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What makes Gandhi & Company special?: A conversation with producer Mahesh Danannavar

BY JYOTHSNA HEGDE

Atlanta, GA, April 15, 2024: “’Gandhi & Company’ is very close to my heart because it is a very simple tale of the way Gandhian values can transform us from within. Awards and international recognitions are a vindication of the faith I had in this film and I’m feeling very proud and encouraged,” Mahesh Danannavar, Producer of Gujarati movie Gandhi & Company which is scooping up accolades across the globe, said, in his exclusive with NRI Pulse. Danannavar was in Atlanta to promote the movie, which is slated to be screened on April 20, 2024 at Gokuldham Haveli. Atlanta’s Mustafa Ajmeri, CEO of Global Entertainment and Media Services, facilitated the interview.

WATCH THE INTERVIEW ON YOUTUBE

In his conversation, Danannavar shared his experience of making a children’s movie in India despite the lack of commercial viability, highlighting the importance of Gandhian principles and entertainment values. He also underscored the significance of creating content that is not just engaging, informative, and entertaining but also resonates with kids and adults alike.

The widely acclaimed film produced by Danannavar under his banner MD Media Corp and helmed by National Award-winning director Manish Saini has garnered top honors at many film festivals including the Golden Lotus Awards as the Best Children’s Film at 69th National Film Awards. The lead actors won the best child actor awards at the New York Indian Film Festival. Gandhi & Company bagged the much-coveted ‘Golden Slipper’ at the 62nd edition of the prestigious Zlin Film Festival in the Czech Republic. Jani and Zinzuwadia took home the Best Actors Award and Saini the Best Director Award at 2023 Smile International Film Festival for Children and Youth. More recognitions include Second Best Cinema at Bengaluru International Film Festival, Curator Choice Award at the UK Asian Film Festival, and Best Children Film award at International Gujarati Film Festival. The film has been screened at several other film festivals across the globe.

International recognition and screenings also meant that the movie could not be officially screened in theatres. Post the successful tour, the team is now ready to bring it to the audience globally, beginning with a US release in April and May kickstarting in Atlanta! The movie will later be released in India.

Danannavar is a first-generation Media entrepreneur and Indian film producer who nurtures his passion for music, movies, media and entrepreneurship with an MBA from Indiana University of Pennsylvania. He is the owner of Sea Hawks team in Tennis Premier League(TPL).  In his entrepreneurial journey he has ventured into various sectors including Education, ITES & Media. He is founder of MD MEDIA CORP Bangalore based Production house producing entertaining films in multiple languages. Shu Thayu?! the first Gujarati film produced by Danannavar went on to be one of the highest grossing Gujarati films of all times. “Gaalipata 2” was his foray into producing Kannada films. He also produced Hindi short “LUTF” with Mona Singh & Vinay Pathak. Danannavar has forayed into writing, authoring  “#Let’s StartUp: Starting Up Business & Entrepreneurship”. He is a music producer and owner of the record label, Indi Pop Music.

Starring Darshan Jariwala, Jayesh More, Druma Mehta, Hiranya Zinzuwadia, Shah Reyaan, and Dhyani Jani in lead roles, Gandhi & Company essays the relevance of Gandhian ideology underlining its timeless and universal appeal through two young minds who have strictly limited the Mahatma & his principles to a chapter in their textbook. Weaved with a good dose of humor without unnecessary and compulsive clichés, the movie delves deep into invoking values that are hidden within.

Mintoo & Mitra (11 year olds) are known for two things – their collective potential towards mischief and their legendary friendship with Bharat Bhai. The boys are clever but scrupulous and the old man is an embodiment of all the teachings of Gandhi.

An unexpected happening corners Mintoo ( a Superhero Jango fan) into proclaiming Mahatma Gandhi as his role model. Mintoo soon starts mimicking Gandhi’s behavior, but nowhere close to imbibing Gandhi’s values. His deceiving ways fetch him rewards but little does he know how these ways are pushing him into troubled waters.

Bharat Bhai takes it upon himself to teach the unprincipled boys a valuable lesson in honesty & harmony. Can these contrasting personalities work towards complimenting each other? How will Bharat Bhai catalyst this change? As he rolls up his sleeves to watch events unfold all he can hear is the voice of Gandhi saying “In a gentle way you can shake the world”.

Director Saini is known for his work as a director in his debut, Dhh (2017), which was the recipient of National Film Award for Best Feature Film in Gujarati at the 65th National Film Award, starring Naseeruddin Shah told the story about three school children who come to believe that a new magician in the city can magically get them out of their troubles.

“Children’s films in India are sporadically made even though we have such a treasure trove of historical figures and stories that can impart both entertainment and subliminal life lessons. It is also because it may not be commercially viable. But in Hollywood we see many movies made just for kids,” Danannavar noted about the inspiration to make Gandhi & Company. So when the director and producer, who had both experienced previous successes in Gujarati movies got together, Danannavar said they decided to make a “meaningful, wholesome movie that is not preachy but fun, and can be watched and enjoyed with family and friends.”

Having made the movie around the second phase of the COVID wave, Danannavar revealed that there were several challenges including the fact that kids and the elderly, both age groups which form the crux of the movie, were considered high risk categories. There were also restrictions on the times of the day that they could work. But despite everything, the movie, he said, was shot in 35 days.

What makes Gandhi & Company so special? The film’s universal appeal rooted in its simplicity and wholesomeness, Danannavar notes influences every viewer in any country.   “The overarching theme of Gandhian idealism is a huge draw and continues to win over hearts and minds wherever the film is screened.”

Neither Danannavar nor his family has any background in entertainment, entrepreneurship or sports. What motivates him to pursue them? “In the typical middle class Indian family like mine, we were asked to stay away from movies and television, but I had this passion since childhood to get into movies and never knew how to actually get into the scene,” Danannavar notes. Having duly completed his graduation with an MBA from Indiana University of Pennsylvania, he forayed into startup with online education, then advertising then eventually got into movies. While he has no experience in the field of cinema, his MBA armed him with the knowledge to understand the business associated with the field. “In India, in any of the languages, almost 90% of the films fail – they really don’t recover their investment. Only 10% recover and make profits,” Danannavar observed. So he is careful with the choices he makes to ensure his investments are viable economically but also keen on maintaining “meaningful content”.

Earlier in his career, Danannavar also authored a book Danannavar is also author of“#Let’s StartUp: Starting Up Business & Entrepreneurship, which he said was meant to help maiden entrepreneurs who are looking for guidance, much like himself.

Combining his passion for entertainment with sports, Danannavar has forayed into the arena, owning “Sea Hawks” in Tennis Premier League(TPL) Season 1. Sea Hawks were the champions in the 2018 first season of Tennis Premier League. He is also owner of Bengaluru Warriors team in “Box Cricket League (BCL), who entered semi finals in the BCL Season 4 telecasted in MTV and BCL episodes streaming on Voot App and ALT Balaji.

Utilizing entertainment as a medium, Danannavar said he is presently working on a startup that involves education. “Kids are influenced by what they see on big screens, tv screens and their cell phones. So it is important to create some good content. We will launch it soon.”

On the film front, Danannavar said he is currently working on Marathi movie, Killey Raigad to Vietnam and a Hindi movie which is likely to be shot in Atlanta!

With philosophy rooted in content, as Danannavar pursues his passion to create entertainment that is meaningful, hopefully we will see more movies that transcends boundaries and barriers with stories that push us to look within ourselves and strive to towards making the world a better place to be.

In the meanwhile, lookout for Gandhi and Company’s release dates in your city.  In Atlanta, the opening city, it is slated for April 20, 2024 at Gokuldham. Go discover the Gandhi within!

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