Please introduce yourself. What do you do? Why? What do you want people to know about you?
My name is Manvi. It means to be humane and kind. My nickname is Mana. It means the spiritual energy of power and strength at the heart of all things. I am a human being, attempting the cheeky grand private experiment of holding a paradox in the palm of one’s hand. It’s fun.
My goal, within and without, is a triangle. I want my philosophy, lifestyle and creativity to be in sync. The point of intersection between what we live for, how we live, and how we express that living. I am currently designing a creative healing model and workshop that unites my work as an actor and writer, my work as a yoga teacher, a Vipassana meditator and a student of a Krishnamurti school and my work in community living projects like Sadhana Forest, unschooling and other experiments in a new social contract.
At twenty, I founded Kani, a cultural gathering and immersive art experience. Two days long, with sixteen events, it was designed to move people past their fear into freedom and creative expression. We raised a blessed amount of funding and the gathering still takes place each year in Mumbai. I then worked as an actress for the theatre company The Mirror Merchants and acted in national commercials.
From there, I moved to Sadhana Forest. It is a reforestation NGO and community living project in Pondicherry, India. With no electricity, compost toilets, communal meals and treehouses made of keet, it changed my experience of needs and community. We practiced and taught unschooling, non violent communication, reforested 70 acres of land, learned water conservation. The founder took me under his wing and I helped with the administration of their reforestation work in India, Haiti and Kenya. During this time of my life, I also learnt Vipassana meditation. In transitioning out, I began working as an academic editor, which allowed me to travel light, alone and in nature, encountering people and other community living projects across fifteen countries.
From there, I moved to Goa, and worked with the filmmaker Anand Gandhi at Memesys Culture Lab. We designed a political board game and wrote a science fiction television show. Building a project, as an actor and writer, from proof of concept to an internationally steamed Hulu TV show was my film school. I then received a scholarship from the Lee Strasberg Theatre and Film Institute and come to study method acting in New York.
What qualities make you different and unique from everyone else in the industry?
I think my sovereignty makes me different. I see life as a pilgrimage. I hunt in the fringes, at the bottom of lakes, in the deep eyes of those who don’t belong and in the base of my heart and gut. Success to me looks like what Rilke said, “How wonderful to grow old when one has worked on life like a true craftsman; then there are no memories left that have not become thing, then there is nothing that has passed away: everything is there, real, ravishingly real.”
Creativity is the oldest human instinct and a place where existence has a chance at meaning. Art raised me. It taught me how to be alive, and is the great constant and joy of my life. Acting and writing are mediums and not ends in themselves.
Beyond the banalities of representational politics, there is a politics of humanity that I hope to understand. An intention for growth that got out of hand through power and history, we are now converging at a point of systemic unravelling. This, and the lifetimes to come, will stand as a test of our species and perhaps of the abstraction we call our humanity. I want to explore, through narrative and form, our inquiry and empathy. Free finally of the pedagogy previously bestowed on it, we have the chance to design a radically new way of living, born of self awareness and free thought.
This is my compass. I am not chasing something for which there is a goal or a map. My ambition is a Venn diagram, not a ladder. This is true freedom.
Describe THAT moment when you realized you’re doing what you were born to do.
If you entered the room, you would see me with my eyes closed, legs crossed, on a chair. I had the impulse to sit quietly. My mind was open.
A large worm with sharp teeth arose from deep inside and swallowed me. The insides of its body were black and made of air. I fell and kept falling. I was not afraid. The second I acknowledged that I was not afraid, I landed on the black granite floor of a cave. The cave was full of large lumps of coal. Peering from within were glowing blue stones. I looked to my right, the walls were a black reflective surface. I was a young child in a blue dress and two braids. Behind me walked a large coal creature, terrifying and glowing with ember from inside. I remained unafraid. It came around and began to writhe on the floor in front of me. I looked it in the eye. It seemed suddenly sad. I kept looking, unafraid. It transformed into a wailing black gorilla. I hugged the animal, then we stood touching foreheads. The second I remembered that this animal was the large creature, it turned its head to ceiling and shrieked. Its teeth were the same as the amorphous shape I had first entered. I remained unafraid, I calmed it down. It dissolved into a webbed mass with a single eye and stuck to the ceiling of the cave. I looked up. The eye called out ‘follow me,’ in a distant female voice. I felt apprehensive. I followed it anyway. The eye sucked me into itself and I was jolted into deep space. I turned into three shards of light, then three dolphins, then a shark, then light again. I landed on a perfect circle of black reflective material suspended in space. It was still black around me, but this time I sensed vast space. I heard a clicking sound. A woman, ten stories tall, walked onto the circle. She was made of gold, and was dressed in ancient head covering and jewelry. She had one eye made of three reflective surfaces. She kneeled down before me. I was still a child. I looked her in the eye. She said ‘trust myself’, again and again, the same words echoing from her and through me. While she kneeled, I felt a reflection of her move and station itself behind me. I remembered that that was were the coal monster stood. She had replaced him. The second I remembered the creature, the wailing gorilla appeared between us, behind me. The kneeling pagan goddess in front motioned and the gorilla was sucked through me, turning into waves of distorted black, sucked through my head and out of me. She then took me in her arms. She was radiating nurture and was strong, powerful, a warrior. She kept whispering complex instructions. She kneeled back again and said, with stern guidance ‘trust yourself’. She stood up. Wherever she glanced, golden amorphous piles sprouted. ‘Trust yourself’ she said again. The vision faded into black and I opened my eyes.
I would call this a vision / epiphany / waking dream. My subconscious spoke to my conscious mind in allegory and symbols. It guided me to a change of guard.
What’s been the biggest challenge you’ve had to go through and how did you grow through it?
My early life was unstable, made of fear, violence and the helplessness of observing a sister with a terminal illness. Those fourteen years put a dam on a river that wanted to join the ocean.
The point the dam breaks is not an earthquake or a machine. It is when a white flower falls off a tree and flutters down to touch the surface of waiting water. It touches it tenderly, asking nothing. Rishi Valley, a Krishnamurti boarding school, was my flower. We studied TS Eliot under trees and for the first time, an adult asked me what I felt and thought without cutting me to size. It was air. So I broke.
I descended into two years of psychosis, where everything I thought I was, the self control that had been my survival, fell away. I was a bleeding panicking mess without identity. And at the bottom was the suicide attempt that the mind always offers up at the edge of despair. I ate the pills and waited to die. In a sequence of fate or chance, my life was saved and I was taken to the hospital. When I came back, something had both died and been born. I had broken through to gratitude.
From then on, though a slow crawl out, my north star has been an awe and respect for the fact that I exist. It gave me courage and power for the ten years of exploration that followed. But it gave me something more. It gave me my soul back.
Who are the TOP 3 people you’d want to meet that could elevate your career or business? Why these specific individuals?
1. Daniel Schmachtenburger. He is a philosopher and systems thinker. His work is lucid, unschooled and interdisciplinary. His talks, think tanks, and companies like the Consilience Project is the kind of work I hope to do. His core intention is better sense making and I would like to learn from and train under his quiet articulation.
2. Lars Von Trier. ‘Dancer in the Dark’ does what great novels do and he is my favorite filmmaker. My perhaps unpopular opinion; no contemporary director translates the subconscious or honors the complexity of a woman’s inner world like him. To be directed by and act in one of his movies is a grand dream of mine.
3. Lex Fridman. An AI researcher and podcaster, he took his interdisciplinary nature and training in a specific field of study to design a business that looks deeply at the world. I would love to learn from him and to build an agora like this for the creative sector.
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