Manoj Night Shyamalan likes to be called Night. It could’ve something to do with the dark eerie supernatural thrillers that he specialises in. There’s certainly no night-like quality in his sunny smiling positive personality. Night spoke to Subhash K Jha:
Q: You reached a critical and box office peak with The Sixth Sense in 1999. Has the momentum in your career been lost thereafter?
No! What you’ve just said is something I’ve not heard abroad for seven years. I hear this a lot in India. It feels like everyone is five years behind. You can’t judge my career by the box office alone.
Q: Well, some of your films have been critical failures too.
The Sixth Sense being one of them. Yes, it did get nominated for Oscars. But if you’re talking about Oscars that’s just 500 of my peers. The myth that you’ve portrayed about my movies was disproven by my very next film after The Sixth Sense. Unbreakable is actually my most resonant movie.
I feel I surpassed my previous film myself as a movie-maker over here, although it was my lowest-grossing movie for a while. That was an irony for me. And time has proven that it was wrongly received. It’s my personal favourite.
Q: Where do you place your latest film in your oeuvre?
The Happening is definitely my scariest movie. It’s probably the most intense experience that I’ve had so far. The 90 minutes of playing time offer the most incredibly intense experience for the audience.
Q: You started your career with a very introspective semi-autobiographical film Praying With Anger. What took you into this long-lasting romance with the supernatural?
I never had an agenda. The agenda is that I never had an agenda. All my movies are conversations about faith. The supernatural element just happened. I think my life illustrates a shift in culture where I may be American. But at heart I remain very Indian. I grew up in America but my first movie was based in India. And when I was surrounded with all these American girls I chose to marry an Indian girl.
Q: The Sixth Sense remains a most ripped-off film.
[laughs] Yes. When I see films like I Am Legend, I feel good about the fact that I was making an inspiring supernatural film, although mine was different.
At the end of the day we’re all borrowing from one another. I was ripping off Steven Spielberg anyway. No, seriously. I even told Steven that. After I finished my latest film The Happening, I watched Invasion Of The Body Snatchers. The opening credits of both films are the same! It just happened.