Anand L Rai on Raksha Bandhan, Good Luck Jerry, Action Hero: ‘Each story will be different’ from what you’ve already watched’
'Time will decide if we’ll opt for theatre release or choose OTT platforms. We are here to make stories, however, whatever I’ve worked on, it has been for theatre,' says Anand L Rai.
Anand L Rai is a director known for weaving romance in his rustic, small-town tales. Showcasing conflicting emotions and complex relationships against the backdrop of small-towns, his films Tanu Weds Manu, Raanjhanaa, Tanu Weds Manu: Returns, and Atrangi Re have won appreciation. His offbeat productions Nil Battey Sannata, Happy Bhag Jayegi, Manmarziyaan, Shubh Mangal Savdhaan, and Tumbbad have also taken cinema forward. Aanand L Rai, known for his grip over emotions and drama is all set to tell many more riveting tales. In an interview with Firstpost, the ace filmmaker tells us about his latest movie Atrangi Re, his love to portray strong female characters, working with Vicky Kaushal, take on OTT platforms, his upcoming films – Raksha Bandhan and Good Luck Jerry, Action Hero, and much more. Excerpts:
How are you absorbing the success and love Atrangi Re is getting?
It matters to me if somebody tells me that they liked the film, the hard work we’ve put in as a team. It all starts with the love for me. The film has reached the audience and that gives me satisfaction.
What made you address the sensitive topic – mental issue? What research went behind?
It was definitely a sensitive topic but every time you’d call a problem a ‘big issue’ then how are you going to solve it. You have to deal with it with your gut and address it. It might be a serious problem from a third-person perspective, but for the one who is going through the phase, it’s a casual thing. For Rinku, Sajjad was alive and the story is from her perspective. I can’t make it look like a serious problem from Rinku’s point of view. I have worked on the personal emotional aspects of the character going through a phase. We did speak to the doctors to understand the issue, but we wanted to understand it from a person’s perspective. I was telling a story and not giving solutions.
Why Sara Ali Khan, Dhanush, and Akshay Kumar?
Dhanush was a bang on casting for Vishu and there was no confusion in my head about it. I chose him not because he is from Tamil Nadu just like the character, but for the kind of experience he brought in to play such a layered character. I don’t think anybody could have done it better. He has been a great asset for Atrangi Re. Sara, again, was a no-brainer – she had the innocence and energy to play Rinku. She understood the complex nature of the character and added layers to it. She is an intelligent actor and understands so many things at such an early stage of her career. I needed someone with the kind of large-heartedness that Akshay sir has. I need a secured actor to play Sajjad. The character was somebody who brought happiness to people’s lives and they came naturally to Akshay sir.
How did you convince Akshay Kumar to play a character in your zone?
I think this is another side of Akshay sir that we need to understand – The man is not only working but he is working on good stories. If he likes a story, he would do it irrespective of the screen time he is getting. When I met him for the first time at Atrangi Re, I realized that he wanted to be a part of the film because he loved the story. He has graduated as an actor and is contributing to films for the sake of the story.
You love to etch strong female characters, provide them choices and arm them with the power to reject...
I don’t see it like that – since forever I have seen powerful women. I am not depicting anything special, women are not weak and there’s equality in my head. It’s never a conscious effort to do so. I don’t have a doubt about it. Putting in an extra effort would come if I don’t believe in it.
You are hailed as the king of small-town stories. What attracts you to it?
Honestly, when people call me king of small-town stories, it’s not like that for me. My stories are more about the middle-class world I come from. I put it in different cultures and spaces, but I talk about the values and views. I am just going to my roots and picking up stories, rather than searching somewhere else. Maybe my middle class is what my India looks like.
Why do we see stereotyping in films when it comes to portraying a person from a small town – in terms of dialect, clothes, and other things?
I agree with what you are saying. It’s not necessary to stereotype. I can talk about my films. In 2011, when Tanu Weds Manu came, the girl had no dialect because she had a back story. Even after living in Kanpur, Tanu studied in Delhi. In Raanjhanaa, Zoya was from Benaras but she had no dialect. However, in Tanu Weds Manu Returns, Datto has a dialect. It comes from how and where you place your character. It is how you decide where your character belongs and has nothing to do with following certain norms. I try to not do that in my films.
Vicky Kaushal recently requested you to cast him. What do you have to say?
(Laughs) He is such a talented actor and I would be happy to work with him. I spoke about it a long time back when I was casting for Raanjhanaa. I felt if I was making the film four years later, the only actor who I could have thought of playing the protagonist was Vicky. He is an actor who can fit in any character – He will never be cast, he will be a story whenever he is there.
How do you stay non-judgmental while telling a story?
That’s my job to be non-judgmental while narrating a story. A director learns that with time.
How do you deal with criticism?
I respect critics and try to understand their perspectives. I just don’t want them to be biased. I use criticism for my construction process. The only request I have for them is to be unbiased.
You’ve given us some of the best films. From Stranger to Raksha Bandhan. How has your journey been?
I have enjoyed my initial days of struggle, success, failures. It’s been an interesting learning process and I feel privileged to have got the opportunity to come out with stories I wanted to tell. Life has been very kind to me and I have always learned something from every film I have done. I am still learning and enjoying it. A big thank you to everyone who has trusted me. All I want is to be in the creative space and television didn’t allow me to do that. I have the hunger to tell original stories and that keeps me going.
What do have to say about OTT platforms? Do you think they are game-changer? Women characters are being portrayed in a better light.
Content has always been the king. OTT platforms are expanding the space for actors and directors. We have another platform to showcase our work. Rather than looking at it as competition to theatres, let’s think of it as a blessing. You can be more experimental, have better content, and make your films more relevant.
You have Raksha Bandhan and Good Luck Jerry, Action Hero in your kitty. Tell us something about the films. Are we going to watch it in theatres or OTT?
I have tried to do something new. Each story will be different from what you’ve already watched. I have collaborated with Ayushmann Khurrana for the third time for Action Hero and it’s going to be unique. Ayushmann will be seen in an entirely distinct character. What we are trying to do in our production house is to do varied work. We are working on different stories that keep us on our toes every time. What is very exciting is every time we get on the floors there is something new for us. We don't want to keep it easy for us. So, like good students, we get up, start working, and start learning. It is great to see our audience also gearing up for good stuff. They're also hungry for good content, which is very exciting.
Time will decide if we’ll opt for theatre release or choose OTT platforms. We are here to make stories, however, whatever I’ve worked on, it has been for theatre. From here on, we will have to be careful and decided what will go for theatre and what will go for OTT.
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