Aanand L Rai on his 'dwarf' drama, working with Shah Rukh Khan and Salman Khan's cameo in the film
It can be called a happy coincidence that Salman Khan, who was approached to play the protagonist in filmmaker Aanand L Rai’s 'Dwarf' drama, is now doing a special appearance, whereas Shah Rukh Khan will be the main lead — the dwarf at the center of the film. And it's not just the audience that is excited to see the two superstars in one frame in this 2018 Christmas release; Rai, too, enjoyed himself and clapped during the shoot which was carried out a few weeks ago at the YashRaj Studios. “Finally we roped in Salman for the film (laughs heartily). When you see both of them together — that spirit — it is a fan boy moment for me too. Who can direct them in that mood? I was enjoying myself; they are great actors, great people. Lucky man I am,” says the mild-mannered Rai.
Not many know that Rai, who has given a string of hits like Tanu Weds Manu, Tanu Weds Manu Returns and Raanjhanaa, had conceived the project about five years ago, and after many discussions with Salman, the latter opted out of the film. Was he heartbroken that Salman didn’t do his film? “You can’t fight fate; this was bound to happen with Shah Rukh, and it is happening with him, so I am very happy and enjoying the process. I feel very blessed. I have yet to discover a filmmaker in me; I really don’t know what is working for me. The only thing that is really making me stay here is being honest to what I am doing and to people around me,” says Rai.
He adds, “Shah Rukh is letting me explore everything in the world, including him. Not just like a director, but also like a friend, a brother. The kind of relationship we share at this point of time is not that of a director and actor. I can talk to him about anything. Nobody is judging anybody. We know that we're making a very difficult film; it is technically as well as emotionally very tough. So excited am I that I can say my favourite line over and over again: 'Mujhe mazaa raha hai.'” 15 to 20 per cent of this dwarf-drama, which reunites Shah Rukh with his Jab Tak Hai Jaan co-stars Katrina Kaif and Anushka Sharma, is complete, and now the team is working towards finishing the bigger schedules to be shot in Mumbai, Delhi, Meerut and New York.
Even as Salman had his own reasons for not doing the film, he had told Rai that the film should be made. Now that it is on the floors, Rai says, “Every story has got its own time and space. But the only thing I feel glad about is holding on to this story for so long. This can only happen when you are in love — you can wait 10 years for your lover. I really love the story, and I believe the story chooses its own set of people, technicians, and actors.” While the working title of the film was Katrina Meri Jaan, Rai says that the actual title will be revealed in the coming months. “You will find it on Shah Rukh’s Twitter handle in the next few months,” he says.
Despite watching him speak warmly about the actor, one can't help but broach the subject of Jab Harry Met Sejal's box office failure. Does that increase the pressure on him? Does he face any self-doubt? “Not at all. Shah Rukh’s such a confident man, he is a fighter. I don’t have to worry about anything, and the only thing I know is that I have a great actor to tell a story. The audience is rejecting the story, not Shah Rukh Khan. It is not about the star,” says Rai.
Referring to the debacles of big-star films at the box office in the recent past, he says, “Shah Rukh, Salman, Ranbir are great actors and they are there to stay. It is more on us as directors, as filmmakers, who have to really work hard and understand that there is a certain kind of communication we have to build with our audience. In the next few months we will see Ranbir doing a great story working with the audience, you will find Salman back to success with Tiger Zinda Hai and Shah Rukh will also have a hit. I will accept the blame as a writer-director, we are failing. It is time to pull up our socks and do a good job at telling stories.”
Rai's filmography includes several small-town romances, but he rejects the assumption that stories about small towns have a better chance these days. He says, “It is wrong to assume that now people like rural stories. A few months ago, we were talking about the epic quality of Baahubali. Now it is Toilet: Ek Prem Katha. We can see the range — from Toilet to Baahubali, you can make a film about any subject, the audience only wants a good story. Whether it is Baahubali or Shubh Mangal Savdhan, the audience will accept a story told in the right mood and the right treatment.”
And now that he has found a firm foothold in the industry, the affable filmmaker is helping out several young and even established directors by producing or presenting their films. He will be casting Dhanush in his next after he has wrapped up Shah Rukh’s film; the duo have previously worked together on Raanjhanaa. Rai will be producing a film for NH10 director Navdeep Singh with Saif Ali Khan in the lead. Then there is Mukkabaaz which Anurag Kashyap is helming, and Happy Bhaag Jayegi Returns for director Mudassar Aziz. Next month, besides the release of his production Shubh Mangal Savdhan, which marks the directorial debut of South actor-director RS Prasanna in Bollywood and stars Ayushmann Khurrana and Bhumi Pednekar, Rai will be also presenting the Rajkummar Rao film Newton. “If things are good for me in terms of a producer’s connect with the studio, why should I not use and explore it for other directors? I can shorten that journey for them. If people have trust in me, I will use that trust, win some trust and get films on floors,” says Rai.
Though Rai made his presence felt with Tanu Weds Manu (2011) and the Sonam Kapoor-Dhanush-starrer Raanjhanaa (2013), he shot to fame with his blockbuster Tanu Weds Manu Returns (2015), which won three prestigious National Awards last year. One wonders if he will make another installment of the successful franchise. “The day I get a story, I will make it. If there is no story, there is no Tanu Weds Manu.” Denying rumours about a fall out with the franchise's leading lady Kangana Ranaut, Rai clarifies, “Things are good between Kangana and me. She is busy and I am busy with my film, which has some really heavy-duty scenes. Kangana and I will collaborate the day I have a story. Right now I don’t. I like so many actors, but I can’t work with everybody. It all depends upon what content I am working on. Secondly, it is not important for Kangana and me to work together to be friends. We care about each other, and that is enough,” he says as he signs off.