The success of ‘Atrangi Re’ has added another feather to filmmaker Aanand L Rai’s cap, who is known for helming films like ‘Raanjhanaa’ and the ‘Tanu Weds Manu’ franchise.
‘Atrangi Re’, which stars Sara Ali Khan, Dhanush and Akshay Kumar took the direct-to-digital route and opened to a positive response from audience and critics alike.
While it received widespread praise, it also received some amount of flak from a section of the audience for its handling of the issue of mental health. But, the filmmaker takes it all in his stride and believes that praise and disapproval are part and parcel of a storyteller’s life.
In a recent conversation, Rai spoke about his collaboration with maestro A R Rahman and southern star Dhanush, the film’s resounding success and the criticism that it has received.
Talking about how Rahman is not just a collaborator for him but also a nurturer of his belief in his stories, the filmmaker says, “Whenever I try to do something which is little more than me or a huge leap (of faith), I need somebody like A R Rahman to give that correct emotion or support just be the pillar of it. And who else can do it better than the legend himself.”
Commenting on the two-time Grammy Award winner’s astute understanding of stories and the intentions behind them, he says, “He is so down to earth and so humble and there is so much to learn from him. More than the story he understands the intention behind it and he understands the soul behind exactly what you are asking. There are times when you can’t describe certain emotions or words but he is so sensitive to emotions that he understands each and every bit of it.”
“It’s always a great learning, be it from the time of ‘Raanjhanaa’ or in ‘Atrangi Re’, how music can help you to tell your story in a better way. He becomes an integral part of your story telling and the main magic comes from him”, he adds.
Rai is happy that his risk to tell a complicated story in the context of mainstream cinema, paid off with ‘Atrangi Re’, “‘Atrangi Re’ is a very important moment in my life of storytelling. I actually went for my most complicated take and I was able to reach my audience and understand their likes and dislikes both.”
Talking about Dhanush, who has put up a brilliant performance in the film, he says, “He was a tremendous actor when I started working with him in ‘Raanjhanaa’ and still remains that high-voltage actor. He is such an intelligent actor and an equally intelligent person, who goes the extra mile for his characters. Coming and contributing with such a nuanced character is something which only an actor like Dhanush can do.”
Probe him about the criticism that the film has received for handling the subject of mental health and he calmly responds, “It’s a free country and everyone is free to express whatever they want and that is fine with me. What I was trying to do was to tell a story honestly. It was in fact never a maker’s perspective but the character’s perspective of what it was going through.”
Delving deeper into it, he adds, “I was not making the film which would give you a solution on mental illness. It’s fiction and the perspective of a female character who is going through everything (that has been presented in the film). So her attitude is casual or her perspective is casual. I created the story through a layman’s perspective and not through a medical perspective.”
Sharing his learnings from the film’s success, the filmmaker makes a rather interesting comment on Indian film critics, “What I have learnt from ‘Atrangi Re’ is that the audience is not as judgemental as few important critics are. Obviously those opinions too are important. However, they are becoming too intelligent just to prove that to others. What I understood with this film is that your story should connect with the audience and that’s what matters to me.”
But, do such reactions put pressure on him? “I will never take that pressure because I know that my intention is to reach my audience. Either the audience will like your film or dislike your film, it’s not like everybody loved ‘Atrangi Re'”, he signs off with a humble smile.
–By Akshay Acharya