Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Aanand L. Rai

“The film-maker in me isn’t restless”

By Ankita R. Kanabar

(From the May 30, 2015 issue of Super Cinema)

With ‘Tanu Weds Manu Returns’ garnering appreciation from all over, Aanand L. Rai is a happy man. But there’s still a sense of calm on his face coupled with a very shy smile – depicting that probably he’s not taking the back-to-back success coming his way too seriously. And yet, he holds a gratifying feeling. While we get talking all about his latest hit, find out how the director has changed through the journey of ‘Raajhanaa’ and what he strives for through his craft…

What was the inception point for ‘Tanu Weds Manu Returns’?
I really wanted to discover the dynamics of a man-woman relationship after marriage, and I also knew that I didn’t want to discover it the way people have done it before. We’ve seen this happening in a negative way at instances. Even rom-coms sometimes don’t depict the connectivity of a man and woman. So, first things first, I always wanted a love story. Another thing is I always knew that marriage changes a certain equation between two people. It takes time to settle. So this story also started with the same misunderstandings, little demands, the need to change someone , but the crux of it which I wanted to hold on to, was that despite those problems, two people are still attached. Eventually the question which rose was, do you really want to change your spouse? Will getting a look-alike of your wife, with the kind of personality you always wanted your wife to have, lead to a good relationship? That’s when we thought of having Kangana’s look-alike. I always believe that there’s nothing called as a perfect relationship. The flaws make it interesting. Flawless is boring.

Your films have some extremely unreal situations, and yet you try to make it real in its crux. How do you bring that balance?
At the end of the day, you’re telling a fiction story and your job as a director is to make it believable. When Superman flies, we believe it, when Spiderman releases his web, we believe it. So, if a film-maker is honest while telling even an unreal story from the core of his heart, the audience will believe it.

There’s been a gap between ‘Tanu Weds Manu Returns’ and its prequel. How different was the experience of making both the films. Not to mention, this time around, there were expectations as well…
In the span of 4-5 years, you grow as a person, you learn from life. That’s the reason why I never started the sequel immediately after the first part. I went to another story because I needed learning. Not learning as a technician, but as a person one needs to evolve, and I only see myself growing through my stories. Those four years and a film in between definitely gave me confidence as a director as well, but more than that, the person in me went through certain emotions when I made ‘Raanjhanaa’. So, when I came back to ‘Tanu Weds Manu Returns’, there was a different, or rather, an upgraded film-maker in me. The man who was dealing with ‘Tanu Weds Manu’ had grown during the journey of ‘Raanjhanaa’.

Talking about ‘Raanjhanaa’, it was a very emotionally draining film for its actors, who took a while to come out of that zone. As a director, what did you go through?
The best part for a director is that you only live with one story at a time. Coming out of one world and moving into another takes time. ‘Raanjhanaa’ took me to a different world, so it took time for me to move into it and it definitely took a lot of time for me to come out of it. But stories should do this to you. They should change you from inside.

In what way did you change after that?
Honestly I became strong, emotionally. I discovered that now I don’t cry easily. I think in the process of telling a story like ‘Raanjhanaa’, the way I saw death actually changed. My perspective to life got a new dimension. That man Kundan (Dhanush’s character) gave me something very strong to live with. I was always sensitive, but now I know how to hold my emotions. Otherwise, if you’d have spoken to me five years back, then one emotional thing could have brought tears to my eyes. Now I feel emotional, but people can’t see it. There’s a stronger external layer.

You’ve always made the kind of cinema you’ve wanted to make, without losing its purity –be it ‘Strangers’ or ‘Tanu Weds Manu Returns’…
In my worse days as well, I have always done what I wanted to do. I don’t get carried away by materialistic things around me, because it’s easier to sustain with simple needs. As a person, I’ve kept a lot of simplicity around me. That’s the reason I don’t have to make films for the sake of it. I make films because I want to tell those stories.

Is that why your films also reflect some sort of simplicity?
The first thing I do after waking up in the morning is to ask God to keep me the way I am. Any kind of work is the reflection of the maker. Whatever I do, I can’t take it away from who I am. That’s why I hold on to stories where characters have some sort of innocence or simplicity. I love the ordinariness, whether it comes through a character like Manu or Datto or Kundan. That’s what I find beautiful.

Interestingly, the actors who’ve been a part of your films have always shined out. What’s your process of getting the best out of them?
There’s a simple way of dealing with them – that is to trust them. It’s the faith, and it’s mutual. Most actors I’ve worked with have been selfless. Or when each person comes on board for a film, then as a family we are very selfless. Everyone does what they can to make the film good. Nobody thinks that it’s only the director’s job to make the film look good, even the smallest character played by any actor is equally important. Every actor owns the film, emotionally, and that actually reflects.

With three back-to-back hits and so much appreciation, are you satiated or is there a lot of restlessness to do better work?
The film-maker in me isn’t restless, I don’t know if that’s a good thing or bad thing. A lot of people say that directors are restless but I don’t believe so. I think if I’m satisfied only then I’ll be able to give more. Having said that, I do strive to make each film better than the previous one. I’ve grown with every film and I’m enjoying. You’re always a student of cinema for as long as you stay here. And when I say I want to get better with each film, I’m not saying box-office wise, but in terms of what I’m contributing to my audience. Am I able to give them more happiness? That’s the crux of it. 

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