Manikandan - From Univercell to Universal


Hi people…March has begun to march…we have exams round the corner, then the end of an academic year in school and into another grade. In the midst of this, I wanted you avid readers of ‘Talkie with Rekhs’ to meet Manikandan who has aced all exams in his life with such ease…like a refreshing cool summer breeze. He has fashioned his life in such a way, all things come to one who waits but works meanwhile! No shortcuts to success, no hastiness to ride roughshod over other people’s moments of triumph, no streak of envy over a colleague’s wellness, no mean bone in his body, this is Mani for you.

To Manikandan, director of Kanna Laddu Thinna Aasaiya, life has been a smooth sailing one. Or should I say the pragmatic cool man he is, nothing seems to ruffle his wings or topple his boat. He is the eternal phoenix rising above the ashes or pages of Greek mythology. I’m hoping his life inspires other young to-be-directors the right swing of hope and sense of purpose.

Youngest of 3 siblings, as a child he watched plenty of films thanks to his ‘anna’ who was a movie buff. His favorite class in school was English non-detail! He loved spinning tales and sharing them with his friends. Instrumental in his foray into Loyola Viscom was his 99% (bullheaded) perseverance in getting his way and I guess 1% Lady Luck. But I personally think Lady luck’s magic wand cannot work wonders if the required effort doesn’t come from the individual. This is where Mani scored.

He got into A.M.Jain, BSc Statistics and even attended classes but his heart just wasn’t there, despite the fact he is a whiz at Math. He decided to put an end to his boredom, with his ‘anna’ again coming to his aid, went to Loyola and filled in the form. Of course he was a month late! He diligently stood outside the Princi’s office, waiting to be given a seat. He became a familiar figure rooted to this spot. Also his cousin Varadarajan, now acclaimed camera-person in NDTV, was his senior in Viscom. So Mani just sat with Varadarajan and his batch mates and they became the ‘Gutter gang’…chatting in the campus, outside class and ripping films scene-to-scene apart.

His parents thought Mani would get tired of this act of visiting Loyola daily. So they indulgently kept mum. Mani continued ‘living’ unofficially in Loyola campus. Until one day Father Ichagal took pity on this boy who stood persistently outside his office (for more than 30 days at a stretch) and admitted him into Viscom. The Father who spread his hands out in a ‘no-there are already 60’ gesture added him as the 61st student in Viscom in the batch of 91. Such was the mark Mani made that soon the 62nd student walked into their class…63rd and so on…till the strength swelled to 65, a 1st time indeed in Loyola’s history! Mani sure seems to have given Robert Bruce stiff competition.

The 3 years at Loyola, Mani enjoyed every nanosecond. As soon as he passed out, in 1993 he joined as 3rd assistant in Selluloid associates run by Suresh Yesuthasan. It was here that his eyes opened to making advertisements. His first assignment was to find a truck full of dry leaves in the rainy season! He worked here for 2½ years, where like the Gurukula system he was taken good care of and he learned the art of making ad films.

In 1996 with wings in his feet he took off to work in Erka films, Bangalore. Here he worked under Rohini Kumar (Malaysian) David McVeney (Canadian) Steven Lee from Singapore and Sunil Raina, a Kashmiri. They added to his flavors in film making.

In 1998 he came under the protective wing of Suguna Swami, the creative head of O&M who liked this young man’s cool head, analytical thought process and practical yet witty way of handling a shoot.

In 2002 he started his own firm ‘Phoenix films’. Mani gratefully acknowledged to me the timely help of his friend Raghavan (who works in Google now) who funded him partly to start his own company. Besides already being impressed by the good reiki vibes Mani emanates, (this is one quality which is a rarity) he won me over with his non-Ghajini memory regarding gratitude. And Zubin Krishna, photographer for many of his ads lent his skill. Sushmitha Roy joined as producer. To his credit till date are about 180 advertisements, 50 corporate films and about 100 audio visuals as curtain raisers.

One such ad featured Santhanam. Univercel mobiles. Santhanam and Mani stuck an instant bond. Santhanam decided he wanted to work with this young man who has humor running in his veins and can share his humor-wave-length with ease. Mani felt Santhanam was his 1st friend whom he could discuss outside of his ad-fraternity, films films films laced with smiles, chuckles and ROFlaughs!

They both inhaled the laughing gas, got their script, found a producer and KLTA happened. To Murali of Thenandal films goes the credit of launching an educated, refined, no-nonsense director who can balance wit and sense.

In KLTA his able A.ds 6, Shahul, Shanmugam, Shiva, Sushma, Abel and Manohar held the boat and gave it a smooth sailing voyage. They share a wonderful rapport with Mani. In my subtitling spree I’ve noticed the success of the director can be easily gauged by the respect scant or otherwise shown by his assistants. To Mani’s assistants, he is God. The way he deals with them is as close as you can get to the Gurukula system, in the same way he was 1st treated by his boss, Suresh.

Two of his assistants are now into their debut-directorial venture, Madhan (Yaaruda Mahesh) and Ram (yet to be titled). This is a definite feather in Mani’s cap - he has not only shaped his career well, a self made man, but is also giving the space and support for his assistants to scale new heights.

He is married to Sumitha, whom he met in director Balaji Prasad’s (katradhu kalavu, viratti) office. Balaji predicted they would hit it off like a house on fire…and he was 101% right. She writes and is his best critic. Their daughter Raksha has just turned 5. A contented family.

Mani signed KLTA on his birthday last year and the film released Jan13, 2013. Hopefully this May, again Mani will sign his next film which will be another box office hit. We wish this young director and his team the very best, may Thamizh cinema spread far and wide with sensitivity and sensibility intact. Somehow I feel with Mani at the helm there’s hope…of the resilient kind.

Mani’s message to the youngsters, “if you are able to see your film in your mind’s eye, frame to frame, without wavering from your convictions and confidence, you have a winner in your hands”.

See you guys soon…until then, follow your dream,


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