Why Gul Panag’s short film will scare, intrigue and entertain you all at once

“How do people react when their best-laid plans go awry? What do they do when something unexpected happens? were the questions actor Gul Panag asked himself when COVID-19 hit the world.

Over months of lockdown and digital divides in work and personal life, that little idea sprouted into something much bigger, until she felt compelled to bring it to the screen. Manoranjana short presented by Royal Stag Barrel Select Large Short Films, is the result.

This short, released February 3, 2022, on Large Short Films‘ YouTube channel, is an interesting take on a psychological thriller – even loosely falling into the comedy-horror category.

“A joker makes jokes only for his own entertainment – he doesn’t do it for the world. We knew it was okay for a teenager or youngster to crack practical jokes, but our challenge was to create a middle-aged prankster while still retaining likability for her character and making her likable,” Gul explains in chatting with YS weekend.

The theme

Although the brainchild of Gul, the final version of Manoranjan is the result of dedicated teamwork. The film was produced by Gul, directed by Suhail Tatari of The man of the family fame and written by actor-writer Sukhmani Sadana, a well-known OTT personality.

Gul plays Lalita, a housewife from a small town in Bundi, Rajasthan who prioritizes her husband, mother-in-law and children over herself. She’s the epitome of the middle-class Indian woman, but in a sparkling deviation from her character profile, she has a twisted sense of humor that she’s not afraid to use to her advantage.

Lalita matches her wits with an arrogant 18-year-old house guest called Chirag (played by up-and-coming young actor Mihir Ahuja). Satyajit Sharma, who plays the husband of Lalita’s station master, Satyanarain, ably supports the two leads.

At its essence, the story is about practical farce, but Sukhmani sprinkles it liberally with elements of horror – a genre she likes to dabble in. Another layer adding depth is that of sanity. The protagonist battles a delusional disorder for which Gul researched extensively before shooting.

“Before making the film, I spoke to Shrradha Sidhwani, a renowned clinical psychologist, to find out more about this condition. It is a state where people have all their faculties in place and are able to do anything but in some aspect of their life – usually related to some kind of trauma – they harbor delusions. What’s really scary is that people around them sometimes start to be affected too and they start to buy into this delusional behavior because that they can’t tell what the reality is,” says Gul, delving into his character’s personality.

Just like its name, Manoranjan offers many activities. Horror and humor shine through in equal measure while allowing mental health issues to shine through. Well-defined characters and a tense storyline keep the audience engaged.

The platform

Using a short film instead of a feature film or a series has its advantages. In this case, it has become the perfect medium for exploring varied themes, while also packing a quick punch.

Since its launch in 2012, Royal Stag Barrel Select Large Short Films has become synonymous with remarkable film curation of a shorter duration. Over the years, the team has worked with many renowned filmmakers and performers, on films that have toured famous film festivals and won numerous awards.

As the name of the platform suggests, they believe in making short films that leave a big impact on the viewer. They have the distinction of being a destination for aspiring directors who want to work alongside traditional established directors on an equal footing – a place where good cinema reigns supreme.

Their works include films like Ahalya, Interior Café – Night, Ouch, Chutney, Anukul, Mumbai Varanasi Express, Khool Aali Chithi, The School Bag, Bruno and Juliet, Shunyata, Juice, Maa, Chhuri, Her First Time, and Iktarfa. The platform’s support has helped energize the short film genre in an industry known for its long-running offerings around the world.

Gul first collaborated with the platform for his short film Unplugged. Delighted with this experience, she knew they would be the ideal person for Manoranjan too, and is already working on his third collaboration with them.

“I am very happy that a platform like Royal Stag Barrel Select Large Short Films allows such contemporary stories to emerge. This is my second film with them and after the success and reaction to my last film, it was an obvious choice on my part to partner with the platform again. I look forward to other associations of this type.

Manoranjan debuted as a selected entry for the Dharamshala International Film Festival in November last year. With the support of the platform, the film team hopes that it will turn in many other festivals in the months to come.

Gul Panag’s Lalita matches her wits with an arrogant 18-year-old house guest in Manoranjan, a short centered around a practical joke.

Challenges and expectations

Although they had a satisfying creative experience overall, the team faced challenges. It took them a while to come up with the final version of the story. Getting into the character’s teeth was also difficult. As a demanding director, Suhail had Gul do a number of readings to really identify with the character of Lalita.

“He insisted that I read and re-read. I got more reads for this one than any of my other shorts. Once I had imagined his character, I had to prepare myself so that his physique was correct. I went shopping at the local market and bought the kind of saris and babydoll that I felt her character would wear. I also had the blouse sewn by a local person. Also, Suhail had a lot of insight into how she should look – he wanted thicker eyebrows and the big Bindi – very North Indian features to suit his character,” Gul says.

Comedy horror as a genre is enjoying its moment in the sun with the popularity of Bollywood films like Street. Yet Gul hesitates to classify Manoranjan in this genre. Her real motivation to make the film came from a short story she read in college, titled The open window by HH Munro, which centered on a practical joke.

She points out that the dread in Manoranjan was an ornamental touch thrown in by the writer, and the mental disorder was an essential part of keeping the protagonist real and grounded.

The pandemic may have crippled the world, but Gul’s acting career has continued unabated. After Manoranjanshe is finishing a legal drama with Chaitally Parmar and Vikas Bahl for Sony Liv, and a film titled The ghost with Nagarjuna.

She ends the chat with a message for the public: “We would like you to come and see Manoranjan think about how we deal with interruptions in life when a key is thrown in our works. I also hope that you will leave the film thinking about what was really going on in Lalita’s head!

Edited by Teja Lele Desai

Comments are closed.