Raanjhanaa is an unexpectedly big hit. Your feelings?
Nothing! I am numbed. Somehow after this kind acceptance for my film the only thing that can happen is silence. And I’d rather not say anything more. My entire team has grown subdued. We’ve fought a long battle to make an honest film. Its acceptance has humbled us all. Box Office acceptance is of course important. But there is a satisfaction that comes from within the artist for creating a work he is happy about. I feel that satisfaction.
It was my birthday last week. My entire team of Raanjhanaa was with me. I am afraid to consider that they would move on to other commitments. At the moment we’re constantly connected.
Your hero goes into death with his one-sided love?
He dies a hero. What I love about my hero Kundan is that he dies happily for love. I could’ve brought him back into life. But I don’t think Kundan wanted to come back. There had to be a closure to his love. When I visited the Chandan theatre the gatekeeper kept asking me,’Kundan will come back na. He’s in a coma? He’ll return in the sequel?’ His face fell when I had to cruelly tell him Kundan was not in a coma and that there would be no sequel. Nobody wanted Kundan to die. But Kundan didn’t want to live. That gatekeeper at Chandan took Kundan home with him. Everyone except one columnist seems to have taken Kundan home. He refused to go home with her.
People were smirking about the casting of Dhanush with Sonam?
Mujhe pataa hai. There were lots of giggles and innuendos going around. I don’t blame them. My casting was unusual. But I was not listening to what people were saying. Negativity has never been my forte.
Dhanush is an acknowledged star-actor in Tamil cinema. But for Sonam this film is an all-new experience…
I am very proud of both Dhanush and Sonam. In my first meeting with her I was sure I was dealing with a very honest girl. I was sure she would connect with me and her character. I could open my heart about the character knowing he would respond.
Aanand L. Rai We’ve never seen Sonam being so responsive before?
By now she has spent a lot of time in the industry and she has grown as an actress. I understood her personality and talent. I was patient,not just with her but with everyone else on the team. When you want the thoughts and vision in your head to be translated on screen you have to understand that it takes time for the process too happen. Getting impatient and irritable would only delay the process. I am thankful to every member of my team for getting the point. Even that cup of tea that was served to me on location at the right time filled me with gratitude.
You sound very emotional about your team?
Every member of the cast and crew were on the same page. We were all moving in the same direction. Everyone surrendered selflessly to the emotions of the film. Now I don’t ever want to lose Sonam and Dhanush. I know they’re part of my life regardless of whether we work together again.
But Sonam and Dhanush will move on with a hundred projects?
And I’ll be proud of them. I want them to move on. As I am sure they would want me to.
Films shot in the city of Varanasi have never done well before?
I never thought of such things. For me it had to be Varanasi. I didn’t see my protagonists Kundan and Zoya anywhere else. Varanasi is the most important part of my cast. I needed a certain kind of energy and exuberance. Once we take Kundan and Zoya out of Varanasi they lose their characteristic vibrancy. I needed the colours,flavours and scents of Varanasi. My God,only now I realize there would be no film without Varanasi. You can take Kundan and Zoya out of Varanasi. But you can’t take Varanasi out of Kundan and Zoya.
Both Tanu Weds Manu and Raanjhanaa are set in smaller cities. Do you believe the heart of India beats in the interiors?
I believe the soul of India is in the Indian middle class. I am from the middle class. And my values as a human being and a filmmaker come from there. I may live in Mumbai. But I remain a small-town guy. In fact my entire team is from the heartland. As soon as we wrapped up Raanjhanaa everyone wanted to go home to Bhopal,Jaunpur,Kanpur,Lucknow and Indore…wherever they come from. Why are some of us afraid of our middle class roots?
Aanand L. Rai What next?
Too early to tell. But love will always be part of my films. I have a sequel to Tanu Weds Manu in my heart. But I want to ask my heart what it wants to do next.
During Tanu Weds Manu,I had promised myself that nobody would lose money. Again during Raanjhanaa I promised myself the same. But whatever I make would come from my heart. That’s a promise.
Shobhaa De accuses Raanjhanaa of glorifying stalking?
How do I respond to this? I really don’t want to even react to an opinion so absurd and myopic. Has she seen Varanasi,felt its pulse? Does she know what the city is all about? Does she understand the feelings of the young in the small cities where two people still cannot go out on a date? There’s a life beyond metropolises that some people who have grown up in the metros cannot understand. And I don’t see the need to explain myself to them.
It’s different cultural breeding. In a small town pursuing a girl until she says yes is a sign of true love?
How I treat the theme of love is entirely up to me. I don’t discuss how she (Shobhaa De) treats love in her books and column. For some people smooching even in public is normal. For my characters even saying,’I love you’ is an uphill task. You handle your relationships your way. I’ll treat my relationships the way I want to.