The current space of cinema is such that the world is a stage for all things creative. Yes, boundaries have blurred, and content is thriving on all fronts. Recently, when I spoke to director, writer, and producer Manjari Makijany she too agreed this is an exciting time to witness. Well, Manjari has been surely making us all proud with her films, with her short films winning awards, to her going the extra mile in creating a world for the story she intends to tell, filmmaking is ingrained in her soul. And you will agree when you read this interview…

Tell us about your journey as a director. How much have you learned from your experience assisting the likes of Patty Jenkins, Christopher Nolan, and Vishal Bharadwaj?

Interestingly, even though I grew up in a film family, we didn’t visit sets often, but we did go to the theatre a lot. I completely fell in love with the magic of storytelling, especially watching a play in Prithvi Theater as a kid. I was amazed how we witnessed the same stage transform into different worlds, and I recall always looking at the wings wondering what happens behind the scene. That’s when I realized I enjoy the whole process of putting something together so much. I remember my father, Mac Mohan, telling me that if you are interested in films, start backstage in a theatre and then assist on films to know what it’s like. So, filmmaking happened very organically, I started as an assistant director and learned a lot about filmmaking on the job. The journey started while I was still in university. To be a filmmaker you have to be a lambi race ka ghoda.

What was the response you got after the success of Skater Girl and SPIN? Did having an industry connection have any impact on your choices?

Skater girl was a film that was very unique in its making. We built one of India’s largest skateparks in Rajasthan, introduced hundreds of kids to skateboarding there, studied the issues girls face there and then intertwined that into our story while witnessing real life change take place at the skatepark. The writing process took us almost a year alongside the construction. Few people know that most of the kids in the film learned skating at the Khempur skatepark we made for the film. It was a very holistic way to approach filmmaking. The commitment wasn’t restricted to the film, it’s till date where we run programs at the park for the children. People buying their first skateboards, sending me skate videos and telling me this film brought them hope in these times was the best reward I could get from my audience. It is now part of many educational programs including a film studies course in Calgary! The biggest reward for me has personally been constructing a free community skatepark in Rajasthan… in some way the story is going to live beyond the film. I was one of those exceptions to the rule where my second feature literally happened within a week of delivering the first one. Thanks to my agent at Gersh who brought this project to me. The industry connection helps to get you an introduction, no doubt, that’s an advantage we but if you don’t have the chops you don’t last long.

How does it feel to be a female director of Indian origin to represent the film and your country on a platform like the Emmy?

I’m representing India in both the categories where we’re nominated (outstanding fiction film and outstanding direction). It’s truly special because this was also a film where I got to merge my two worlds and fuse in talent from India on this project (both on and off screen). I had Marius De Vries (Moulin Rouge, La La Land) collaborate with Salim-Sulaiman on a special finale song. I had Riyaz Ali Merchant do the Indian costumes for my designer Trysh Baker and we had a lot more Indians as part of the crew on set as well. And my producer, Zanne Devine, was a real champion to support diversity and inclusion. We took great care in casting our crew and the result was coming everyday to work with amazing people.

When you saw the final cut of SPIN, followed by the reaction that it garnered in India and internationally, did it ever cross your mind that the film can land a big nomination like this? What was that moment like when you learned about your nomination?

This nomination was very unexpected, SPIN got a lot of love from the DJ community and the Indian diaspora here. I had a lot of our younger audiences write to me saying they felt represented on screen and it was something special for them to see an Indian American in the lead role. It was Disney Channel’s first where the lead was an Indian American. And that struck a chord with women who got to see themselves reflected in the characters and those that didn’t get a chance to see that when they were growing up. When I learned about the nomination I was beyond thrilled. I double checked with the team to make sure I was reading that right. I’ve been working in this industry for 14 years and when your work gets recognized on an international platform, by the Academy, it’s a real honor.

What are the kind of stories you connect with, being someone who is borne witness to loads of Indian films, what are your views on the current wave of success that South Indian films have seen over Hindi language films not just nationally but internationally?

I gravitate towards stories that either transport us into another world, inspire us by the triumph of the human spirit or question the status quo. I love that the landscape of cinema has evolved to a place where we can access films from diverse filmmakers across regions, states and countries. The competition is fierce and the filmmakers who really master the craft excel, whether it is in Hindi language or in the South. I’ve personally enjoyed watching so many South-Indian language films and gotten really inspired. It’s such an exciting time to witness mainstream hindi films cast south stars because of the kind of talent houses they are and the insane following they have. It’s no more a watertight compartment of making films. I did a Disney film in Hollywood, casting one of our Bollywood actors. It’s a great playing field with thriving opportunities.

What’s next in the cards? Any plans of directing a full-on Bollywood film?

I’d love to do a rom-com next. I’m writing one with my sister, Vinati Makijany, and we’re excited for it because we’re going to cast a diverse talent as it will be in English, so I guess I can’t really call it a full on Bollywood film even though it will have a lot of elements of the films we all love.

When Manjari says that those with talent thrive, I cannot agree more. Having said that, making us proud with some amazing stories is something I would want to see her continuously do.