Ankur Pathak in Mumbai
Aanand L Rai, the man behind the delightfully irreverent Tanu Weds Manu is back with Raanjhanaa, a love story set amidst the rustic beauty of Benaras.
The film, according to the director, aims at bringing a nostalgic touch to a modern-day romance, that generally is devoid of true joy of love, the tragedy of loss and the pain of heartbreak.
In this interview, Rai explains the motivations behind Raanjhanaa, what it took to convince A R Rahman to score the music and what the film means for Sonam Kapoor, who is yet to find a firm footing in the Hindi film industry.
What made you choose Raanjhanaa over the sequel of Tanu Weds Manu as your second project?
I was approached by many people to direct a film, but I was taking my own sweet time to decide. The story of Raanjhanaa has been in my mind for many years. As soon as I figured out the right time, I went ahead with it first.
The sequel to Tanu Weds Manu is in the offing.
It is a fabulous story and I will make it soon. But the urge to tell the story of Raanjhanaa was more intense -- and I think at the end of the day, what matters is the passion to tell a story.
'I approached Dhanush because I wanted my protagonists to be simple and ordinary'
There were reports that you were planning to cast Sonakshi Sinha and Shahid Kapoor in the lead roles. What happened?
Yes, they were in my mind when I was at the scripting stage. By the time I was done with it, I realised that the characters that I created wouldn't suit Sonakshi and Shahid.
I needed somebody who is simple and ordinary. It was nothing to do with how they looked, but whether they are ready to look and behave like ordinary people.
I needed the small-town feel inside them and not on their faces. I saw Dhanush in the film that won him a National award and decided I needed somebody like him.
But given the kind of success your last film enjoyed, you could easily go ahead with more bankable actors.
That's true and I almost did, but I realised that if I compromised on the cast, it wouldn't be fair to the script.
This was the reason why I approached Dhanush. I knew language was a barrier. But these are exactly the circumstances where a director should take the leap of faith, and I was willing to work on it.
You set your films in small towns. What's the fascination with them?
I think all my stories ask for a certain kind of innocence. They can be in Mumbai or Delhi, but then I won't be able to capture the flavour of the heartland.
All my stories have a nostalgic touch. I go to these towns because I feel these places can own my stories. If my film only demands a little old world charm, it is only rational to set it in a place like Benaras, Lucknow or Kanpur for that matter.
'Today's generation needs to see a love story with some patience'
In Tanu Weds Manu, there was love at first sight; Raanjhanaa is a love story that gradually matures as it stems from childhood. Is it in any way autobiographical?
No, not at all. I personally feel that today's generation needs to see a love story with some patience. Not that I don't like this generation -- I'm fond of their straightforward attitude; they speak their hearts out.
However, I have a small problem with them. Their relationships are frivolous and their heartbreaks are short-term.
Two cappuccinos, one black coffee and a dessert later, they have understood love, broken-up and life has moved on already.
That's not healthy. We have lost trust. That's dangerous and it is challenging the fabric of all kinds of relationships, not just the romantic ones.
Selling old-school romance in drastically different times -- won't youthful audiences, the biggest market for films, have difficulty identifying with the story?
I don't think to any great extent. See, if you are honest to your ideas, and are not looking at random foreign DVDs for inspiration, even the most cliched ideas will look refreshingly new and will work with all sorts of people, young or old.
How different is Raanjhanaa's love story from the countless cliched ones that we have seen?
I don't think it is any different. Love is universal. I don't think my story is different, only my reasons for telling it are.
My characters are treated differently and their traits are unique. I'm not trying to sell a period romance.
The film is very much in the present, but the ideas are a little old-school. And it is the real thing. Not love that brews over two cups of coffee.
'Rahman is the backbone of this film'
What made you cast Sonam Kapoor in the role of a small town girl? She is known more as a fashion icon than an actor.
I met her and all the perceptions that I had of her instantly vanished. If you get to know her, meet her family, you will realise she is a very middle class girl.
She is the quintessential girl-next-door who behaves very ordinarily wherever she goes.
With Raanjhanaa, all doubts of Sonam as a non-actor will be squashed.
Abhay Deol and Sonam Kapoor had major differences with each other when they were filming Aisha. Did that act as a barrier this time around?
They are both very professional and I couldn't see any cold vibes on the sets. They were extremely cordial with each other.
Was it very difficult to convince A R Rahman to compose the music for the film?
Yes, but as you can see, it was worth it.
We needed somebody really fearless. Rahman symbolises that.
He's the backbone of the film. His music adds more personality to the story than anything else.
He is such a magician that he is able to tell a story through his song. He is not there to deliver mindless chartbusters.