Dream Girl director Raaj Shaandilyaa on why Ayushmann Khurrana was his first choice for lead role
Dream Girl director Raaj Shaandilyaa opens up on casting Ayushmann Khurrana and Nushrat Bharucha in his comedy
For writer-turned-director Raaj Shaandilyaa, a huge experience in writing comedy reality shows for television came in handy while directing his debut film Dream Girl — an unconventional premise of National Award winning actor Ayushmaan Khurrana’s next outing. “Narration is very important in comedies and I had that habit during my television days that the actors always liked. For Dream Girl, too, I would shoot exactly the way I gave the narration. They must have seen my confidence,” says Shaandilyaa.
From the background that he comes from, Shaandilyaa strongly believes that script and its characters need to be the stars of the film. “It is always characters that entertain and not the hero or the heroine. These days people know the personal life of superstars like Shah Rukh, Aamir, Salman so, heroism has become less. In the era of Dilip Kumar, Rajesh Khanna, character was secondary but today character is the hero. Now we are watching more character-driven films,” he says.
Shaandilyaa wrote television reality shows such as Comedy Circus and Comedy Nights with Kapil Sharma for seven years and branched out into films as a screenplay and dialogue writer with Anees Bazmee’s comic caper Welcome Back followed by Freaky Ali, Bhoomi, Bhaiaji Superhit, and most recently, Jabariya Jodi. “There are many people who write but what one must not write is something I learnt from Anees Bazmee and few other directors: Saying something in a simple manner so that people understand easily is very important. The makers should be using their brain, whereas the audience should be just sitting and enjoying. I am now using this strategy in cinema,” says Shaandilyaa.
Inspired from the bizarre incidents of 'catfishing' on chat lines, friendship call centres and Facebook, the director and his co-writer came up with a story of a guy impersonating as ‘Pooja’ and talking to people on the phone in a girl’s voice. “I had the idea for a very long time. Me and my friends had often seen and experienced friends talking in a girl’s voice. But I never thought that I would write a film on this subject. Even in Comedy Nights, we often had men playing women’s part. Sometime in 2013, my co-writer, Nirvaan, suggested that we make a film on this subject but I said it was a very old idea and we started developing a fresh story,” says the director.
Ayushmann Khurrana was Shaandilyaa’s first choice. “I didn’t narrate the script to any other actor. When I was writing, I felt that Ayushmann was perfect for the body language and voice modulation that we needed for the film though I had this little doubt whether people will accept him in a comedy because he has been doing very subtle roles. In fact, Dream Girl can be called Ayushmann's first massy entertainer and I hope he reaches the single screen audience with this film, “ says the director. “We signed Ayushmann before Badhaai Ho and Andhadhun happened. All three of us, Ayushmann, producer Ekta Kapoor and me are from the television industry, so the bonding was great,” says Shaandilyaa.
Similarly, the director was clear on whom he wanted to cast as the leading lady. “Nushrat (Bharucha) has so far done many glamorous roles. Her image is that of a bold girl in films like Pyaar Ka Punchnama, Sonu Ke Titu Ki Sweety...but here I wanted a girl next door. The story is not about hero or heroine. She has a big role but it is not her story. But things are happening because of her (character),” he said.
As it was aimed at the family audience, the director says he was conscientious about not making the film an adult comedy. He was careful that obscenity didn't seep into the film and the dialogues. “I have just taken the liberty of few naughty dialogues. I could have written many double meaning dialogues for this kind of subject but I avoided it because my target is family audience and not just the youth. We haven’t brought that mood where you can’t watch the film with your family. It is a massy entertainer. If and when I want to make an adult comedy, I will make a hard-core one and say it bluntly,” he says.
While Shaandilyaa got the opportunity to work with actors like Sanjay Dutt, Anil Kapoor, Naseeruddin Shah and Nawazuddin Siddiqui in his very first film, he now wants to write for many other big names in the industry. “I want to work with Amitabh Bachchan, Aamir Khan, Irrfan Khan, Manoj Bajpayee. Actually I have started writing something for them and once I am ready, I will give them a narration. Currently, I am writing two films for Salman Khan and Balaji Productions and also writing dialogues for Dharma. Then, I am also planning my next directorial,” he says.
And when asked if he would go for another genre, or stick to comedies, he is ready with his punch line, “Till the time radio is playing, let it happen, don’t remove the batteries,” he laughs signing off.
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