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Successful Director from Bangladesh Starts New Chapter as University of New Haven Student
New communication major Saiful Islam Mannu ’21, who has hundreds of credits to his name, is a household name in Bangladesh. "Kind of like how we just say Scorsese or Spielberg," says Professor Tom Garrett.
April 6, 2018
by Jackie Hennessey, Contributing Writer
In the Advanced Screenwriting and the Fundamentals of Production classes this semester is an undergraduate student who knows a thing or two about directing and writing for television. Saiful Islam Mannu ’21 has directed 600 TV episodes in Bangladesh, 60 telefilms, 28 one-hour dramas, two feature films and dozens of documentaries.
Despite his lofty credentials, there is Mannu, collaborating with classmates on an audio project and writing the first 30 pages of his screenplay for class. The University’s career-focused education is something he’s always wanted. "I love it," he says.
How Mannu, who grew up in a family of agricultural workers in a small village in Bangladesh, in a home without electricity, television or access to "any culture – no movies, no theater," went on to become a wildly successful director and then found his way to West Haven is quite a journey.
Mannu and his wife moved to the U.S. last year. Mannu’s uncle, a Yale professor whose good friend was a longtime mentor of Garrett’s, help connect the two. "We met and talked about working on a feature film or a project, involving our students, using our facilities," Garrett says.
The next day, as Mannu toured the University with Garrett, a new idea took shape.
"He fell in love with the University and decided to apply," Garrett says.
Now, Mannu is writing the script for his third feature film for his screenwriting class. The piece centers around a young woman born in the United States to immigrant parents and the challenges she faces being part of two worlds. Garrett sees many possibilities.
"It’s a project that could have all kinds of crossover, a piece written by an immigrant, a Sundance kind of film that he would develop during his four years here as a thesis project." Tom Garrett
The extensive experience Mannu can share with his fellow students is invaluable, says Paul Falcone, director of studio operations and media production, who says 10 percent of making a film is the artistic and creative ability to tell a story.
Adds Garrett, "The other 90 percent is the hustle, the location scouting, the financing, and the marketing. Mannu knows all about this. We can help him, and he can help our students see the big picture and be involved in the whole experience writing, shooting, and marketing a film. Right now it’s an idea but you have to visualize something to actualize it."
Mannu first began to visualize a cultural life when as a child he happened upon a Hindu festival in a nearby village in Bangladesh and was drawn to the music and dance. His parents wanted him to become an engineer or to work, as his family did, in agriculture and fishing.
But, after high school, he went to the city of Dhaka, hoping to work for the government-run television station. Without experience, he was told he’d have to wait three or four years for a chance to even get in the door. Undaunted, he returned later that night, got into a rehearsal, and offered to play drum rhythms when a drummer didn’t show. Later, when they needed someone on the camera crew, he learned on the job – paid only in food – and took on every odd job on the production he could.
"Whatever it is that has to be done, this guy, he will find a way to do it." Saiful Islam Mannu's wife, Sadia Shabnam Shantu, who is the production and costume designer on all of his teleplays and films Garrett
His big break came when he wrote a script and a producer asked him to direct it, launching a successful career now in its second decade. "That’s when my life started," he said. "Now, it starts again."