It took me a bit long to think of an intro for this write-up. It was a bit difficult to introduce Omung Kumar. At first, I believed I would just call him the director of two of the most emphatic biopics – Mary Kom and Sarabjit – based on two of the strongest women in the country. But then, as the conversation with Omung continued I encountered his other creative shores.
Omung Kumar opened up easily about himself. He had a dream to make a film one day. The interview speaks of how hard he worked to achieve the dream and how intelligently he did that as well.
Q: First of all, tell us about yourself. Where do you come from? Your background, childhood years?
A: My parents are graduates from Film and Television Institute of India in Pune. They did their acting and directing courses from there. Flavour of my acting had started from there. I think the acting worm inside me was born because my parents too were in the same profession. Since childhood, I am into drama, stage shows. My mother and brother were a part of the theatre. I did lots of TV shows as a child like Khel Khilone, Magic lamp on Doordarshan.
I have been acting throughout. Then, I graduated from an art college. I graduated in advertising. I knew I was good in that so I opted for it. That’s when I met my wife. I met her in the college. I joined Hindustan Thomson Association after college. While doing that, I hosted a TV game show for Zee called ‘Ek Minute’. I also designed the set for the show. I hosted the show for 12 years. I kept on designing the sets while doing that. I was living three lives parallelly. I was into advertising, was designing sets and hosting a game show on TV. Advertising taught me how to make films, how to write films, do promos and ad shoots. I did many ad films including Lux and Godrej. I modeled in them also sometimes.
Q: How did you get into film direction then?
A: After doing set designs, I graduated into movie sets. I did Na Tum Jaano Na Hum, Shabd, Black, Saawariya and many more. I went completely into set designing. I also started writing films at that time. I always believed in larger-than-life films because my work as the set designer or art director was always like that. I wanted to do a film on those lines only. In my mind, I was seeing myself making films with big actors. But then I got fed up with dates of these actors getting postponed. I,then, told Saiwyn Quadras (screenwriter Mary Kom) that I don’t care about actors, you think of a female oriented film. At that time, nobody used to think on these lines. I thought I would work on a biopic. He brought many topics and ideas to me from here and there.
A: Yes, he did bring this subject. There were many other ideas as well. Finally, he came up with the idea of Mary Kom. I did not know too much about Mary Kom at that time. I knew she was a boxer but did not know her story. I thought why should I make a film on her life? Then, I read about her on the internet. I read her interviews and her life story in short. I immediately said this is fantastic. She is a five-time world boxing champion from Manipur in India and we don’t really know about her.
My wife, Saiwyn and I went to Manipur and signed Mary. At first, she thought I was joking around but I told her that I actually want to make a film on her life. She got ready and I signed her. Then, I started writing the film. The process went on for two years. And then London Olympics happened and she won the medal. Everyone in the industry was desperate for the rights of her film. Many people came to me and asked for the rights but I told them I am doing this film and nobody else.
Then, one day I told Sanjay (Leela Bhansali) that I won’t be able to do his next film as I am working on my own project. He asked what I was working on. So, I told him about my film. He said, “Fine, I will produce it.” This is how he came on board as a producer. I, then, approached Priyanka Chopra to do the film and she got ready to do it instantly.
Q: Was coming to direction not a daunting task, keeping in mind you did not have much experience of it?
A: I have never assisted any director in my life. I went straight into films. But because I have been an actor, stage actor, it helped me. Everything moulded me and made me the person I am. It helped me to direct. I know what I want from the actor. I was good in costume design, production, set design, lighting, it helped me a lot. A director needs to be a know-all personality. I knew everything while I was on the set. I could demand what I wanted from different people on the sets. If an actor could not grasp what I wanted from them, I would show them by acting myself.
Q: While growing up, who were the people who inspired you?
A: There was no one as such. My mother is one person whom I admire till date. Only last week she got an award for her Ramleela show. Her creativity is still alive and she is going strong.
Apart from her, there’s no one. I don’t get inspired easily. I set my own rules. I don’t follow anyone as such.
Q: You have worked with Sanjay Leela Bhansali for a long time. Did his work affect you as well, as a filmmaker?
A: His films are always larger than life and that is what I like. I have observed a lot from his films. That is why I could design for him. I have worked with different directors in my life and have learned different things from them.
A: No, I was not even going to do a biopic. When I won the national award for Mary Kom, a friend of mine, Sandeep Singh asked me to do Sarabjit as my second film. I refused. He then urged me to read the script once. It was a script written four years ago. I read it and did not like it. When I was doing IIFA awards in Malaysia, I thought of giving it a second thought. I did not go back to the script. I saw Dalbir Kaur’s video on the internet. Those videos were hard-hitting. I made up mind that I would do this film.
I came to India and re-wrote the film. And then it turned out great.
Q: Making a biopic is not as easy as it sounds. It comes with its share of difficulties and challenges. Your thoughts on that.
A: Yes, there are immense challenges. First is that you have to be true to the person on whom you are making the biopic. The responsibility of someone’s life is in your hands. The person should see his or her life on the screen. You need to show the journey of 60 years in two hours, which is not that easy. You only show the highlights and as a creative person, you weave that story by adding your thoughts to it. The difficult part is to maintain the interest of the story as you are not making a documentary. You need to find that interesting part. In Sarabjit, Dalbir Kaur’s struggle is inspiring. That is something the audience will connect to instantly. Hers is a powerful struggle.
Also, you need to look at other angles. What effect could the biopic have on their families on other entities like their village and the people. You cannot really raise a finger at somebody.
When Mary Kom saw the film, she thought that it is her life, it is her village. Her husband is not like how we showed him in the film but he was impressed as he said I am not like this but I would want to be like this. So, somewhere he also found himself on screen.
It is difficult but at the same time, it is easy for the fact that you already have a story. How you tell that story and how effective it is going to be is what that matters.
Q: Your next is said to be a thriller?
A: I am working on two films right now. One of them is a thriller and the other one I have yet not disclosed as it is a very sensitive subject. Let’s see which comes out first.
Interview By: Shubham Pandey