mama hi hua na? ‘Mama’ Mani became and that’s how he stays for me.

At FTII, Mani Kaul was GOD. Or the next best thing to God. If Ritwik Ghatak is the presiding deity of FTII, then Mani Kaul and Kumar Shahani his most guni disciples. That he kept an eye on me I am not sure. But the tu and the Jaipur link which he would state kind of made me feel watched over.

Years later when he had come down from Amsterdam, I made full shameless use of this link to invite him over for dinner. Rajasthani garlic sukha chicken and gatte ki sabzi for dinner. Gurpal gleefully told me what clinched the invite was ‘gatte ki sabzi.’

Mani enters in a tomato red shirt. Niranjan, who has been his Cinematographer team for Mati Manas with Venu, is calming me as I check my dishes, the booze. We are thrilled but don’t know where the night would go. Initially it’s all sober, formal. Then seeing my little baby boy crawling Mani asks “Ise kahaan sulati hai tu?” Between both of us. Mani rumbles with amusement. “Kadwe tel se maalish karti hai tu?” Now I am uncertain where this is going. Yup, I say sheepish. Mani is delighted. He is a new Father. So he details how his western wife tried to put a cot, a video camera and alarm which goes off if the kid has peed in the nursery. Mani told her, let the baby sleep between the two of us. That is how we do it in India. And our babies carry the feeling of safety and security all their life. Did your wife agree, I ask? Mani nods, “Aankhein khul gayin!” The ice melts. We discuss techniques of bathing babies, massaging them with oil…vehement that Indian system is far too good.

Of course we talk of Cinema. We pester him to take the post of Director FTII but his only response is – “If they will let me pursue my own film-making. I am not a clerk yaar. I need my freedom. Freedom…”

Mani hums some dhrupad as he pats my baby to sleep. Cracks jokes about how the late LV Prasad in whose lab he was developing his picture negative told him – “You are such an interesting man. You talk such sense. So deep, so fine. Why do you make such boring films?” And Mani cracks up and we all high are giggling. He is rather proud of directing Shah Rukh in Idiot. “Wo star ban gaya na? Hai us ladke mein kuchh.”

The myth and folk-lore of Mani is part of what we lived and breathed.

Raaj Kumar, an actor and a fellow Kashmiri, tells him at a party – “Kya uski roti iski roti? Hamare saath aa jao jaani. Mil ke Paratha banayenge!”

Khalid Mohammed, a film journalist wants to do a face-to-face with Mani Kaul, Manmohan Desai and an Art filmmaker, who makes films about social causes and issues. Mani and Manmohan Desai are damn keen to meet each-other. To do the interview. Both object to the Art filmmaker. They don’t want him. Delicately or deliciously they say it.

The trench field battles between Non-narrative and Narrative cinema was fought every day between the “arty” and the “commercial” crowd in FTII. Mani at that stage was someone the ‘narrativewalas’ loved to hate.

Then one day, the biggest votary of Mainstream cinema, my pal comes and reads a passage from a book with a guess-who-said it. The book is Indian Cinema Superbazaar. (Malls had not come till then). He reads and I quote…

“I was a very quiet child and my eyesight was weak… I never complained about that to my father. If I couldn’t see a thing I would go very close to it. I remember very clearly that if I went to a film, it looked practically hazy. I saw life also like that… I remember that year, it was Mount Abu. By chance we were standing on the mountain top and my sister said “look at the road. It runs like a ribbon.” Probably because of my weak eyesight I lacked concentration. I was a lost child. My Mother seriously thought that … there might be some problem.. retardation or something… suddenly it occurs to my Father and he takes off his specs… powerful in terms of lenses. I wore the specs and it was like a shock… I saw trees, leaves, rocks, mountains. It was too much for me…. After that I saw a film called Helen of Troy…and after that I could not think of anything else in my life except films.”

The image from out-of-focus coming to sharp clarity moved me. It was Mani Mama’s experience which touched the souls of all of us, even the hardened baiters. The best, most honest, no phony interview of the book we declared.

Later, I heard Mani comes to teach at FTII and sees Johny Mera Naam. Changes his teaching plan and shows it to the students pointing out it’s precise compositions, it’s cinematography.

Mani, as I grasp, never had a theory of Cinema that he tried to push to fit one single viewpoint. He grew, shared, lived, learnt.

So tonight when I write my requiem to him I say with complete surety… Agree or disagree with his Cinema. There is nobody… NOBODY from FTII, who has not been affected by Mani’s cinema. His vitality, his deep questions, his search for the ‘image’, his humour, his seeking, his showing. Niranjan always says that as a cinematographer he opened our eyes. No box or definition could contain him. Mani Mama is Free at last.

Mani at last your going puts me in courage to say what I could never say to you.

I know that Mani knew that we all knew that he was a very-very ‘sexy’ man.

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  1. Thanks a lot. It probably touches one part only about Mani but Mani Kaul has been such an intrinsic part of all of us.
    One correction. I mistakenly wrote the name Khalid Mohammad. It was Rauf Ahmed actually. Sincere apologies.

  2. Very touching, Tanuja. I didnt know him personally at all, but to have inspired so much love and respect as a person says so much about him as a man.

  3. My Diploma film was in International Competition at Oberhaussen. One of the organisers of the festival, Werner Kobe liked my film immenly and invited me over with my film to Frieburg Film Fetival of which he was the organiser, and was taking place the next week. When I went there I got to know that they were also having a retrospective of Mani’s films. When Werner told Mani that I was there and that my film was to be screened Mani apparently was very happy and told him that I was his student. And the next thing I know is my stature was elevated in leaps and bounds in everyone’s eyes. Here was Mani’s student with his diploma, the student showcasing his work with his master. And when the screening of my film took placed, squeezed in between his films since it was a last minute inclusion, the hall was jam packed. There were people in the aisle, blocking the entry, all over. And the post film discussion had almost everyone attending for more then half an hour. Such was the respect that he commanded out there. And then he took me for dinner, and discussed about what he had told me when I had taken him to Studio 1 where I had ‘put up’ a set for my Dialogue Exercise. One look at the set and my basic thought of the script and he said : “Your thinking is symetrical, very clinical, structured.” I asked him if it was bad since creativity should, flow, take its own form, discover itself, not fall into a pattern. He just smiled and said, when you honestly express what you have a desperate urge to express, and if that is in sync with your soul, you are truly creative. Its been twenty odd years since that interaction and everytime I try to evaluate my thought process, I realise he had summed me up in that one sentence. RIP Mani.

  4. Moving remembrance Tanuja. Like the orange flames from the log fire, your words shed light on the Master and warm our souls. A true Creator of cinematic art. We all will miss him.

  5. Thank you Jyoti. He was indeed quite an extraordinary man. Singer, painter, film-maker, teacher, mentor, erudite but such an engaging conversationalist.
    Jodu. I also feel exactly like that. The last of the Greats. And his sheer vitality, that laughter which would rumble from his stomach, those watchful eyes…
    Thanks so much Pankaj. Been so tough to write this. Mani himself was not given to expressing too much of emotions. But he evoked deep feelings in me as in so many people. I was remembering that sardonic gaz and saying Mama forgive if I get too senti and maudlin.
    Yes Ravi. Anything in our small way we can do to express that he was One person who connected across all divides with all kinds of students and practitioners.
    Lucky you Saurabh. Never had that class with Mani. A privilege the Direction students enjoyed. One small incident. Remember Mani narrating when they were with Ritick Da for the first time. Mani says we were jumling mumbling about how much we loved Meghe Dhaka Tara. Dada cut them short. I have already made my film. You’ve come to make your film. Tell me what’s your film about. Don’t tell me what’s my film about. Mani practiced really that one dictum as a Teacher, Mentor to so many kids.

  6. Sunny. Words are never sufficient…. just wanted to express the presence of this warm, vital, handsome man and his tough struggle to get across a Cinema that met with such blind, maddening opposition. And he kept his sense of humour. Wonder how? I just feel he had so many years more to live, to create , to make. And he is taken away. With such a struggle against a blind maddening disease. God rest mama in solace.

  7. Tanuja, Thanks. You have reminded me Mani Kaul’s unique personality. The great film maker he was but also a very warm and friendly person too. He was my class mate but we did not meet for decades. A couple of years ago I met him at a seminar organized by Oseans.I was really touched by his warmth and friendliness. For all the available time we were talking about FTII days.It was a pleasant surprise for me when he recollected some of incidents happened more than forty years ago.
    Subhash Gupta

  8. Subhash Sir. it gives me such pride and joy that you wrote. Being the class of ’66 (if i am not mistaken) I can barely touch the memories that you all shared. The Times they were. How you all went armed with your diplomas and faced a uncertain career, a hostile Industry. Sir Thank you so much for writing. Mani really breaks one hugely misplaced notion. A type that we were painted into the scenery. That all “Art” walas are jholewalas. Mani mama was anything but that… Built like a boxer, yet gentle, gracious, warm, intensely creative, formidable. I had been wanting to call you and share this with you. The “grace” of your generation touches and moves me.

  9. Very nice piece of writing tanuja, right now I am in Bolzano, Italy, came here with a group of students on an exchange program, got the news on Gayatri’s mail…..feels so very strange…..

  10. Strange…. Dreamt of you two nights back. The way used to look at Institute. Thin, scrawny. Have a good trip. Come to baadi and call.

  11. Very well written, Tanuja…not only it touches our heart, it also brings back the memory of cinema as we knew it, before the glbalised world made him a relic, almost. Got so irked seeing his death newws as a foootnote in TOI. Uski Roti had overhwlmed me so much that while shooting my continuity I thought I could repliate it…needless to say it was a disaster. Then he camein as film maker in residence, the only courage I could muster was to evesdrop from outside Surendra Chaudhary’s room, which was allocated to him. Deleuze, deluged us thanks to Mani….well what else to say. thank you tanuja.

  12. Thanx Tanuja… was hoping someone would write something like this. I was never very close to him but always felt very close… since I saw his first film in college, much before joining FTII. Had the privilege of hosting him one very late night at home last year. Can not describe my excitement of having him all for myself (a couple of other friends were there too, but I had the advantage!). I must mention something here… don’t know if you also felt like that — there was always so much energy exuding from him… felt deluged by that every time I met him…

  13. Dear Tanuja,
    Very well written. I am the one who never had the privilege to meet Mani Sir. But hearing various stories about him had made me a huge fan. Needless to say that his films are as interesting as his legend.
    Want to read more about the man.
    Do share some more memoirs.

  14. Very well written Tanuja. Few days back I was in FTII to act in Ram’s film that he was making for TV students. I requested a student to get me few of the films that I hadn’t seen. Uski Roti, Holi, and OM Dar-Badar and my request was fulfilled by Tanmay, a sound student in FTII. Coincidentally the day I was watching Uski Roti the news came of Mani’s demise. I thought it was too early for a creative filmmaker like Mani to go…he was just 66 if I’m not wrong. But then it was god’s will n he had to pack up! I was greatly fortunate to work with him in Naukar Ki Kameez n the experience while working with him was just extraordinary. He always strove to create something beyond experience…a transcendental quality in visuals and narrative. Breaking the norms of mundane film making and playing with it as he wished with long stoic silences…!!!
    Please watch “Before my eyes”, a documentary on Kashmir by him to see his aesthetic and enchanting visual sense.
    May his ever wandering highly creative and sexy soul rest in peace!!!

  15. Dear Tanuja,
    You have brought out the finer qualities of Mani Kaul very nicely .During the course of working with him there were many incidents.I will touch upon two of them.One describes the quality of embracing anything that was helping the film that he made and the other touches upon his humane qualities.He wanted to share things with his unit members.When I was at B.R.Sound & Music and had the privilage to mix his film “Sathey Se Uthta Insan”.I was supposed to transfer the title music of the film from Nagra tape recorder.The original recording was at 7.5″ per second.By mistake I played it at 3.75 ” per second.It was obvious that the music was playing very slow.He did not react but listened to it very intentively.When I realised my mistake and wanted to play the same at the right speed he said “No.Don’t do that.The slower speed sounds good and goes very well with the visuals”.I thought he was joking.No he was not.We recorded the music with the slower speed and every body appreciated it.This shows that he had a very open mind.On another occassion I was mixing a documentry which he made for a german television.He had a reasonably good budget for the job we were doing.After the mixing job was satisfactorily done he said to me “Yaar Bhatia ek gadbad ho gayee.”I asked him what was it.He said “You have finished the job too quickly.what do I do with the money that is left “I told him “Share it with your unit members”.He smiled and he sure did share the money with his unit members.This brings out the humane part of the man called Mani.Mani was never greedy about money.I will forever miss him and his beautiful smile and his hearty laughter.May his soul rest in peace.

    G.S. Bhatia
    S.R.S.E 1962-1965

  16. Mani Chacha (Kaul)was a legeng in film making he was nephew of my Dadaji (late Pt. Pashupati Nath Kaul) of Jaipur my father( Pt. R.N. Kaul) always use to say for Mani Chacha that he was a genius and a Brilliant student and at that time Mani chacha’s father Late Pt. Iqbal Nath Kaul was in Rajasthan Administration (ADM) and my Dadaji was also commissioner and they always inspired Mani chacha to become an IAS officer but he had a clear vision in going into film making , he always use to say “he makes films for his inner satisfaction”

    Sandeep Kaul

  17. Dear Tanuja
    Thank you for sharing Mani Bhai’s moments.

    Living in the same city with him for so long, I always thought its easy for me and I’ll go, see him, listen to him, but time flew so fast, he went away so early… leaving me with a sense of an irreparable loss…forever!
    That day, on 6th July, he lay there, silent, with eyes open in a crescent, like a saint peacefully in union with his Guru.
    But my relationship with him didn’t change and will never change.

    Asheesh Pandya

  18. thanks Tanuja. have no words really. but most things you have said resonate with all of us. It s like through people like Mani, we come together. and you describe so precisely how he and his cinema affects all of us.
    It was also nice to read so many responses to your writing. they all contribute to your piece. It doesnt stand alone.

  19. Leenus. Mani lives through all of us. Through the work he created, through how he touched the hearts of so many people.

  20. Sharad. Thank you for your kind words. The so-called market forces can never cow down or make relics of us. And Mani was not the “bhala uski kameez meri kameez se safed kyon?” He reveled and relished in the so-called successes of others. A grace and quality i find lacking in me.
    To the end Mani was mentoring, teaching, playing music. He was working on 2 films. One was a story by Vinod Kumar Shukla called “Deewar Mein Ek Khirkee Rahati Thi .” What intriguing, delightful images the title throws up na!

  21. Manjul. That is why i unabashedly called him “sexy.” : ) His vitality would hit you, envelop you carry you with it. You expressed it beautifully “was never close to him but felt close.” To evoke this feeling is so rare. On his sets he had the ability to make even the focus puller feel that he too was making his own film. Wow.

  22. Nimish people are overwhelmed and numbed by Mani mama’s going. I am sure people will pour in with their rememberances and share with you his myriad personality, his vision, his art, his understanding. Probably better than i have been able to.
    Niraj how wonderful that you got a chance to work with him. And was part of the process. My husband too worked with him and has beautiful memories of the fun, the camraderie, the quietitude of that experience. I would definitely not miss the chance to watch Kashmir. Thanks so much for sharing your feelings about Mani.

  23. Bhatia sir. Your words brought a smile to our faces. i could almost see and hear Mani saying ” yaar gadbad ho gayi.” Yes you are so right that he had no greed for money. But he had that rare quality. Complete absence of envy. maybe the measurements of the world were not for him. Because in his own standards he was and is immeasurable.
    Sandeep heartfelt condolences to you and your family. We too were part of Mani mama’s larger family. A family he created by his work and by the affection he bestowed on all of us.
    Boorback. And a Big blow to all of us. We never met every day, it was never buddy-buddy but knowing Mani was here was a very assuring feeling. Now there is an emptiness. Thanks for writing in.

  24. Dear Aseesh. Your words moved me so much. The only joy was to know that after all the pain and suffering Mama endured that he went in peace. Please do write in after the memorial today.
    Gauri. You are so right. My words or the piece is just a “nimit matra” for people to express and pour in their own feelings and thoughts about Mani mama. It’s Mani who is the magician.

  25. What a wonderfully written piece… crafted with love and memories.
    Mani touched my life in a very personal and special way. Way back in 1990, he happened to have mentioned my film to the festival director of cinema du reel and that’s how ‘Manav ‘ and I landed in Paris for a premier screening. Mani’s films were being showcased in a retrospective in the same festival. One met up with him later in Paris and at the embassy dinner. He came across as a very real person and I have very warm memories of him from then. A couple of days back, Sudheer( who is here to shoot Mike’s film) and I were talking about Mani. When the news broke it was a bit of a shock and also strange since we had talked about him just then and he had been in our thoughts..
    Seems like we are all interconnected despite being separated by time, spaces and contexts

  26. Thank you for your warm words. Yup Mojo. That is the true belonging artists know… though seperated yet part of a continuum. We never knew Ritwick Da but Mani carried him for us. After his going it is really such an absence i and a lot of us are feeling. Mani we assumed will be around… a bulwark a pillar gone.

  27. I remember the 50th marriage anniversary of Mani chacha’s (Kaul)Parents (Late Pt. Iqbal Nath Kaul & Late Smt. Rajmohani Kaul) it was great function organised by Mani Chacha we all were there to help him to organise it in Jaipur.

  28. Thank you Ramchandra ji. I also read your remembrance and posted my message. For people who worked with him, the challenge he would throw up, just flow with the moment… that must have been something else. During “Mati Manas” Venu is on camera, Niranjan, my husband is pulling the focus. Mani at one point just closes the aperture and the reaction it elicits from the cameramen…. Bewilderment, confusion, dirty looks to each-other. And then they realise it’s Mani who has done it. he is standing shaking his head assuring, enjoying with a big smile on his face.

  29. brilliant bit of writing, tanuja! very well personalised, too! perfect piece for someone as unique as him!

  30. Unique.. Adbhut.. Mani mama inspired that feeling… We too are unique…without saying it in words. Thank you Vartika.

  31. one second , what Tanuja has said about Mani.Mani as i know him was “real son of soil” imbibed with culture,colour & love for it .With the dawn of our Independence,there was all-out desire to achieve glory ,Mani in that sence a real trend setter .He was path finder for modern indian cinema.
    HIs films are few but are mind boggling in the first view ,lyrical,highly sensitive in approch of human character like Tarkovoaski of Russia .He was a genious & such person does not die .They are the God’s first song.He must be in peace already .I love him as a gentelman.
    With Love

  32. Papa first of all a big “THANKS.” What you write is of immense value to me and others. We never saw Mani in the context of a post-Independent India that you saw. That was so illuminating. And you are so right about Mani’s contribution as a “path breaker”. I still recall i was very small when for a continuous 15 nights you and Mummy diligently went to watch the Indian avant garde, without missing a single film. The first time it was being exhibited in cinema halls for common audience. So your words about Mani are so true, touching and valuable. I am touched you call him “God’s first song.” Like you i am sure he is in peace. Love you loads.

  33. We must call for the film philosophy of Mani and Aravindan creations .In a disciplinary society need of the hour us counter communication. Mani Kaul and Aravindan films are open-ended systems which fight against deterministic relationships.Yes ,that philosophy is contemporary.No question of writing the history in chronological order when we deal with film .
    Nice piece

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