'I am glad people are talking about Atrangi Re, good or bad. I'd be worried if they had nothing to say.'
Critics either love or hate Aanand L Rai's unconventional love story Atrangi Re, and that's just how he wants it.
"As long as no one is indifferent to it, I am fine," Rai tells Subhash K Jha.
"When I set off to make this film, I was not thinking of how people would react. I never do. I cannot be tied down to expectations. I have to do what I have to do. I had to make a film about this girl who cannot be forced to conform. For the longest time, I wanted to do a film on the father-daughter theme. When my writer Himanshu Sharma came up with this idea, I knew I had to make this film."
As Rinku, Sara Ali Khan is all over the place, and that's the way Aanand wanted it.
"I wanted that uncontrollable personality. I must say it was a delightful experience working with her, Akshay Kumar and Dhanush, who are quite easily among the best talent of Indian cinema. Incidentally, I didn't know that Rinku was Sara's grandmother Sharmila Tagoreji's nickname. Sara told me during the shooting. She was very kicked about it."
Aanand can't stop singing Dhanush and Akshay Kumar's praise.
"Dhanush is a marvel of nature," Rai adds. "What he has brought to Atrangi Re is beyond anything I expected. As for Akshay, like me, he doesn't think about himself. He thinks only about the film. I didn't have to convince him to do the role. He wanted to be a part of Atrangi Re/ I wanted a certain magic in the character he played, and Akshay brought in that magic."
People are wondering why Aanand has shown groom-kidnapping in Bihar in this day and age when it has been abolished.
"But where have I said that my film is set in present times?" Rai asks.
"My films never follow a timeline. In my film, the groom kidnapping and what follows, happens. This is the world I wanted to create with Himanshu Sharma. You may have creative and historic quibbles with my world, but I think discussion is a healthy part of any creative endeavour. I am glad people are talking about Atrangi Re, good or bad. I'd be worried if they had nothing to say."
The film addresses the very serious issue of schizophrenia, and yet, nowhere is that word mentioned.
"If as you say it is schizophrenia (that one of the protagonists suffers from) then the people around her do not recognise it by that name. Her grandmother, played by Seema Biswas, calls it madness. The characters in the film have probably never heard of schizophrenia."
"Early when I had started shooting Atrangi Re, I showed some rushes to a friend who laughed and cried. He confessed he felt guilty about laughing at the mental disorder of a character, but the laughter is not meant to take away from the seriousness of the situation. It is meant to take away the sting from tragedy."
As for charges of trivialising mental disorder, Aanand shrugs, "I am used to such accusations. When Raanjhanaa released, I was accused of legitimising stalking. These things don't bother me."
"I won't stop making the films I want to. I won't live in the fear of failure. For half my life, I was frightened. I am not going to be frightened as a film-maker. I want to make the films that will be discussed long after I am gone."
In the end-credits of Atrangi Re, Rai has paid his team members A R Rahman, (lyricist) Irshad Kaamil, (cinematographer) Pankaj Kumar, (editor) Hemal Kothari and (writer) Himanshu Sharma a tribute by designating Atrangi Re as their film.
Rai says he hadn't planned this as a gimmick to impress the audience on how generous he was.
"I genuinely feel the film couldn't have been made without them. Rahman sir's music takes my film to another level. I told him I didn't want single songs that would go up the charts. I wanted a soundtrack album where the music and songs carry the story forward."
Any regrets about Atrangi Re not being able to release in movie theatres?
"Of course, I wanted it released in theatres. That's where Atrangi Re belongs. Having said that, I don't think there was a choice in the matter. The OTT platform doesn't diminish the impact of my film."