Falling in love with actors comes easy. Seeing them on screen, in the best of costumes, amidst dazzling sets or exuberant visuals, with the perfect music in the backdrop, singing the most romantic number on earth or dancing like a dream, who would not end up adoring these larger-than-life characters?
However, more than often, we forget that it takes hundreds of people to work together in sync to create these characters and breathe life into the screen. Technicians, as they are known, are the backbone of a film industry yet the spotlight is never on them.
We, at My City Links, salute the spirit of this hard-working community across all film industries while bringing our exclusive BEHIND THE SCREEN series, highlighting the inspiring real-life stories of a few Odia technicians who have made it large in Bollywood. It’s time these unsung heroes get the limelight.
MANOJ MISHRA (Steadicam Operator)
To take moving shots with perfection holding a 40 kg steadicam requires immense focus and steel but this man has aced the art. Not only that, this man from Balangir has captured all leading actors of Bollywood and earned the enviable reputation of one of the most sought-after Steadicam Operators in the industry. But Manoj Mishra’s journey to fame has not been without struggles.
For someone who ran away from home at the young age of 16, Mishra has come a long way to start his own company, ‘Steady Magic’ in Mumbai today with over 65 films in Bollywood and an equal number down South to his credit already.Recalling his initial days in Mumbai, Mishra says, “I came to Mumbai in 1993 right after my 10th with a dream to become independent in life. Film industry was not in my scheme of things but while doing hundreds of menial jobs here and there, I ended up working as a small-time assistant on film sets around 1996. That’s when I came in contact with Nitin Rao, a renowned Steadicam operator during those and found the technique and the work extremely exciting.”
For those who are not aware, Steadicam Operators are responsible for the technical set up of the Steadicam system and for balancing the camera on it. They liaise with director, director of photography (DoP) and actors to set up and perform the required shots. The work of a Steadicam Operator is also one of the most physically demanding jobs since most of the time you are on the move while taking a shot handling a weight of 40-45 kg on your body!
Due to his inclination to learn, Nitin Rao allowed Mishra to see him at work. “It’s not that I was getting hands-on experience but I was able to grasp a lot by observing and that was enough for me to decide I wanted to be a Steadicam Operator,” says Mishra.
But deciding to pursue a passion isn’t enough in a city like Mumbai where hundreds and thousands of people come every day to follow their dreams. For long, Mishra did not manage to get any work and also got in depression. That was when his family convinced him to come back to Odisha in 1999. Till 2003, Mishra always stayed in Odisha, trying to do some business.
However, his unfulfilled dreams forced him to come back to Mumbai in 2003. Yet again for a year, he went without work and in 2004, had to again come back to Odisha when his marriage was fixed. But months after his marriage, he managed to convince his family to give him one more chance to make it big in Bollywood.
“When I came back to Mumbai in 2005, I was determined to learn Steadicam. I did manage to get some help from a friend, who gave me his equipment to learn. But I was still without work for over a year till my first break in a serial during the end of 2006. I started approaching every one for work after that and it was not easy. But I didn’t lose heart. Finally, my debut in cinema happened and that too because the Steadicam Operator working for that film was absent for a day!” continues Mishra.
The film was Subhash Ghai’s Yuvraj starring Salman. Luckily for Mishra, his work was appreciated and it was a learning experience he still cherishes till date. “Thereafter, I started getting offers down South to shoot for Kannada films. From 2007- 10, I lived in Bangalore and in three years’ time, I did close to 60 films in South,” informs Mishra with pride.
Of course, back in Mumbai in 2011, Mishra’s experience and expertise down South helped him get offers in Bollywood too. “I remember it was Sunil Khandpur, one of the best Steadicam Operators in tinsel town, who saw my work and asked me to join him if I want. In fact, his association helped me start a new bonding with Bollywood, which continues till date,” he smiles.
Pick up any hit film in the last few years and Manoj Mishra has probably been a part of it. From Goonday to Dear Zindagi, Agneepath to MOM, ABCD 2 to Ai Dil Hai Mushkil, Kapoor and Sons to Secret Superstar, Drishyam to Raees, Mishra has worked with all leading directors, DoPs and actors“Currently, work in on for Yash Raj’s Thugs of Hindustan with Aamir Khan and Amitabh Bachchan and Shah Rukh’s Zero,” he adds. Any regrets, we ask and Mishra is quick to reply, “None at all. However, I do feel that all there should be awards and accolades for technical aspects of a film. For us, the biggest appreciation comes when the director or DoP gives us thumbs up and I am fortunate to have earned the good will of all my directors and DoPs. So, that also means, I have to work harder every day because in our job, every shot is different and so every day is a new challenge.”
Today, Mishra has his own company, own equipment and many people to assist him. But on being asked if he feels life is steady just like his work, he says, “Not at all. Life is a struggle and that is how it should be. The challenge gives you a kick every day. You learn every day and try to improvise. In fact, I would like to advise all youngsters coming to Mumbai to focus on learning work rather than money. There was a time I have worked here in this city without being paid at all. But if I had not cherished those days, I couldn’t have enjoyed the success now. You need to love your work. And, don’t run after money. Run after work, money will follow,” he ends it on an inspiring note.