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Manoj Nelliyattu Shyamalan ( ; , Manōj Nelliyaṭṭu Śiyāmaḷan; Maṉōj Nelliyāṯṯu Ṣiyāmaḷaṉ, born 6 August 1970), known professionally as M. Night Shyamalan, is a two-time Academy Award-nominated Indian-American filmmaker and screenwriter who resides and works primarily in the United States, known for making movies with contemporary supernatural plots that usually climax with a twist ending. He is also known for filming his movies (and staging his plots) in and around Philadelphiamarker, Pennsylvaniamarker, where he was raised.Shyamalan released his first film, Praying with Anger, in 1992 while he was a New York Universitymarker student. His second movie, the major feature film Wide Awake, made in 1996 but not released until three years later, failed to find financial success.

Shyamalan gained international recognition when he wrote and directed 1999's The Sixth Sense, which was nominated for six Academy Awards including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Original Screenplay. He followed The Sixth Sense by writing and directing Unbreakable, released in 2000, which received mixed reviews. His 2002 film Signs, where he also played Ray Reddy, gained both critical and financial success, but The Village (2004) was a critical disappointment whose box office fell hard after a strong opening weekend, and Lady in the Water (2006) performed even worse. His latest film, The Happening (2008), did financially better than his previous effort but was also panned by critics; in its entire American run, it grossed only slightly more than Signs made in its opening weekend.

Early life and career

Shyamalan was born in Pondicherry, Indiamarker. His father, Nelliyattu C. Shyamalan, a physician, is a Malayali Indian, and his mother, Jayalakshmi, is a Tamil Indian and an obstetrician and gynecologist by profession. In the 1960s, after medical school (at the Jawaharlal Institute of Postgraduate Medical Education & Research in Pondicherrymarker) and the birth of their first child, Veena, Shyamalan's parents moved to the United States. Shyamalan’s mother returned to India to spend the last five months of her pregnancy with Shyamalan at her parents’ home in Chennaimarker (Madras).

Shyamalan spent his first six weeks in Pondicherry and then was raised in Penn Valley, Pennsylvaniamarker, an affluent suburb of Philadelphiamarker. He attended the private Roman Catholic grammar school Waldron Mercy Academy, which his parents chose for its academic discipline, followed by the Episcopal Academymarker, a private Episcopalian high school located at the time in Merion, Pennsylvaniamarker. Shyamalan went on to New York Universitymarker’s Tisch School of the Arts, in Manhattanmarker, graduating in 1992. It was here that he made up his middle name.

Shyamalan had an early desire to be a filmmaker when he was given a Super-8 camera at a young age. Though his father wanted Shyamalan to follow in the family practice of medicine, his mother encouraged Shyamalan to follow his passion. By the time he was 17, Shyamalan, who had been a fan of Steven Spielberg, had made 45 home movies. Beginning with The Sixth Sense, he has included a scene from one of these childhood films on each DVD release of his films, which he feels represents his first attempt at the same kind of film (with the exception of Lady in the Water).

Shyamalan made his first film, the semiautobiographical drama Praying with Anger, while still an NYU student, using money borrowed from family and friends. It was screened at the Toronto International Film Festivalmarker on September 12, 1992, and played commercially at one theater for one week. When the film debuted at the Toronto Film Festivalmarker, Shyamalan was introduced by David Overbey who predicted that the world would see more of Shyamalan in the years to come. Praying with Anger has also been shown on Canadian television. Filmed in Chennaimarker, it is his only film to be shot outside of Pennsylvania.

Shyamalan wrote and directed his second movie, Wide Awake, in 1995, though it was not released until 1998. His parents were the film's associate producers. The drama dealt with a ten-year-old Catholic schoolboy (Joseph Cross) who, after the death of his grandfather (Robert Loggia), searches for God. The film's supporting cast included Dana Delany and Denis Leary as the boy's parents, as well as Rosie O'Donnell, Julia Stiles, and Camryn Manheim. Wide Awake was filmed in a school Shyamalan attended as a child and earned 1999 Young Artist Award nominations for Best Drama, and, for Cross, Best Performance. Only in limited release, the film grossed $305,704 in theaters.

That same year Shyamalan wrote the screenplay for Stuart Little.

Shyamalan was a winner of Padma Shri Award in 2008.

In 1993, Shyamalan married Indian psychologist Bhavna Vaswani, a fellow student whom he met at NYU and with whom he has two daughters. As of early-2008, the family resides in Gladwyne, Pennsylvaniamarker, near Shyamalan's usual shooting site of Philadelphia. His production company, Blinding Edge Pictures is located in Berwyn, PAmarker.


Praying with Anger

Night Shyamalan and Mark Walhberg for "El Incidente" ("The Happening"2008).

Praying with Anger was Night's first work as a young director and was released in 1992. The movie tells the story of a young man named Dev Raman (played by Shyamalan) who returns to India to explore his heritage. During the course of the movie, Dev learns that his cold and distant father, now deceased, actually cared for him a great deal before his passing. The title of the movie comes from a moment in the film when the protagonist learns that it is possible to pray to Hindu deities with almost any emotion except indifference. Upon realizing this, Raman finds he is only able to pray with anger.

Wide Awake

Wide Awake, Shyamalan's first major feature film, came from a screenplay written by Shyamalan that was purchased by the then up-and-coming independent film studio Miramax. A provision was added to the sale that Shyamalan could direct the film and shoot it in Philadelphia. It was produced by Cary Woods and Cathy Konrad. The film starred Joseph Cross, Rosie O'Donnell, Dana Delaney, Denis Leary, and Robert Loggia. Wide Awake also featured Julia Stiles in one of her earliest roles as Josh's teenage sister, Nina. The film follows a young boy's search for God after his grandfather dies, a story told quietly, driven by dialogue.

The film is similar to later Shyamalan films with a theme of crises of belief, a supernatural sub-plot, and a twist ending that sums up the ideas presented in the film. Although Wide Awake was made in 1995, it was not released until 1998 where it grossed a total of only $288,000 against a production budget of $7 million.

The Sixth Sense

Shyamalan achieved commercial success in 1999 when he wrote and directed The Sixth Sense, a supernatural drama about a psychologist (Bruce Willis) who blames himself for a patient's suicide and his own broken marriage. Upon meeting a disturbed child (Haley Joel Osment) who claims to see people who have died, the psychologist feels he has a chance to redeem himself. According to the book DisneyWar, David Vogel of The Walt Disney Company read Shyamalan's script and, without obtaining approval from his superiors, bought the rights to it for a high $2 million and allowed Shyamalan to direct. Vogel's bosses, disagreeing with his decision, sold the profits to Spyglass Entertainment and kept only a 12.5 percent distribution fee for itself.

The film had a $40-million budget, and grossed over $600 million at the box office worldwide.

The Sixth Sense was nominated for six Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, Best Editing, Best Supporting Actor for Osment and Best Supporting Actress for Toni Collette. The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America awarded it a Nebula Award for Best Script of 1999.


Unbreakable is a superhero drama about David Dunn (Bruce Willis), the sole survivor of a train crash, and his encounters with comic book collector Elijah Price (Samuel L. Jackson), who is convinced that Dunn has latent superpowers. The movie opened to mixed reviews with many comparing it to "The Sixth Sense" and noting its slow pace and somber atmosphere. With a budget of $73.2 million, the movie failed to make a net profit domestically with a total box office gross of $95 million. It went on to collect another $154 million worldwide.

In interviews with M. Night Shyamalan, "Unbreakable" has been characterized as his "personal favorite," among the films he has made.


Opening in August 2002, Signs is a science fiction drama of a rural Pennsylvania Episcopal priest (Mel Gibson) who has lost his faith after his wife's death and regains it with his family as they witness the worldwide events of an alien invasion. Joaquin Phoenix, Rory Culkin, and Abigail Breslin also star.

Budgeted at $72 million, Signs grossed $227 million domestically and $408 million worldwide. It was the highest-grossing film as well as the highest opening-weekend gross ($60 million) of Gibson's career as an actor.

The film received a generally positive reception. Most notably of which was Roger Ebert's four-star review, stating, "M. Night Shyamalan's Signs is the work of a born filmmaker, able to summon apprehension out of thin air. When it is over, we think not how little has been decided, but how much has been experienced".

Shyamalan said in an interview with Science Fiction Weekly that his choice of Gibson was influenced in part by the actor's emotional role in the film Lethal Weapon: "I was on my parents' sofa watching the video of Lethal Weapon, and then this guy did stuff emotionally that had no business being in an action movie. ... I completely believed the humanity of a man who was so torn by the loss of his wife that he wasn't afraid of dying, which made him a lethal weapon. ... [W]hen I wrote the movie about a guy who loses faith because his wife has passed away, I felt like that was the guy. And I also like taking an action guy and not letting him be The Guy."

Shyamalan also said that originally, there was going to be very little music in the film, but that composer James Newton Howard's intense and emotional compositions reminded him of a Bernard Herrmann (Alfred Hitchcock's frequent composer) score (Psycho) and prompted him to change his mind.

The Village

Drawing on Wuthering Heights after being offered to pen a screen adaptation, Shyamalan went to work on what was originally titled The Woods. The Village was released in July 2004. A drama starring Joaquin Phoenix, William Hurt, Sigourney Weaver, Bryce Dallas Howard, and Adrien Brody, it tells of a small, 19th-century community run by a group of "Elders" who seem to be content in their isolation from the outside world. The village is encircled by a forest said to be filled with mysterious and threatening creatures. Even as an uneasy truce between the villagers and the creatures seems to be falling apart, one villager (Phoenix) starts to question their forced isolation.

With total production costs of $71.6 million, the film grossed $114.2 million domestically ($50 million in its opening weekend) and a further $142 million in non-USA receipts. Its successful opening weekend in America was followed by a severe dropoff of 67%, and the film is generally considered to be a commercial disappointment. Critical response was mostly negative: Desson Thomson of The Washington Post called it "a bewildering disappointment"; Kevin Thomas of the Los Angeles Times said, "It's tedious instead of provocative and so unconvincing as to be preposterous." Roger Ebert, who had previously praised Shyamalan, called the film "a colossal miscalculation, a movie based on a premise that cannot support it, a premise so transparent it would be laughable were the movie not so deadly solemn. . . . He is a director of considerable skill who evokes stories out of moods, but this time, alas, he took the day off".

Shyamalan expressed a great deal of regret in the way the film was marketed, telling producing partner Sam Mercer, while overseeing the editing of the teaser trailer for Lady in the Water, that he had wished for The Village to have been sold as a period romance with a scare only at the end of the trailer. Shyamalan is also said to have thought that the shift in the main theme of faith from his previous films to that of deception resulted in the mixed-negative response. Citing that his other movies set out to make an audience believe in the supernatural, The Village set out to do the opposite.

The Village earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Score.

Lady in the Water

Lady in the Water, released on July 21, 2006, is a fantasy about Philadelphia maintenance man Cleveland Heep (Paul Giamatti), who discovers a young woman named Story (Bryce Dallas Howard) in the swimming pool of his apartment complex. Gradually, he and his neighbors learn that she is a water nymph who has come to "the world of man" to bring inspiration to someone in the complex. Her life is in danger from a vicious, wolf-like, mystical creature that tries to keep her from returning to her watery "blue world."

The proposal for this film was underscored by a rift between Shyamalan and Disney, the studio for which he had made his biggest previous films. In the book The Man Who Heard Voices: Or, How M. Night Shyamalan Risked His Career on a Fairy Tale by Michael Bamberger, Shyamalan said that he felt Disney "no longer valued longer valued fighters." Shyamalan left the studio after production president Nina Jacobson and others became highly critical of his script, which Warner Bros. eventually produced. Critical response was again negative — Frank Lovece of Film Journal International saying simply, "this Lady is the Showgirls of fantasy film" — disparaging both the inclusion of a film-critic character (one of many elements of Shyamalan's screenplay that Disney found troublesome) and Shyamalan's decision to take such a large and personal role in the film as a writer whose work would change the world. The New York Post wrote that the film was "dead in the water", criticizing Shyamalan as a "crackpot with messianic delusions."

At the 27th Golden Raspberry Awards (for 2006 films) Lady in the Water received four Golden Raspberry Award nominations, Worst Supporting Actor (M. Night Shyamalan), Worst Director (M. Night Shyamalan), Worst Screenplay (M. Night Shyamalan), and Worst Picture. The film won Worst Director and Worst Supporting Actor.

As of September 14, 2006, the film made $42.3 million domestically and $30.5 million in the foreign box office, totaling $72.8 million. The films $75 million production cost and $70 million marketing campaign combined with the fractional percentages returned by movie vendors meant the film lost close to $100 million USD during its theatrical run. DVD rentals of the film have earned $19.96 million as of February 18, 2007.

The Happening

On January 29, 2007, Variety reported that Shyamalan showed a new script titled The Green Effect to studio executives but no major studios were interested in greenlighting the film. A little over a month later, the same magazine reported that Shyamalan's spec script (now titled The Happening) had been sold to 20th Century Fox after an extensive rewrite.

The plot involves a mysterious substance that causes people to commit suicide. The protagonist, a science teacher named Elliot Moore (Mark Wahlberg), attempts to escape from the substance with his wife and friends as hysteria grips the East Coast of the United States.Kirk Honeycutt, " Film Review: The Happening", The Hollywood Reporter, June 10, 2008, Accessed June 13, 2008.

Despite the hype of being M. Night Shyamalan's first R-Rated film, it failed to impress most notable critics. The film is produced by Shyamalan, Sam Mercer, and Barry Mendel, and was released in the U.S. on Friday the 13th of June, 2008.

The film was considerably more successful than Shyamalan's previous work. On its opening day, The Happening grossed $13 million. Over the weekend, the total gross came in at $30,517,109 in 2,986 theaters in the United States and Canada, averaging to about $10,220 per venue, and ranking #3 at the box office. The foreign box office gross for opening weekend was an estimated $32.1 million. The total gross of the film as of September 17, 2008 stands at $163.3 million. In addition to box office, the film earned $26 million in DVD rentals between October 7, 2008 and November 2008.

The Last Airbender

On January 8, 2007, it was announced that Shyamalan would write, direct and produce the live-action adaptation of Avatar: The Last Airbender, an animated TV series on the children's cable channel Nickelodeon, a series influenced by Asian art, mythology and various martial-arts fighting styles. The movie will be produced for Paramount Pictures' MTV Films and Nick Movies. The trade paper Variety later reported Shyamalan would film Avatar after The Happening.

According to an interview with the co-creators in SFX Magazine, Shyamalan came across Avatar when his daughter wanted to be Katara for Halloween. Intrigued, Shyamalan researched and watched the series with his family. "Watching Avatar has become a family event in my house ... so we are looking forward to how the story develops in season three," said Shyamalan. "Once I saw the amazing world that Mike and Bryan created, I knew it would make a great feature film." According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, Shyamalan will begin filming Avatar: The Last Airbender in May 2009; he will need four or five huge soundstages in the Philadelphia area to produce this film. On April 15, 2008, Paramount and Nickelodeon announced the official title for the film will be The Last Airbender. Also announced was the release date: July 2, 2010. The Last Airbender is currently the only movie announced for the July 4th holiday weekend of that year.

Controversy quickly arose over the casting of the film, an all-white cast for a predominantly Asian-themed show. The casting of these white actors triggered negative fan reaction marked by accusations of racism and a letter-writing campaign.On Martin Luther King Day, Derek Kirk Kim wrote a negative response to the allegedly racist casting, saying, "What if someone made a “fantasy” movie in which the entire world was built around African culture. Everyone is wearing ancient African clothes, African hats, eating traditional African food, writing in an African language, living in African homes, all encompassed in an African landscape...but everyone is white." Actor Jackson Rathbone dismissed the complaints, saying "I think it's one of those things where I pull my hair up, shave the sides, and I definitely need a tan. It's one of those things where, hopefully, the audience will suspend disbelief a little bit."

Other projects

In July 2000, on The Howard Stern Show, Shyamalan said he had met with Spielberg and was in early talks to write the script for the fourth Indiana Jones film. This would have given Shyamalan a chance to work with his longtime idol, Steven Spielberg. After the project fell through Shyamalan later said it was too "tricky" to arrange and "not the right thing" for him to do.

Shyamalan's name was linked with the 2001 film Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, but the project conflicted with the production of Unbreakable. In July 2006, while doing press tours for Lady in the Water, Shyamalan had said he was still interested in directing one of the last two Harry Potter films. "The themes that run through it...the empowering of children, a positive name it, it falls in line with my beliefs", Shyamalan said. "I enjoy the humor in it. When I read the first Harry Potter and was thinking about making it, I had a whole different vibe in my head of it".

After the release of The Village in 2004, Shyamalan had been planning a film adaptation of Yann Martel's novel Life of Pi with 20th Century Fox, but later backed out so that he could make Lady in the Water. "I love that book. I mean, it's basically [the story of] a kid born in the same city as me [Pondicherry, India] — it almost felt predestined", Shyamalan said. "But I was hesitant because the book has kind of a twist ending. And I was concerned that as soon as you put my name on it, everybody would have a different experience. Whereas if someone else did it, it would be much more satisfying, I think. Expectations, you've got to be aware of them. I'm wishing them all great luck. I hope they make a beautiful movie".

In July 2008 it was announced that Shyamalan had partnered with Media Rights Capital to form a production company called Night Chronicles. Shyamalan would produce but not direct one film a year for three years. The first of the three films will be Devil, a supernatural thriller to be directed by siblings John and Drew Dowdle. The script was written by Brian Nelson and based on an original idea from Shyamalan. The movie will be about a group of people stuck in an elevator with the devil and star Chris Messina.


Sci Fi Channel

In 2004, Shyamalan was involved in a media hoax with the then Sci Fi Channel, which was eventually uncovered by the press. Sci Fi claimed in its "documentary" special — The Buried Secret of M. Night Shyamalan, shot on the set of The Village — that Shyamalan was legally dead for nearly a half-hour while drowned in a frozen pond in a childhood accident, and that upon being rescued he had experiences of communicating with spirits, fueling an obsession with the supernatural. The Sci Fi Channel also claimed that Shyamalan had grown "sour" when the "documentary" filmmakers' questions got too personal, and had therefore withdrawn from participating and threatened to sue the filmmakers.

In truth, Shyamalan developed the hoax with Sci Fi, going so far as having Sci Fi staffers sign non disclosure agreements with a $5-million fine attached and requiring Shyamalan's office to formally approve each step. Neither the childhood accident nor the supposed rift with the filmmakers ever occurred. The hoax included a non-existent Sci Fi publicist, "David Westover", whose name appeared on press releases regarding the special. Sci Fi also fed false news stories to the Associated Press and, among others. A New York Post news item, based on a Sci Fi press release, referred to Shyamalan's attorneys threatening to sue the filmmakers; the attorneys named were non-existent.

After an AP reporter confronted Sci Fi Channel president Bonnie Hammer at a press conference, Hammer admitted the hoax, saying it was part of a guerrilla marketing campaign to generate pre-release publicity for The Village. This prompted Sci Fi's parent company, NBC-Universal, to state that the undertaking was "not consistent with our policy at NBC. We would never intend to offend the public or the press and we value our relationship with both." Despite his office's disclosure-agreement requirement and approvals of each marketing step, Shyamalan told the AP, "I was, of course, involved in the production of the special but had nothing to do with the marketing of it. If the Sci Fi Channel erred in their marketing strategy, it was totally out of enthusiasm." Other critics have since deemed viewers to be victim of a somewhat 'cheap' promotional trick which went too far.

Criticism and controversy

Some critics have suggested that he would be more successful by hiring a screenwriter to help translate his stories to the big screen. He has also been labeled a "one-trick pony" for his continuous use of what some people call the "twist" element in his screenplays. After the release of The Village, Slate's Michael Agger noted that Shyamalan was following "an uncomfortable pattern" of "making fragile, sealed-off movies that fell apart when exposed to outside logic."

In a May 31, 2008, interview with the London Independent, Shyamalan offered this answer to the question about his "one-trick" movies:"Q: A common misperception of me is ...A: That all my movies have twist endings, or that they're all scary. All my movies are spiritual and all have an emotional perspective."

In recent years, M. Night Shyamalan has been accused of plagiarism. Robert McIlhinney, a Pennsylvania screenwriter, sued Shyamalan over the similarity of Signs to his unpublished script Lord of the Barrens: The Jersey Devil. Margaret Peterson Haddix noted the The Village had numerous elements found in her children's novel Running Out of Time and publisher Simon & Schuster had talked about bringing a lawsuit but it was never filed.


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