Aanand L Rai on working with Akshay Kumar

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As Aanand L. Rai gears up for the OTT release of his film ‘Atrangi Re’, we sat down for an exclusive conversation with the director who spoke at length about his decade long success story, what changed in him in the past decade, working with Akshay Kumar and Sara Ali Khan in ‘Atrangi Re’, ‘Raksha Bandhan’ and more…
How do you look at your decade long success story?
I have really enjoyed it. I was happy when I was struggling to make a film. I was never under stress. I was always looking forward to telling stories. And yeah, nature has been kind to me that I got to tell the stories which I wanted to. I have really enjoyed telling stories, that too without any pressure. ‘Atrangi Re’ is my most difficult film. You can’t see that in the trailer. But I have gone ahead and done what I felt was right for me as a storyteller.

Even when I was making Tanu Weds Manu with Kangana and Madhavan set in a small town, uss waqt toh waisa tha hee nahin. (It was different back then.) So, in a way, that fearlessness to tell a story is working for me, and I’m not gonna let go of that. I will go ahead and do my casting and tell my story the way I want to.
So, when I look back, as a director or a production company, I have dealt with stories which were not as conventional as Bollywood is. But again it is in the rhymes of the world where, main bana toh commercial filmein hee raha hoon (I am making commercial films only). I am not getting into the zone where I am just satisfying myself, no? I am satisfying myself and reaching to my audience to make 2 hours worthwhile. That has been my hunger.

You as a filmmaker have made films which are in commercial zone, but you have produced some films which are not Aanand L. Rai films? So, tell me what makes you produce that cinema?

It is purely based on the vision of the filmmaker. That’s what I want people to see in you. Exactly that’s what I see in other directors. Look at me. I am going to tell you a story about this relationship. I will make ‘Atrangi Re’ for you. It is my conviction, my film. It will be told in a certain way. When I see ‘Tumbbad’, it is exciting for me because it’s completely different than what I make. So I want to become a support system for few filmmakers and in process, I will learn from them.

When an aspiring writer/filmmaker comes to you with a script…

First and foremost I understand only one thing that I think is the crux of it, whether my audience will enjoy that film or not. I look at them as stories. I didn’t see ‘Tumbbad’ as a ‘different’ film. To me, ‘Tumbbad’ was also commercial as was ‘Nil Battey Sannata’. Maine kabhi bhi aise nahin kiya ke yeh off-beat hai (I never saw them as off-beat films). I saw commercial things in ‘Newton’ also and the film did good business.

Do you go with your conviction or the filmmaker’s conviction? If the film you’ve produced doesn’t work, how do you react to that?

Nahin chali, toh nahin chali. Doosri banaaunga. (Didn’t work, didn’t work. I’ll make another.) My gains, my losses.

You’ve directed Kangana Ranaut, Sonam, Swara Bhasker, Katrina Kaif, Anushka Sharma and now Sara Ali Khan who are very different from each other. What do you see in them?

The only thing I can tell you about these actresses is that, at the moment when they’re doing a film with me, what actually counts for me is that the honesty with which they come into the project. With the trust. Are they 100% present when they’re doing the film? Are they in love with what they’re doing? Are they relating to and enjoying the story way I’m enjoying it? That’s what I see.

In ‘Atrangi Re’, Sara, at her age, has pulled off a very complicated character. More than surrendering to my vision all my actresses were present in the story. Kangana se behtar Tanu aapko dikhegi nahin. Katrina ne kitna brilliant pull off kiya hai. (You won’t find a better Tanu than Kangana. Katrina pulled off her role so brilliantly.)

Why do you think Zero didn’t work?

It’s simple. I knew that Zero will take off very well. Par uski landing gadbad ho gayi. Main land nahin kara paya. (The landing went wrong. I couldn’t land it.) It got a crash landing. But I’m proud of the film. I learned a lot from the film.

How much change has happened in Aanand L. Rai – the filmmaker in this decade?

Main chaalis se pachaas saal ka ho gaya. Mera darr kam hota chala gaya with every film. (I went from 40 to 50. The fear reduced with every film.) I started playing my shots with full throttle. Mera mushkil kahaniyon ka darr khatam ho gaya. (I overcame my fear of difficult stories.) I wanted to go and explore the most challenging spaces. ‘Tanu Weds Manu’ wasn’t safe. ‘Raanjhanaa’ wasn’t safe. The layered double roles in ‘Tanu Weds Manu Returns’ wasn’t safe. Getting Shah Rukh Sir to play a dwarf wasn’t safe either.

More than me, SRK is gutsy. He is always seeking challenges. That was a deadly combo. I was putting up the challenges and he was there to accept them.

Working with Akshay in Atrangi Re…

Aapko Akshay mein dikhta hai ek star. Lekin unke andar hai ek actor hi. (You see a star in Akshay. But there is an actor within him.) He heard the story and he said, ‘I want to do this film.’ I said, ‘Dhanush, Sara are main leads.’ He said, ‘I will do it.’ And the best line was, ‘If you can think about this story to make, why can’t I act?’

As simple and honest actor Akshay is, he’s also a film lover. He said, ‘I love this story, I want to be a part of it.’ We completed ‘Atrangi Re’ and ‘Raksha Bandhan’ during the lockdown in record time, ‘aur mohabbat se’ (and with love). Akshay is a secured actor. Zero pretense. As an actor, he understands what you’re trying to do with him.

About Sara…

She didn’t surprise me. Because I was expecting this much. And she did brilliantly. It’s not an easy role. And performing in front of mega stars like Akshay and Dhanush is not easy. But again, a very confident girl. She was ready to take up those challenges, grasp it and go for it.

When she came to me, she was low. I could see that and she told me also. But that’s my job as a filmmaker to take my actor on a flight. Bohot mazboot dikhegi yeh ladki. (She will come across very strong.)

Plans with the production house…

I am looking at expansion. But I don’t want to dilute the content and quality of my films. I don’t want to make number of films. I want to make number of films with quality. Like I made a couple of Hindi films with Dhanush, I want to make Hindi films with other actors from the South.

I will explore more genres with different actors and even directors from the South. I will dig deeper and extract more stories from the roots. I will get into a certain size films. I will do collaborations. So, there are plans of expansion but without taking away the joy of making films.

I am planning to expand not to make more money but to tell more stories.

‘Raksha Bandhan’…

You will enjoy ‘Raksha Bandhan’. I am completing a circle. From the most complicated ‘Atrangi Re’ to the simplest ‘Raksha Bandhan’. Bhai-behen ki kahaaniyan bani hi nahin hai. (There haven’t been films on brother-sister relationships.) I went to take the title ‘Raksha Bandhan’ from the association, nobody had registered it. Think. Kahani banana toh chhodo, kisike zehen mein bhi nahin aaya. (Leave aside making a film, no one even thought about it.)

How did you get ‘Atrangi Re’ title?

‘Atrangi Re’ title was with Salman (Khan) bhai. He asked very lovingly, ‘Who’s directing the film? You or someone else?’ He said, ‘Aanand khud direct kar raha hai toh de do warna mat dena.’ (If Aanand is directing himself, give it, otherwise don’t.) I said, ‘Main khud direct kar raha hoon.’ (I am directing it myself.)

Credit Source – https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/entertainment/hindi/bollywood/news/aanand-l-rai-you-see-a-star-in-akshay-kumar-but-there-is-an-actor-within-him-exclusive/articleshow/88423300.cms

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