M. Night Shyamalan

M. Night Shyamalan
M. Night Shyamalan
Real name:
Manoj Nelliyattu Shyamalan
Who is:
Birth date:
(53 y.o.)
Place of birth:
Mahé, Pondicherry, India
5'10 ft ()
165 lb (75 kg)
Birth Sign:
Chinese zodiac:

Biography of M. Night Shyamalan

The director of Indian origin was determined and consistent in his attempts to conquer Hollywood from the start of his career. M. Night Shyamalan's early works went unnoticed by audiences. However, everything changed in 1999 when the thriller "The Sixth Sense," which received six Oscar nominations, was released. The director cemented his reputation as a master of films with unexpected endings the following year with the movie "Unbreakable."

The further career of the filmmaker developed unevenly: in 7 years, he went from an Oscar nominee to a "Golden Raspberry" award winner. The larger the budget of the projects became, the worse the films turned out: while "The Village" and "Signs" had a positive impact on Shyamalan's reputation, "Lady in the Water" and "The Last Airbender" nearly destroyed it.
Director M. Night Shyamalan
Director M. Night Shyamalan
The director managed to "return to form" by 2015 thanks to the film "The Visit." He then released "Split" and "Glass," which completed the trilogy that began with "Unbreakable." Since then, critics have been cautious, recognizing him as an "inconsistent" filmmaker – his premieres could be expected to be either incredibly successful or resoundingly disappointing. For 2024, one of the most anticipated films of Shyamalan's career was planned – the thriller "Trap" starring Josh Hartnett in the lead role.

Early Years

M. Night Shyamalan was born on August 6, 1970, in the Indian town of Mahe in the Union Territory of Pondicherry. His father, Nelliate C. Shyamalan, was of Malayali heritage and worked as a neurologist. His mother, an ethnic Tamil, was also connected to the medical field as an obstetrician-gynecologist.

Six weeks after their son’s birth, the parents decided to emigrate to the USA. The future director grew up in Penn Valley, Pennsylvania. Raised in the Hindu faith within his family, he attended a private Catholic school and later an Episcopal academy. At both schools, he felt like an outsider, constantly reminded by his teachers that Shyamalan was a non-believer.

Fortunately, as a teenager, he found a hobby that would ultimately change his life forever.
When I was 14, I was seeing off my grandmother at the airport. I wandered into a small bookstore and stumbled upon a book by Spike Lee, which captured memories of his early experiences as a director. If I hadn’t found that book, I might never have become a director.
M. Night Shyamalan
In 1985, his father gifted M. Night a Super 8 camera. The young man made his first films with it, attempting to emulate his idol Steven Spielberg. Over two years, Shyamalan made 45 short home movies, already focusing on mystical themes, and became determined to pursue a career in filmmaking. His mother supported his passion, but his father hoped his son would follow in his footsteps into medicine and was disappointed.

M. Night earned a scholarship for his academic achievements and was able to enroll at New York University in 1988. He also studied at a local school of arts, which he graduated from in 1992.

Early Films

In 1992, Shyamalan made his first feature film in India. The film "Praying with Anger" about a young Indian man from Philadelphia who tried to find his roots in his ancestral homeland is semi-autobiographical, with Shyamalan playing the central role. He borrowed money for the production from his family and friends.
Praying With Anger
Six years later, the young director released his second feature, "Wide Awake," about a little boy who decided to find God after his grandfather's death. The main roles were played by Joseph Cross, Timothy Reifsnyder, and Dana Delany. The film failed at the box office and went largely unnoticed by most viewers.

In his attempts to break into Hollywood and find his "own" genre, the director succeeded as a screenwriter. He revised the plot for the 1999 teen comedy "She's All That"; as Shyamalan admitted 15 years later, he became a "ghostwriter," since his name was not even mentioned in the credits. M. Night also created the script for the family film "Stuart Little," which was sold to Walt Disney Studios for $2.5 million. The deal was facilitated by Bruce Willis.

Shyamalan met the Hollywood actor on the set of his third film "The Sixth Sense." The director was inspired by an episode of the TV series "Are You Afraid of the Dark?" for the plot of the mystical thriller. The main roles in the film were performed by Willis, Haley Joel Osment, and Toni Collette.

The film's premiere in 1999 was like a bombshell. Both regular viewers and critics started talking about Shyamalan. He was especially noted for his unusual approach to the supernatural and the unexpected plot twist at the end, which caused a storm of emotions. The film received numerous award nominations, including Shyamalan's first Oscar nomination for "Best Director." However, in 2000 he did not win the coveted statue, which was taken by Sam Mendes for "American Beauty."

Meanwhile, in the same year of 2000, the tireless filmmaker released a new film, again starring Bruce Willis in the lead role. It was the thriller "Unbreakable," where Samuel L. Jackson also starred. Although the film didn't make as strong an impression this time, Shyamalan firmly established himself in Hollywood, proving that the success of "The Sixth Sense" was no fluke.

The director also met his idol, Steven Spielberg, who involved the young colleague in the script work for "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull." The film had a decent box office but was panned by critics.

In 2002, the director worked with other Hollywood celebrities: Mel Gibson and Joaquin Phoenix. The actors starred in Shyamalan's thriller "Signs," which set a box office record among Shyamalan's works, earning over $400 million.

A couple of years later, the director released the film "The Village" about a group of people afraid to leave their settlement. By that time, Shyamalan had already gained fame as a master of mystique, which he confirmed with each of his works. The main roles in "The Village" were played by Bryce Dallas Howard, Joaquin Phoenix, Adrien Brody, and Sigourney Weaver. The film was financially successful but began to receive mixed reviews from critics, noting that the director was becoming repetitive.
M. Night Shyamalan Talks SERVANT, THE SIXTH SENSE, THE VILLAGE and Writing Those Twist Endings
During the same period, M. Night was planning to work on the adaptation of Yann Martel's novel "Life of Pi," but ultimately he abandoned this idea in favor of another film. "I love this book. It's the story of a child born in the same city as me. But I hesitated because the book has a pretty strange ending," the director admitted.


In 2006, the director released the fantasy thriller "Lady in the Water," once again working on set with Bryce Dallas Howard. Other roles in the movie went to Jeffrey Wright and Paul Giamatti. The story of a water nymph and an apartment building superintendent turned into a failure. The film failed to recoup its budget, and it was panned by critics. Shyamalan received a share of the negativity not only as a director but also as an actor—he played a writer-messiah. The movie received four nominations for the Golden Raspberry Award. M. Night won two: in the categories "Worst Director" and "Worst Supporting Actor."
Lady in the Water M. Night Shyamalan interview
Due to the failure, negotiations for the director to shoot "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince" fell through. Shyamalan had been close to the franchise several times: he was considered for producing the very first Potter film in 2001, but at that time, he was focused on working on "Unbreakable."

Since the early 2010s, the director's career hit a rough patch. He mainly worked on big-budget projects, and each new premiere was consistently a flop. This applied to the fantasy film "The Last Airbender" (2010), which received 5 Golden Raspberry Awards, including "Worst Picture," and to the drama with Will and Jaden Smith "After Earth" (2013), also noted in the anti-award nominations. Critics emphasized that Shyamalan struggled with directing large-scale and dynamic scenes.
After 'Lady in the Water,' they said I was an egoist and a charlatan. After 'The Last Airbender,' I was a worthless director again. The critics’ reviews swing so wildly that they can't be taken seriously.
M. Night Shyamalan
During this period, only Shyamalan’s work as a screenwriter achieved success—the horror film "Devil" (2010), directed by John Erick Dowdle, unexpectedly "hit the mark" with a modest budget. This urged the filmmaker to return to what he was good at—shooting low-budget mystical thrillers with a recognizable viscous atmosphere.

Career Peak

In 2015, the horror movie "The Visit" was released, telling the story of children sent to stay with their grandparents, where they encountered an unexpected reception. The film was Shyamalan's lowest-budget work, at just $5 million. In the box office, however, the movie grossed nearly $100 million and was praised by critics. Experts noted that Shyamalan managed to "recover his lost signature style." The director was even nominated for the Razzie Redeemer Award.
M. Night Shyamalan and Cast on The Visit
In 2016, the filmmaker released the movie "Split" with James McAvoy in the lead role. In this thriller, partly inspired by the novel "The Minds of Billy Milligan," the actor skillfully portrayed a character with dissociative identity disorder. With a budget of $9 million, the film grossed $275 million at the box office and was also nominated for a Saturn Award for Best Thriller.

Three years later, the movie "Glass" was released, concluding Shyamalan's trilogy that began with "Unbreakable" and continued with "Split." Bruce Willis, Samuel L. Jackson, and James McAvoy returned to their roles. The premiere was financially successful, but critics noted its lack of originality and a sense of disappointment in the viewing experience.

The film "Old," released in 2021, also received mixed reviews. Gael García Bernal and Rufus Sewell played the leading roles. The plot told the story of people on an island where one could age rapidly in just a couple of days.

The thriller "Knock at the Cabin," released in 2023, was praised for its suspenseful atmosphere and the performances of Dave Bautista, Jonathan Groff, and other stars, but was criticized for its script. In reviews, Shyamalan began to be called an "inconsistent director," from whose premieres "it's unclear what to expect."

The director also had experience working on TV series. In 2021, the multi-episode mystical project "Servant" began airing on the AppleTV+ service, with the director as showrunner. The show lasted four seasons and received average audience ratings.

M. Night Shyamalan's Personal Life

Shyamalan met his future wife while studying at New York University. In 1993, he married Bhavna Vaswani, a psychologist of Indian descent. Three years later, their eldest daughter Saleka was born. The family then grew with the addition of two more girls.

The director's daughters also chose creative careers. His youngest daughter, Ishana, became a director and in 2024 presented her debut – the thriller "The Watchers" starring Dakota Fanning.

Shyamalan's eldest daughter Saleka became a successful R&B singer. She released her first single in 2020, and two years later, her debut album came out. Additionally, she recorded the soundtrack for the series "Servant".

The director and his family lived for many years on an estate near Philadelphia. In 2023, he bought a large building complex from the Rockefeller family in Willistown, Chester County, Pennsylvania.

M. Night Shyamalan Now

At the beginning of 2023, it was announced that M. Night Shyamalan had started working on his next film. In the spring of 2024, a trailer for the upcoming premiere was released. The film is titled "The Trap." The main character, played by Josh Hartnett, brings a child to a concert of a popular singer (played by Saleka Shyamalan). He soon realizes that the performance is bait for a maniac, and the criminal is among the audience. The premiere of the thriller was scheduled for August 2, 2024. Critics had high expectations for the film.

Interesting Facts

  • Shyamalan didn't destroy the footage from the 45 home movies he made by the age of 17. In most of his feature films, he used scenes from his early works.
  • While studying at film school, the director began to call himself "Night" for convenience, and later made it his official name in documents.
  • In 2004, SyFy channel released a documentary about Shyamalan's life. It claimed that as a child, Shyamalan had fallen into a frozen lake, nearly drowned, and was clinically dead for half an hour, after which he gained the ability to communicate with spirits. Later, the channel's management (and Shyamalan himself) admitted that this was just a fictional story, not based on reality.
  • The filmmaker was repeatedly accused of plagiarism. In 2003, screenwriter Robert McIlhinney noticed similarities between Shyamalan's "Signs" and his unpublished work. The following year, Margaret Peterson Haddix claimed that "The Village" shared too much in common with one of her novels. Shyamalan's production company called the claims unfounded.