Aanand L Rai, 42, was always an obedient child who had abundant love around him, be it from his family or friends. He gets deeply attached to his actors and is aware that people are comfortable with him. One of his main criteria for casting is the human being behind the star. He is fully loving the appreciation his filmRaanjhanaa is currently receiving. He speaks to TOI about his emotional connect with his actors, the fearless Dhanush and why Kangana is his big brother. Excerpts:How did you get into films?
My family are originally Rai Singhanis, who moved during Partition from Sindh in Pakistan to Dehradun, when my father was 16. My parents are both teachers and I was born and brought up in Delhi and identify myself as a middle-class Dilliwala
. After school, I did my computer engineering at Aurangabad, but realised I was not cut out for a job and did not want to talk to machines. So, I came to Mumbai at 24. My older brother Ravi Rai, by that time, was directing a TV show for Anupam Kher. Within six months of being here, I decided to produce and direct my own TV shows. While TV gave me money, it was not creatively satisfying. I sat with my wife, who was also my childhood friend from the age of 12 when we were neighbours, and said, 'There is something dying inside me. I should move out of TV and do something, for which I came to Mumbai. The next few years, there may not be new fixed deposits and a new car, but you will see me growing and happy.' So, I quit TV to take a sabbatical. I then directed a film Strangers in 2005 which went unnoticed after which I did Tanu Weds Manu
in 2010. That changed my life.Were the years you spent waiting to do a film difficult for you?
I never felt low as people around me were always loving me. My needs were simple and I knew I could manage to run a middle-class home. After Strangers
, I wanted to make this one story, where the audience would feel that this director has arrived. It's only when Tanu Weds Manu
released and got appreciation that I realised that actually I had faced so much rejection in the past. For Tanu Weds Manu
, all the producers who had said no to me on my face, started calling. And the beauty is, when the same people who have rejected you earlier meet you after a successful film, they don't even make you feel that they had rejected you earlier. My only regret is that I lost my father just before Tanu Weds Manu
went on the floor in 2009.Do you miss your father?
He used to always say, 'You have an extremely sensitive director in you.' He knew how I bond with people. He loved my attachment to people and honesty to my relationships and how I looked after my family as he was like that himself. That pain will always be with me that he could not see my success. I miss him. He was always worried about one thing, that I am too much heart and so how would I earn money for my family. He wanted me to be more practical in my life and worldly-wise about money matters. I wish he could see my success today.Dhanush, Sonam, Kangana — several actors you have worked with, feel emotionally connected to you. Is that true?
Dad was my emotional anchor. After him, I enjoy being an emotional anchor to others. Inherently, I am a possessive person and have high ownership of my relationships. I trust people and I get it back. I really fall in love with my actors. While shooting Raanjhanaa,
I was thinking of Kangana and would speak to her every two weeks. While dubbing for Raanjhanaa,
Dhanush was staying with me. I felt proud of that. I am so confident of my relationships that I know even if I let them go, they won't be able to. I am not possessive about him as an actor and will be happy if he works with other people, but I know I would be hurt if I came to know he was staying with another director in his house, as I am emotionally possessive.Why did you choose Dhanush for Raanjhanaa?
I was looking for simplicity. I found it in him. To me, the human being that I work with is extremely important. I am not a trained director, so my need to connect with my actors and understand them as human beings is extremely important for me to be able to extract a performance from them. I don't understand a director-actor relationship, I understand only human being-to-human being connection. My personal need in that is trust from the actor and vice versa. At times, you tend to manipulate an actor to bring out a performance. I don't believe in that. I want to enjoy the process of living that one year with my actors and build life-long relationships.Which actors do you find attractive as human beings who you would like to work with?
It's not about doing a film with someone, but I have a feeling I will be able to connect with Shah Rukh Khan. I feel he will be able to understand me without my having to act as a director.How is Dhanush?
Now, I can say he is my kind of actor — spontaneous and fearless. He is complete heart, a great human being and an honest actor. He will not speak out his emotion and will not confront his problem. He knows he is a good actor. He knows his pluses and minuses and manages to use his pluses beautifully. He is sure and secure about himself. He is so sensitive that if he is hurt, he will damage only himself. His attachment is instant, but if anything changes in that, it hurts him. While I am attached to all the actors I have worked with, I am most attached to him.Do you exploit your emotion at times?
I am emotionally dominating and can exploit people emotionally. If I want to make people I care for, miserable, I can do that in two minutes. For instance, I love my assistants a lot and know that my silence will hurt them, so I will use my silence as a weapon for upsetting them if they do something wrong. I will not scream at them. I know it will hurt them more and it's effective.How is Sonam as a person?
She is really a misunderstood girl from the industry. She keeps her emotions to herself and actually suppresses them, as she does not want to be caught. If you tell her, 'Sonam, I love you', she will change the topic. If you tell her, 'Sonam, I hate you', she will change the topic. I can read what is going on inside her. Her reactions could make people feel that she is carrying a strange disconnect all the time. But, that is not how she is. She is actually extremely possessive about her relationships, but the fear of losing them and not wanting to get hurt makes her avoid accepting it till the last. She is really simple.AR Rahman considers you one of his favourite directors. How was your experience working with him?
You really need time to know the man. To me, he is a friend and a teacher. He makes you believe that he has no secrets and shares a lot and never hides things.What is Kangana like?
For me, she is much older than her age. She is a big brother. She is vulnerable and sensitive. She never feels that I can look after her. She will always feel that she can look after you and can get you out of any problem. She is extremely strong and I can actually call her and say, 'You solve my problem.'