Maniesh Paul: Dance like a man

The dance show that has all of India grooving to it has made Maniesh Paul a household name. One of the most bankable personalities in entertainment today, there’s more to this multi-faceted actor than just foot-tapping finesse. He’s the king of live shows, a passionate actor who gets into the skin of his characters, a doting father to his kids and much more

maniesh paul in blue jacket Outfit, Pieux; Shoes, Zara

Before our Zoom call, Maniesh Paul’s rep texts me to say he would prefer to keep his camera off. Perhaps, given the amount of screen and stage time this man gets, he likes the occasional breather. Or is he, like me, having a bad hair day? We’ll never know but there’s something to be said for a distraction-free, audio-only conversation in a world fixated on eyeballs. 

Maniesh is having a moment. In June this year, he featured in Jugjugg Jeeyo, alongside a galaxy of stars—Anil Kapoor, Neetu Kapoor, Varun Dhawan and Kiara Advani. Not only did he hold his own, his character proved one of the most popular. The comedy-drama flick was one of the highest grossing films of 2022. Maniesh is currently hosting Season 10 of Jhalak Dikhhla Jaa, India’s most popular dance reality show. And he’s just finished shooting for an OTT show with him in the lead. 

maniesh paul november cover

So what’s this top secret show? “I wouldn't call it top secret,” says Maniesh, “It’s just that my producers have told me not to say anything about it right now. One thing I can say is that it's a really interesting show, a thriller, something I've never done before. I'm happy that the producers, Jio Studios, thought I could do it.” The show, directed by Ritam Srivastav (of Raktanchal fame), could be on air by February 2023. 

Maniesh’s career trajectory is as filmi as any Bollywood flick. With no family background in entertainment, Maniesh arrived in Mumbai as an outsider. The mandatory period of struggle followed before his big break. Today, the successful actor, TV presenter, live show host, and podcast producer — close to Amitabh Bachchan and Karan Johar — is as much an insider as anyone can hope to be. 

Perhaps in a sign of what fate had in store for him, Delhi boy Maniesh was born in Mumbai where his mother’s from. When he was just a few weeks old he was back in Delhi. Throughout his years at Apeejay School Sheikh Sarai, Maniesh was keen on — and excelled at — co-curricular activities, singing, dramatics, and so on. While his chartered accountant father tried to steer Maniesh in his own direction, once he saw his inclination towards entertainment, he encouraged him. One day after finishing college in Delhi, Maniesh told his father he was shifting to Mumbai. “Hero banne jaa rahe hain (I’m off to become a hero),” he said. 

maniesh paul on couch Jacket, Mayank Chawla; T-shirt, United Colors of Benetton; Pants, Bharat and Reshma; Watch, Panerai

Maniesh moved to Mumbai in 2005. Within a month, he bagged a show on Zee Smile. However, the show shut in a couple of months, leaving him jobless. “I had very little money, just enough to sustain myself. Then somebody told me about a job in radio,” Maniesh recalls. Fuelled by dreams of making it as a hero, Maniesh was initially reluctant to take on the gig but gave it a shot. He had a successful run but, wanting to be in front of the camera, started acting in serials like Ghost Bana Dost and Chhoona Hai Aasmaan. The role in Chhoona Hai Aasmaan was too small. “I'm not here just to make a per day, I told myself,” reveals Maniesh, “I'm here to deliver dialogues. I'm here to perform!” In 2007, Maniesh, married by then, decided he could not continue like this. His wife, Sanyukta, encouraged him to quit, saying she would take care of expenses with her teacher’s salary. In end-2007 Maniesh quit everything and sat at home through 2008, barring the odd live show. 

maniesh paul pink jacket

Towards the end of 2008 Maniesh got a call from Zee TV. At that moment he was in a tempo shifting furniture to a new house because he could no longer afford the rent. Dressed in a T-shirt and track pants, both dirty with the shifting, and oily hair to boot, Maniesh rushed to the Oberoi Mall to meet the producers and signed the show on the spot. Initially on for three months, the show became so popular it went on for 16. After that, Maniesh started getting assignments to anchor the red carpet at award nights — but he wanted the main stage. So he put his foot down. Slowly he started getting the work he wanted. 

At one point Maniesh decided to sign up for Jhalak Dikhhla Jaa as a contestant. “They used to put up hoardings with the participants,” says Maniesh, “In Mumbai, if you’re on a hoarding, you’ve arrived. But I was rejected.” Although he felt hurt at the time, when Colors TV called him a few years later to host the same show he agreed immediately. The show turned out to be a game changer. “That was in 2011. Then I did a lot of TV shows. In fact, I’ve hosted all the major reality shows,” admits Maniesh.  

The acting bug was still niggling though. Shortly after his success with Jhalak, Maniesh made his foray into Bollywood. A string of movies followed, starting with Mickey Virus in 2013. However, the movies did not meet with the success Maniesh had hoped for. Not getting the roles he wanted , he went back to hosting. “I didn't want to do films just for the heck of it,” says Maniesh. 

maniesh paul red jacket Jacket, Kanishk Mehta

It all changed with a call from Karan Johar. “I remember Karan Sir called and said, ‘Maniesh, it's a role. I want you to do it and it's going to be loved. Aap script sun lo.’ I said there’s no need because I've got a call from you. I will do it,” recalls Maniesh. “The rest is history,” he adds, “The film did well. The character did really well. People loved Gurpreet.” 

Of course, Maniesh is referring to his hit performance in Jugjugg Jeeyo. A big talking point about Maniesh’s character was his over-the-top sartorial style. “Raj Mehta (the director) and I were discussing the character and I told him I have many Punjabi friends who are obsessed with brands, so could we add this to the character? Raj immediately agreed. Eka Lakhani, our stylist, did a great job in ensuring that every jacket, every tracksuit I wore was unique,” says Maniesh.

Having done it all, it’s still films that get him the most excited, confesses Maniesh. “I really like the process of preparing for a character, getting out of the skin of Maniesh Paul and doing something else,” he says.

While Maniesh makes forays into acting, he remains an immaculate host. “It's a great feeling when you're on stage with Salman Khan and Riteish Deshmukh at IIFA and Riteish looks at you at and says, Maniesh, you are the best thing that happened to hosting ever,” he says, “Recently I was hosting an award night and Vidya Balan came on stage and told me I was by far the best host in the country.”

There are some special relationships Maniesh enjoys in the entertainment industry. One of them is with Amitabh Bachchan. “He is the closest thing I have to a mentor. I’m Eklavya to his Dronacharya,” says Maneish, “I have a different regard for him and I’m happy he reciprocates that.” When Maniesh sent the trailer of Jugjugg Jeeyo to Bachchan, he immediately tweeted it. 

Maniesh’s energy levels seem off the charts. Does he have a secret potion? “I think I just love my work,” he laughs, “I always go to work excited. I also like to keep the unit happy.” When it comes to health, he is a good boy who is heavily into fitness, eats well and sleeps on time. “I don't party or drink much and I don’t smoke at all. In spite of being a Punjabi, I control my food intake. I’m generally asleep by 9:30pm, and awake up 5am,” he says, “I do my workouts in the morning.”. 

maniesh paul fur jacket Jacket, The Source; Jumper, Zara; Jewellery, Twyla Treasures

Another gig that Maniesh has managed to squeeze into his schedule is a YouTube podcast, where he interviews film and television personalities. A lockdown project, it was prompted by a desire to connect with his guests at an emotional level — and retain creative control. “I want the person who's talking to control the chat, not even me,” says Maniesh, “Now actors are calling up to be on it.” The podcast went viral when Govinda’s nephew, Krushna Abhishek, apologised to Govinda (with whom he had a fallout in 2016) on the podcast this year. A month later, Govinda came on the podcast and accepted the apology. “If I've created a platform where people are coming together, opening up, and are happy to vent, it's great. 

I'm getting to know so many people, their journeys and struggles beyond their big cars and bodyguards,” says Maniesh. At home, Maniesh is a devoted husband and doting father — his celebrity status stays outside the door. “We live a normal life,” he says, “My wife and I don't talk about stardom or fan followings.” Despite his hectic schedule, Maniesh is a hands-on parent. “I love to be with my kids. We play a lot of games, go cycling. I keep them involved in a lot of things,” he says. Yes, he also helps out with their homework. On work trips, Maniesh always finds letters from his kids, Saisha and Yuvann, in his suitcase. When he returns from a trip he finds the house decorated with cards saying, “Welcome back, Papa.” “I'm happy that my kids are inheriting my sense of humour,” points out Maniesh, “I feel the most important thing in life is your sense of humour. It makes you sail through the most difficult situations.”

Bollywood may be Maniesh’s current love but Jhalak Dikhhla Jaa remains his calling card. Maniesh has anchored the show, currently in its 10th Season, since Season 5. The current season has an impressive cast of judges — Madhuri Dixit, Karan Johar and Nora Fatehi. “Viewers are loving the pallu walk, the way I have fun with Madhuri ma’am,” says Maniesh, “Also the way I pull Karan Sir’s leg. I feel privileged that not everybody can joke with him the way I do.” Of course, you can’t host a dance show and not love dancing. “I'm a Punjabi, yaar,” says Maniesh, “We’ll dance to the sound of a generator. If it’s a song we can’t stop.” The career of the man who has the nation dancing to his beat certainly shows no signs of slowing down. With the web series wrapped up, there are two movies in the works. “I will be able to talk about them in January,” says Maniesh, “If everything goes fine, I will start shooting one in December, and the other in April.” 

There was a time when Bollywood and TV were watertight compartments and it was a rare actor who could make the crossover. Not anymore. Performers like Maniesh defy classification by sailing smoothly between platforms and define the new order. Maniesh Paul may be basking in the glory of his hit role as Gurpreet 

Sharma but he’s certainly not resting on his laurels. My guess is that, despite his impressive oeuvre, the best is yet to come.

maniesh paul in bar

BITTEN BY THE TRAVEL BUG

Maniesh loves travelling especially when it is on vacation with his family. Here he recounts some of his most memorable trips over the years

Me and my wife are very fond of travelling and so are my kids now. While we travel a lot in India by default, we travel a lot abroad as well

US: The most memorable trip was to the US in 2014 when I travelled with my wife and four-year-old daughter Saisha (this was before our son Yuvann was born). We planned the trip overnight. I said, chal yaar, let's plan US. We immediately booked one-way tickets to LA. We landed and took a place. It was a month-long trip and the most adventurous because we had no idea where we were heading. We had a fantastic time. 

ISTANBUL: Long ago, we did a trip to Istanbul. This was before the kids, just me and Sanyukta. We were just starting out and I didn't have that kind of money in those days. I had gone on a corporate show and Sanyukta came along. Now we laugh about how we managed with whatever money we had. The amount we walked in that trip was amazing because we said why waste money on taxis. I'm very fond of walking on cobblestoned streets. I loved the streets there. I loved the people. We really want to go back to Istanbul. In fact, we are planning the trip now. 

DUBAI: One destination where we just take a flight and go is Dubai. We are shopaholics. So in Dubai we shop a lot. The evenings are pretty chilled out. We love going to the beaches in Dubai, especially La Mer and Kite Beach. In Mumbai, I can't really take my kids to the beach. Last time we were in Dubai, we also drove down to Ras Al-Khaimah. it's a beautiful place, around 1.5 hours’ drive from Dubai. We also like driving down to Abu Dhabi. My kids are very fond of amusement parks — and so am I! I'm like a kid, you know, always first in line. I’m the guy who says he’ll either sit on the first seat or wait for the next turn. So in every ride me and my daughter fight to sit in the first seat. Those are the kinds of things we really like to do on holidays.

maniesh paul in bharat and reshma jacket Outfit, Bharat & Reshma; Shoes, Regal Shoes

KNOCK, KNOCK, IT'S MANIESH

With arguably the funniest bone in entertainment today, there’s never a dull moment when Maniesh is around — the signature pallu walk with Madhuri Dixit on Jhalak Dikhhla Jaa is a case in point. Maniesh never mugs up a joke. His wisecracks are impromptu and based on the situation. Here are a few he told us 

Knock, knock!

Who’s there?

Spell.

Spell, who?

W-H-O.

Knock, knock!

Who’s there?

Boo.

Boo, who?

Oh, come on. It’s just a joke. You don’t have to cry.

Knock, knock!

Who’s there?

Tank.

Tank, who?

You’re welcome!

Knock, knock!

Who’s there?

Nobel. 

Nobel, who?

Arre, there’s no bell. That’s why I’m knocking.

What do you call a cheese which is not yours?

Nacho cheese. 

maniesh paul bharat and reshma

QUICK TAKE

Never at a loss for words (but not a fan of the rapid-fire treatment either), Maniesh was game enough to get in the line of fire for THE MAN 

Butter Chicken or Kaali Dal? Kaali Dal

Delhi or Bombay? Mumbai

Suit boot or kurta pajama? Suit boot

Instagram or YouTube? Instagram

Whisky or gin? I don't drink, yaar, but if it’s a choice between whisky and gin, then gin 

Chhole Bhature or Pav Bhaji? Chhole Bhature 

Action or rom-com? Action

Beaches or mountains? Mountains

TV or movie hall? Movie hall

Mustard fields or Marine Drive? Marine Drive

Madhubala or Meena Kumari? Madhubala

Hair: Hammraz Salami

Make-up: Nazir Khan

Publicist: Sanchita Trivedi

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