Interview: Writer-Director MANAN SINGH KATOHORA and his films 9 ELEVEN, LOLCI, PRALAY 2013 & Much More

Click PLAY to Listen to Manan Singh Katohora Chat with Gujeet Singh

Manan Singh KatohoraWashington, DC, May 5, 2012 (Washington Bangla Radio) After a few stints as actor and assistant director, young Indian-American film-maker Manan Singh Katohora debuted as a writer-director with his 2005 psychological thriller "Arya" which immediately caught the eye of film critics and general audience. He followed it up with "When Kiran Met Karen" that continued Manan's exploration of unusual subjects for a NRI movie-maker - this film was about the alternative lifestyle of two women. His latest film "9 Eleven" (available via online streaming by Databazaar Media) is also of a unique genre - psychological thriller in a way, a film that is suspenseful but yet manages to make viewers think about their karma and ramifications of their actions in life. Gurjeet Singh caught up with Manan speaking from Silver Spring, Maryland to chat about his remarkable journey in becoming one of the leading Indian-American film-makers today who is continuing to make film-lovers in USA and abroad sit up and take notice.

Manan is no exception to his generation of south-Asians which measured success by one's ability to pursue a career in medicine or engineering - he holds a degree in Computer Software Engineering and a MBA in Marketing and Information Sciences. However, Manan - a poet from childhood - has always been deeply interested in performing art forms like theater. It is but natural that he would pursue the art of film-making. Manan appreciates the nurturing environment of the United States which makes it quite possible to follow one's passions and be successful without being pressurized into pursuing conventional careers. He shares a striking point in the case - his mother has just published her first book (of Hindi poetry).

While Hollywood, California is the seat of big movie studios, New York is a hub of independent film-making, and the digital revolution had started which made it possible for aspiring film-makers like Manan to shoot and edit easily on just a computer. If one has a good story that one wants to tell and is blessed with a great team, a good film can be made now without going broke, says Manan. He had a full-time job in the financial industry in New York, but dedicated his evenings and even vacation time to pursuing his passion for film-making, starting off as a production assistant and gradually moving up to assistant director.

One of Manan's mentors is actor-producer Trilok Malik, a very prominent member of the Indian-American community, whose own very first film titled "Lonely in America" directed by Barry Alexander Brown released in 1990 to international acclaim. With Trilok's support, Manan made his first feature film "Arya". That film about a young man of south Asian origin living in New York and obsessed with the great Indian mathematician-astronomer Aryabhatta won quite a few awards, encouraging Manan on to continue making films with confidence.

Manan's 2nd film "When Kiran met Karen" is about two women - an Indian woman in New York in a relationship with an American woman journalist. It is partly inspired by the true story of a friend of his. A film like this is not easy to make, admits Manan. However, it was screened and critically acclaimed at almost 90 international film festivals. Listen to Manan chat about how he was not sure of his parent's reaction to the film - but happily, his parents do realize that a good film is a good film, irrespective of whether one believes in the subject.

Between "When Kiran met Karen" and his next feature film "9 Eleven", Manan made two short films "Come to My Window" and "Extrospection" - partly to hone his skills and keep updated with technology before his most ambitious project yet - "9 Eleven".

"9 Eleven" has nothing to do with the terrorist attacks of September 11 - as we watch the film, especially the 2nd half, the relevance of the title becomes evident. The thriller is about eleven trapped people with 9 minutes to live ... and all characters are connected in some way. One of the challenges of the film was casting for the very different and unique roles, made a bit more difficult since the characters are south Asian and the film shot entirely in Washington DC.

While Manan now thinks he did cast the best actor for every role and the entire unit did a fabulous job, he specially mentions the character of a masked man played by Devasish Ray as instrumental. That character is particularly challenging, needing a towering personality - and Manan says Devasish did a brilliant job.

One of the unique aspects of shooting of "9 Eleven" is that Manan did not share the last ten pages of the script with his cast till the last four days of shooting, so that the actors were left wondering how the film ends all through the film. M. Night Shyamalan - one of Manan's favorite directors - is known for shootin a film in the sequence of the script, which is very unusual. Inspired by Shyamalan, and keeping in mind twists in the finale of the film, Manan decided to keep the end a secret, which did have the desired effect on the actors.

At this time, Manan is working on three parallel projects - one of them an English film titled "LOLCI" which stands for "Laughing out Loud, Crying Inside". It is a story of a single mom and the three men in her life. The title is inspired by Jagjit Singh's famous ghazal song "Tum Itna Jo Muskura Rahe Ho" from Mahesh Bhatt's 1982 Hindi film "ARTH" starring Shabana Azmi, Raj Kiran, Kulbhushan Kharbanda, Smita Patil and Rohini Hattangadi. Shooting for LOLCI starts in summer this year.

Another project Manan is embarking on is a Hindi film titled PRALAY 2013, the first post-apocalyptic Bollywood-style film in our knowledge.

And there is also a Hindi horror film in the works.

Manan has been a networking hub for south Asians from much before the advent of facebook - for example, he distributes news, event details and information of importance to south-Asians through his comprehensive e-mail list of people. Manan is one of the judges at the 2012 Miss India International beauty pageant on Sunday. We wish Manan Singh Katohora all the very best for all his current and future endevors and sign off here for now.

- Article by Supratim Sanyal

Editor's note: Gurjeet Singh is a Financial Analyst by profession and lives in Germantown, Maryland in the Washington DC metro area. A great enthusiast of Indian-American cultural exchanges, Gurjeet is also an avid  music lover. In her free time she dabs in some water color painting and loves to go on long walks. Gurjeet can be reached at guri070555 [at] yahoo [dot] com.