In a country that is always clouded in scams and controversies, a movie like Manjunath is a lesson to humanity. Unfortunately this crusade against the graft had a blink and miss showing at select theatres last month. Director Sandeep A Varma, who took out a personal loan to make the movie, hopes it will get its due slowly. The docu-drama narrative introduces us to Manjunath Shanmugam, the 27-year-old Indian Oil Company executive who was shot dead on 19 November 2005. The Indian Institute of Management-Lucknow graduate was investigating a fuel adulteration racket in Lakhimpur Kheri in Uttar Pradesh at the time of his death. Varma recalls how, given his advertising background, he was approached by the Manjunath Trust who were fighting his case for justice. And while he started off by making posters for the team, the subject slowly caught his interest. More from the director:
The problem with the country is that they have compartmentalised movies. They think the movie is either an entertainment masala movie or it is a film with a message, which means there is no entertainment at all. I could have made the movie with so many other angles—related the oil scam and brought a connection with the Gulf countries, or given it an academic point of view. Manjunath was an ordinary man who liked music and loved his family. I wanted to explore the family angle and I think Manjunath is a watchable movie.
I faced a lot of opposition while making the movie in Uttar Pradesh. We went to all the police stations and got a no objection certificate for a movie with a different name. We had told them it was a love story. I am a very nosy person and when we were location hunting, I had seen several tankers in the night at remote areas. I would snoop around and then get chased.
I did not know any big stars to approach them for this movie. I wanted a dark-skinned star who could do justice to the role of Manjunath. I think Manjunath has a very long shelf life and it has proven to be a window to one-of-a-kind movies.
Students were the best support the movie would have got. This boy named Piyush watched the movie on the first day and he posted on Facebook, “anyone who wants tickets for the movie Manjunath tomorrow can contact me. I will sponsor them.” He got 233 tickets that day.