Tanu, Manu and the Real Stuff

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After two ‘inspired by’ movies, director Aanand L Rai finds his groove, keeping it ‘honest’ with his third film

“Anurag Kashyap and Dibakar Banerjee are the Bhagat Singhs of Bollywood. They fight for their films. And you know even if their films flop at the box office, you will take something home from them,” says Aanand L Rai, director of Tanu Weds Manu (TWM).

As any decent man of the arts will tell you, stories are rarely original, their execution is. And with its maddening crowds, towering insecurities about girls unmarried and perennially eavesdropping friends, TWM is one of the most deliciously real desi rom-coms in recent times.

Aanand himself comes from a typical middle-class Indian family full of hopes for their children and noisy relatives. He credits the real feel of TWM to them. He saw India on the annual LTA holidays of his parents, both of whom were teachers. Typically, his parents packed him off to Nanded to do his engineering. But his heart lay with his brother Ravi Rai who was doing television in Bombay. The day he took his last engineering exam in 1994, he landed at his brother’s doorstep. “I did not even take a break to relax at home in Delhi. I knew if I went there, I’d have to look for a job,” he says.

“Those were the golden days of TV in India. There was creative satisfaction for everyone—writers, directors and producers.” Aanand ended up doing all three for television, and with his brother Ravi Rai created some path-breaking serials like Sailaab, Thoda Hai Thode Ki Zaroorat Hai and Sparsh, among others.

His first first film Strangers, though, was a take on Alfred Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train with admittedly generous revisions of the original. His second film, Thodi Life Thoda Magic, looks oddly familiar if you’ve seen Eddie Murphy-starrer Holy Man. Both films were major box-office duds.

But they were lessons. “I realised I was not connecting with the audience. For TWM, that was my most important task,” he says.

Go watch TMW, especially at a single screen theatre in north India, and you’ll know how well he’s connected this time. Girls hoot when Kangana says she’s okay with any kind of partner; if a man is not available, even a woman would do. The theatre is in splits when Madhavan and his friend, on entering a Punjabi home in the midst of a marriage, are asked to mount a horse to go from the gate to its verandah. 

“I wanted to create a simple, transparent, honest space with all its flaws and quirks. If you like something in it, that’s me, and if you don’t, that’s me again,” Aanand says.

With TWM, Aanand has joined India’s band of renegade filmmakers, led by Anurag Kashyap and Dibakar Banerjee, who after years and years of creative struggle are finally in a position to demand their own terms and turfs.  And this band, unlike the proponents of parallel cinema in the 70s and 80s, are very conscious of economics. Dibakar Banerjee told this magazine (‘Scheduled Cast’, issue dated 31 January 2011) that unless a small-budget film achieves a substantial multiple on investment, mainstream Bollywood will not take notice.

Aanand echoes the sentiment: “Filmmaking is not my hobby, it is someone’s business.” With a budget of Rs 17 crore, TMW has grossed more than Rs 20 crore from its run in theatres so far. With few films releasing till the cricket World Cup is wrapped up, the film will enjoy a longer stay in theatres. Add to that peripherals like satellite rights and overseas sales.

Beyond congratulatory calls from others in the industry, he has already got many offers. But he is in no hurry. “I have learnt my lessons. I will tell the story the way I want.” A message others wanting to make their mark in Bollywood would do well to heed.