Aanand L Rai: Went Too Smart With Raksha Bandhan, but Wasn’t Dishonest

Aanand L Rai Talks About His Interest in Making Films on India's Small Towns

Success never damaged my head and failure never broke my heart,” says filmmaker Aanand L Rai as he navigates his course of action following the underwhelming performance of his last two major releases Raksha Bandhan and Zero. Rai, the brain behind the blockbuster Tanu Weds Manu franchise and Raanjhanaa, believes the relationship between filmmakers and audiences is going through a stage of detachment. The Virgin Tree: Sunny Singh and Palak Tiwari Begin Shooting For Sidhaant Sachdev Directorial Starring Sanjay Dutt, Mouni Roy.

“I feel there is a certain kind of detachment between the makers and audience. Is this our fault or their fault? No, it’s nobody’s fault. Right now we are just trying to figure out what went wrong. “Did we take the audiences for granted and keep feeding them the same thing, which they didn’t want? These are the questions which are rising in my mind,” the 51-year-old director told PTI in an interview here. Drishyam 2: Director Abhishek Pathak Talks About Making of the Film; Says, ‘Even the Colour of the Cushions Was Decided After Putting a Lot of Thought’.

As a storyteller, Rai believes, the biggest mistake he committed while making Raksha Bandhan was “differentiating” between the audiences. “I was wrong while making ‘Raksha Bandhan’ when I thought let me give them something which is more of India and let me cater to the audience in the B and C tier cities. “I was wrong in differentiating between the audiences. That’s not my job. I should focus more on the story rather than selecting the audience whom I want to cater to. This is my learning,” he added.

Quoting Star Wars creator-director George Lucas, Rai said learning to make films is easy but learning what to make films about is hard. He believes the film industry has failed in gauging the mood of the audience post the pandemic.

“We are battling the same thing and trying to find out what story will engage the audience at this moment and in this phase. Post-pandemic we have failed the audience with that.”

Not only the Akshay Kumar-led Raksha Bandhan, but most of the Hindi films including Aamir Khan’s Laal Singh Chaddha, Ranveer Singh’s 83 and “Jayeshbhai Jordaar”, Kumar’s “Samrat Prithviraj” and Kangana Ranaut’s “Dhaakad” failed to bring the crowd to the theatres.

Alia Bhatt’s “Gangubai Kathiawadi”, Kartik Aaryan-starrer “Bhool Bhulaiya 2”, “The Kashmir Files” and Ranbir Kapoor’s “Brahmastra Part One: Shiva” are the only major box office successes Bollywood has seen this year.

Post the golden run of the Ayan Mukerji directorial Brahmastra, many from the trade argued that in the age of OTT platforms only big spectacle movies will be able to perform well in cinemas. Mid-budget crime thriller Drishyam 2, the sequel of the Hindi remake of the Malayalam film of the same name headlined by Ajay Devgn and Tabu, is inching towards the Rs 100 crore mark at the domestic box office following its release last Friday. Rai, however, believes it is still the story that runs the show.

“We all thought people wanted to watch a big spectacle, but then we saw Drishyam 2 working. So, it’s the story. “It was never about stars, at least for me. My foundation was created by R Madhavan and Dhanush and the audience was watching those films.” In the case of Raksha Bandhan, which was released in August this year, the filmmaker said it was inaccurate on his part to put the film in a “bracket”. “Maybe, I went too smart with Raksha Bandhan. I was trying to put it in a bracket and that’s wrong.”

Starring Kumar in the lead, Raksha Bandhan revolved around a brother and his relationship with his four sisters. It focused on his efforts to get his sisters married and tackled issues such as dowry and body shaming. The director, who generally takes over two years to conceive a story and bring it to the screens, started working on Raksha Bandhan soon after Atrangi Re, which also featured Kumar along with Sara Ali Khan and Dhanush.

Even though it was his “fastest film”, Rai said he enjoyed the process of working on the movie. “It was my fastest film but I relished it. I never made this film in a rush. I had fun. But I’m thinking hard about what didn’t work. And I’ve understood that In Raksha Bandhan, the start, middle and ending, the highs and lows, everything was structured. “Unfortunately, its emotions were also formatted, which used to work and I thought it would work again. But was I dishonest? No, I was not. I was not living it superficially. There was a strategy which failed,” he said.

Now when he is writing a new story, one thing that is clear in his mind is to return to his original fearless self, the director said. But still, Rai said, he doesn’t feel the pressure of delivering a hit. “Success never damaged my head, failure never broke my heart. I enjoy stories, I pass, I fail. It’s a journey. Do I feel pressured? No. But I do think about the audience… There were some expectations from me and I was unable to deliver.

“I was always gutsy and never played safe. But I think subconsciously I tried to do that with ‘Raksha Bandhan’ and I failed miserably.” He believes the audience wants to see that gutsy filmmaker, who made Tanu Weds Manu and Raanjhanaa, and was politely telling these stories without screaming loudly.

“I’m holding on to that. I have learned that I should keep on doing the gutsy work, without thinking of Rs 200 crore or Rs 300 crore. It’s just — cast it right, don’t size it up,” he added.

The filmmaker was in Goa to participate in an ‘In Conversation’ session at the ongoing 53rd International Film Festival of India (IFFI). Directors Kabir Khan, Luv Ranjan and producer Mahaveer Jain were also part of the discussion.

The IFFI will conclude on Sunday.

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