Aanand L. Rai is a Hindi film director and producer known for romantic-comedy movies Tanu Weds Manu, Raanjhanaa, Tanu Weds Manu: Returns and Zero. He is known for his perfections in the films and a person with a great vision. Aiming at Zero with a larger-than-life concept, Aanand talks more about his upcoming movie Zero starring Shah Rukh Khan, Katrina Kaif and Anushka Sharma.
Q. How did you originate this story?
Aanand: I thought about this story a long time back. I thought about this movie during Raanjhanaa. That time superhero movies we’re talked about, Krrish was out that season and was liked by the people and even I liked it a lot. But I always thought, as a film-maker, that it does not have an Indian touch. If Spiderman and Superman can fly then our Indian superheroes can also fly. So I thought why not tell people a story of someone who is vertically challenged. Idea was born long way back and Himanshu then wrote a story for it.
Q. Do you have a tension whether how this movie will be accepted by the people?
Aanand: As a director, no kind of fear for a creation is good. I really want to tell my audience this story. So what fear should there be? Of a vertically challenged man or a girl on a wheelchair who doesn’t give a feel of a commercial film? But these are the factors about which this story is about. It’s not necessary that a person who walks on two legs is more entertaining than other. The girl on the wheelchair can also be entertaining. I want to entertain my audience in the 2/2 and a half hours that I’m taking off their day. That’s my work. Now it can be done by a girl on a wheelchair or PT Usha running 100m.
Q. What was Shah Rukh Khan’s first reaction when you offered this movie to him?
Aanand: He liked the plot. He said he wanted to do this. It happened so quickly and instantly, he didn’t take much time for it.
Q. And when it came to Anushka?
Aanand: There was a long search as this is again a very difficult character to play, you need somebody very confident and talented. For that character I wanted somebody to read herself in a very positive light. That character is a very happy character. The best part about Anushka is when she plays this character, she looks like a happy person on the wheelchair also. That’s her thought process and the kind of person she is. So I got my right actor.
Q. Wasn’t your first choice Salman Khan?
Aanand: See as a director, you meet actors a lot. You get the chance and opportunity and I got chance to meet with the idea. That time it was just an idea. They’re such big actors that they give you that space and our industry functions like this. At times there are directors who come to me and we discuss the story, there are times when I discuss certain ideas with actors or when an actor comes and tells me some ideas. So it’s a process and it’s a family. So I discussed that idea, that time I didn’t had the story and he said it’s very interesting and you work on this. Then I made Tanu Weds Manu returns, so that took me another 2 years. So as the story developed, as a director I felt that the story belongs to Shah Rukh.
Q. Was Katrina the first choice?
Aanand: Katrina was the first choice. The character is a layered character. She is playing an actress so I wanted somebody very stunningly beautiful with a definite persona. The second layering is what we worked on, the human side where you are broken and destroyed but you have to keep that first layer in front. So, I felt Katrina is the right choice. Half of the battle is won when you have that persona with you. Next battle, we worked on.
Q. Your film is crashing with KGF and then next week Simmba is coming. Is there any stress related to that?
Aanand: No, its bound to happen. We have around 300 films and just 52 weeks. Everybody has to do their job the best so that you extract the best.
Q. Do you have any pressure about box office?
Aanand: I don’t only think about the numbers. As a storyteller, my responsibility is to tell people the story and I am making an entertaining film so I think it will bring on numbers as well. With the actor like SRK, we have to think about numbers too but I have always focused on gaining audience’s love from every film that I have ever made. Although that love comes from numbers itself but I am wishing for love only. Now I am focusing on my story and that people should like it, if that happens, numbers will also rise.
Q. There are few cameos in the movie with Sridevi and Madhuri Dixit. How did that idea come up?
Aanand: There were few sequence where I needed cameos. Not song sequence. So that’s a surprise that you will be seeing in the film.
Q. Shah Rukh’s last few movies have not worked out quite well. What expectations do you have now?
Aanand: Apart from that the film does well, what should I be expecting?
Q. Any reason for choosing Ajal-Atul for the music?
Aanand: It all depends on the casting. You need a particular person in your film and some particular person not.
Q. Did you had anybody else in your mind for Anushka’s character?
Aanand: Its very difficult to say now. Once you decide on an actor, then you start working for her/him. You take that time. Now if you ask me, I feel like the film was made for Anushka as a director, when you start thinking of Anushka, you start converting few things according to her. You extract few ingredients of Anushka and give it to the character. Its not always on the look on which you decide an actor, its when you sit and talk and decide.
Q. Any fond memories from the set you would like to share?
Aanand: The entire journey is a memory for me. It was a tough film, we had no other way to enjoy the process. Otherwise it is such a heavy film. If somebody asks me how this movie is made, I tell them, while playing ludo. Though we played ludo a lot on the sets. This is how we used to take away the stress. So, we were a happy team and a happy family. Anything which is not affecting my audience will not affect me. You make a film in 10crores or 500crores, audience are only interested in seeing the story. I belong to a middle class family, so I always have a value for money. So I always say that nobody should lose money. And I have managed it to do until now.
Q. Is it easier to work with stars than less popular people?
Aanand: Its easier to work with good human beings.
Q. As a film-maker, do you want to bring big actors on OTT platforms?
Aanand: First I need to understand the platform rather than just deciding on stars doing the digital. Its time to study the media. Digital is the future but we have to secure the future so we as makers have to understand the form. We know cinema and TV but this is the new beast. We have to understand and learn, Its got a different screen writing. We just can’t jump into it. We have started on a good note by Sacred Games but its just a beginning, we have to learn a lot.
Q. You have achieved success together with Himanshu. What do you have to say about him?
Aanand: It won’t be possible without him. It starts from the so if its not on paper that emotion then what will I bring it on the screen. We are partners and he has done the entire journey with me. No film is possible without a good writer.