Utpal Borpujari

December 2, 2009

Whistleblower Manjunath’s life story to come alive on the big screen

By Utpal Borpujari

When IIM-Lucknow alumni and young Indian Oil Corporation executive Manjunath Shanmugam was shot dead on November 19, 2005 for ‘daring’ to seal two petrol pumps selling adulterated fuel in Uttar Pradesh’s Lakhimpur Kheri, it created a national hue and cry.

The Manjunath Shanmugam Trust, formed by his friends IIM and well wishers across IIMs and outside, not only took up the case in court but also created a nationwide movement against corruption that is still continuing.

Now, the movement is all set to go the next level with a young filmmaker deciding to tell Manjunath’s inspiring story to the world, and particularly to the youth of India.

Simply titled Manjunath,  the Hindi film budgeted at Rs three crore will be shot most likely in locations in Rajasthan because director Sandeep A Varma, a Mumbai-based advertising industry professional, thinks it would be too risky to shoot the film in real locations in Lakhimpur Kheri where the adulteration mafia is still highly active.

Some parts will also be shot in Kolar Gold Fields area where the murdered whistleblower spent his childhood.

“Manjunath’s parents, who live in Kolar, have given me their blessings, because they feel the story of their son would reach many more people if it is told through a film, more so because some people had even commented that he was a fool to ‘unnecessarily’ take on the mafia,” Varma told Deccan Herald here.

Varma has brought the project to the Film Bazaar India’09 organised by the National Film Development Corporation (NFDC) on the sidelines of the 40th International Film Festival of India (IFFI) seeking to attract co-producers from abroad. Already, NFDC has decided to join hands with the project taking around 30 per cent stake in it, he says.

Varma developed the project after he got inspired with the young MBA’s life story during his research to make spots for the Trust. “What really inspired me was that people who had not even known him personally had come forward to join the movement for justice,” he says.

The director believes that the film would find international resonance as it refers to global issues like fuel, environment, pollution and even class conflict, the last bit coming from the fact that Manjunath had come up to reach where he was the hard way, despite belonging to a poor family belonging to a reserved community.

“Manjunath is more than a person – he is a concept – and I want to tell his story to the urban youth in a way that will connect with them. I will use music as a strong element in the film as Manjunath was part of a band in IIM and was a very jovial character,” says Varma.

“It will be an inspirational film, not a depressing one, with the underlying theme being what a youth can do to change the society. It is a good versus evil story that was the core theme our epic Ramayan, and my story will have a positive ending, which is why it will go beyond his death,” he says.

(Published in Deccan Herald, www.deccanherald.com, www.deccanheraldepaper.com, 28-11-2009)


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