Mani Kaul (25 December 1944 – 6 July 2011) was an Indian film director of Hindi films. He first joined Film and Television Institute of India (FTII), Pune as an acting student and later shifted to the direction course, graduating in 1966. There he was a student of Ritwik Ghatak and later became a teacher. Started his career with Uski Roti (1969), which won him the Filmfare Critics Award for Best Movie, he went on to win four of them in all. He won the National Film Award for Best Direction in 1974 for Duvidha and later the National Film Award for his documentary film, Siddheshwari in 1989.
His first film Uski Roti (1969) has been described as "one of the key films of the New Indian Cinema or the Indian New Wave". It marked a drastic departure from earlier Indian cinema techique, form and narrative. It was one of the early formal experimental films in Indian cinema. Asad ka Ek Din (1971), his next film, was based on a play by Mohan Rakesh.
Duvidha (1973), his third, was his first in colour. It grew out of a short story by Vijayan Detha and tells the story of a merchant's son, who returns with his new bride to have to depart on family business. A ghost falls in love with the bride. It was widely shown across Europe.
Mani Kaul was one of the co-founders of the Yukt Film Co-operative (Union of Kinematograph Technicians) in 1976, leading to avantgarde films. Critics suggest that in "Mani Kaul's cinematic conception, fiction and documentary films have no clear demarcated dividing line." He also taught music in the Netherlands, and was Creative Director of the film house at Osian's Connoisseurs of Art, Mumbai.
In 1971, he was a member of the jury at the 21st Berlin International Film Festival.
He was a visiting lecturer at Harvard University for the 2000–2001 school year. Currently he was the Creative Director of the Film House at Osian's Connoisseurs of Art, Mumbai.
Mani Kaul was born as Rabindranath Kaul in Jodhpur, Rajasthan into a Kashmiri Pandit Kaul family. He was a nephew of the noted Hindi film director Mahesh Kaul, who made films like Raj Kapoor starrer Sapnon Ka Saudagar (1968). Mani Kaul died on 6 July 2011 at his home in Gurgaon, near Delhi. He had been ailing for sometime.
According to a tribute from Prabha Mahajan on the Indian documentary film discussion network Docuwallahs, Mani Kaul's significant body of work included both feature films and documentaries. In an interview Mani stated: "The dividing line from my films and documentaries is thin. Some of my films like "Siddheshwari" are like poetic documentaries." Mani Kaul's fellow alumni from FTII intend to put together a collective tribute to Mani Kaul and his work, and interested persons were invited to send in their thoughts on Mani as a film maker, teacher/ mentor, colleague, and as a person.
Indian film critic Khalid Mohamed commented, " As a film director, he discussed the status of women (Uski Roti, Duvidha), crafted visually seductive documentaries (Arrival, Before My Eyes, A Desert of a Thousand Lines) and went through a spell of interpreting Fyodor Dostoevsky’s masterworks. The Russian writer’s short story A Gentle Creature inspired Nazar, shot in low, chiaroscuro lighting."