Aanand L Rai on Zero: 'I took a big roller coaster ride without my seat belts on and I had a great fall'

Aanand L Rai on Zero: 'I took a big roller coaster ride without my seat belts on and I had a great fall'

Aanand L Rai, whose Tanu Weds Manu clocked 12 years recently, recounts his checkered journey

Dinesh RahejaUpdated: Saturday, March 11, 2023, 06:15 PM IST
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Aanand L Rai is in the vanguard when it comes to making new-age popular cinema that is slowly turning the Hindi film industry on its axis. Whether it is his use of quirky subversive humour in the Tanu Weds Manu films and Zero, or his depiction of angst-fuelled delusions in Raanjhanaa and Atrangi Re, the director has something novel to say.

Tanu Weds Manu clocked 12 years last month. The filmmaker evaluates his journey so far and analyses his unconventional choices.

Excerpts from an interview:

You are known to attempt bold subjects and new genres with most of your directorial ventures, whether it’s Zero, Tanu Weds Manu, Atrangi Re or Raanjhanaa. Doesn’t the risk daunt you?

If I want to consider myself a filmmaker, I have to first let go of fear. I deliberately veer towards that which makes me feel afraid. I have enjoyed being fearless. I have witnessed the advantages and disadvantages of my outlook but I have not been disheartened by the disadvantages. Whether a film runs or not, I am the same person... so it’s fine.

It’s not that I intentionally seek risks. The idea is to remain honest with myself and the films I want to make... even if that is risky. 

Why did you make an entirely different film like Raanjhanaa between Tanu Weds Manu and its sequel?

After the success of Tanu Weds Manu, instead of holding onto it (that genre), I tried my best to let go. I could have immediately gone for Tanu Weds Manu Returns, but I want to direct the stories that call out to me. I wanted to make Raanjhanaa first, discover a little bit more about myself and then come to Tanu Weds Manu Returns, because for that film I was demanding a certain maturity from myself.

Raanjhanaa

Raanjhanaa |

What was it that you wanted to discover about yourself circa Raanjhanaa?

Around the time I was to start Tanu Weds Manu, I lost my father. For the first time, I experienced a loss, a vacuum within myself. That turbulence stayed within me. For my next film, I wanted to see how a person like me would handle a story like Raanjhanaa with shades of tragedy. I wanted to use the story for my maturity.

Do you give a lot of importance to casting?

Yes. I express my emotions through my actors and if they don’t appear real, then neither will I.

So, can you make a film which is out of your realm of experiences or your comfort zone?

I tried that with Zero and failed. I took a big roller coaster ride without my seat belts on and I had a great fall. 

Zero

Zero |

Do you regret making Zero?

Not at all. I enjoyed making the film. It was one of the finest experiences working with Shah Rukh sir. And what is amazing is that I was not alone for the ride; he was by my side all along. We knew that we were trying something new and he is gutsier than I am. I become braver under his influence. I learnt a lot about life in the three years I worked with Shah Rukh sir because he believes in living life to the full.

Maybe people want larger-than-life heroes and you made Shah Rukh play a diminutive person in Zero...

I think you are right. If you meet Shah Rukh sir, you realise after a couple of meetings that he never lets his superstar status come in between the actor and the director. Maybe that’s where I went wrong... because he came across as so normal to me, I forgot that he has this huge image which is alive in the minds of the audience.

Why do you think your latest film Raksha Bandhan did not find acceptance? Was the story old-fashioned?

I felt that we were missing out on narrating many stories in the name of being ‘evolved’. If we think our country is no longer going through the problem of the dowry system, then we are wrong. The people I wanted to address my film to had stopped coming to the theatres to watch such films. I became the victim of changing times.

Tanu Weds Manu

Tanu Weds Manu |

Your brother Ravi Rai and you are both directors. How has your background fashioned your cinematic sensibilities? 

My parents gave my brother Ravi Rai and me an appreciation of the arts. My old-school films are still alive within me. I often remember with gratitude my Delhi days when I would sleep under the open sky and listen to Talat Mehmood songs or my mother singing... this culture still finds expression in my work. I was a good younger brother, a nice son. Once I knew I wanted to tell stories, I told my brother I was coming to Mumbai too because he was already assisting Mahesh Bhatt saab. I assisted my brother when he made some fantastic TV shows. Those were the good days of television and we started our own production house. Later, I felt my creative space was being killed by TV soaps and moved to direct films. It was a blessing in disguise. 

How do you handle stress?

I have my way of romancing life... I have been able to locate the good times in every phase. I play it like a game.

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