Sriram Raghavan has always been a visionary filmmaker, but his success has propelled in recent years.
Commencing his directorial journey with Ek Hasina Thi then making espionage/neo-noir thrillers like Agent Vinod and Badlapur, he has only gained strength as a storyteller.
In fact, his command as a director is so strong that his dark, twisted world emerges as a spellbinding visual aesthetic on celluloid.
Last year, Raghavan gave (perhaps) his career’s most celebrated and acclaimed work – AndhaDhun, which has won awards galore.
In light of his recent major triumph and the National Film Awards, Sriram talks everything related to the Ayushmann Khurrana-Tabu starrer and his view on Indian cinema’s evolving trends.
Congratulations on AndhaDhun’s big win at National Film Awards. Did you ever think the film would receive such success?
Not really. When we make a film we hope that it will work with the audience.
At that point, you don’t really think of anything else but it’s great to see tremendous love for the movie.
We definitely did not think or plan this.
I love movies so I’ve seen a lot of good and bad content.
There are many filmmakers whose work I follow closely like Hitchcock, Cohen Brothers, Almodovar and several others.
I also love Hindi movies. So it’s a combination of these things which contribute to my filmmaking style.
It’s fascinating that ‘visual impairment’ was an instrumental aspect of every character. How (if at all) was this intentional?
The ‘blindness’ itself lends to a lot of themes, consciously we don’t keep trying to do this or that.
It was not intentional in that sense.
While writing the film, this must’ve been subconscious which occurred as I went along.
The casting was very much on point. How does a director know which actor best suits the role… Is it instinct?
Oh yes, it definitely is instinct but at the same time, it’s the way actor talks to you about the character.
I prefer somebody who sees a lot of possibilities and scope in a character… Much more than me.
I had spoken to Tabu much before I cast Ayushmann. Tabu was already fixed in my head.
When we were looking for a lead actor, Ayushmann came much later, after I looked out for newcomers.
For me, there was no other choice of actors.
I would not approach superstars because of the fact that they are superstars.
I’d follow Hitchcock’s example as he has worked with the biggest of stars… But before anything, he always had a strong story and sense of talent.
So when he does a Psycho, he isn’t looking for a star-face.
The approach just depends on who best suits the character.
Be it Ek Hasina Thi or Badlapur, many of your films showcase an innocent/naïve protagonist caught up in dark/extraordinary circumstances. What drives you to include such storylines?
These are things we say after watching the film while making it we don’t really think about it (laughs).
Maybe the next film may not have such a premise… I’m very terrified of making these theories about myself.
A lot of my work is definitely influenced by the films I grew up on during my childhood in the 70s.
The Hindi cinema of the 70s which include filmmakers like Hrishikesh Mukherji and Manmohan Desai, they used to make very entertaining and sometimes dark films.
Many of these were not just fun and songs.
Despite being non Masala films, your works appeal and succeeds with mainstream audiences. What is your view on the changing phase of ‘commercial Hindi cinema’?
I never think this phase has gone, it keeps on coming. There have always been smaller-actor films that have done well.
The only thing now is that it’s on a roll where many more such movies are doing well.
It may also be to do the with the fact that movies are easily accessible and we can now see a whole lot of cinema from different parts of the country with subtitles.
When a viewer goes to the hall, maybe they want to see something else… So why would they spend money on watching something which they can in the comfort of their home?
As for international content, is there because of a lot of multiplex audiences who also have subscribed to streaming platforms.
The thriller genre seems to be on a revival in Bollywood. In what way has AndhaDhun contributed to this?
When a thriller does well, the next film of that genre also has some sort of curiosity and excitement. Badla was a good film too.
However, a couple of bad thrillers could make the genre unpopular again.
Going forward, what narrative styles/films will you be most keen on exploring?
I think each time it just depends on the story.
I recently saw Once Upon A Time In Hollywood and it’s so different from Tarantino’s earlier films, especially in terms of the lack of plot and usher sentimentality.
Some of my friends didn’t like it, but I wanted to see it again.
Each time you want to narrate a story, there has to be a reason why that narrative is appealing to you.
There has to be some reason which one has to answer for themselves.
Congratulations to Sriram and the entire team for their big win.
With such vision and craft, we sincerely hope that the Raghavan magic continues to sparkle in forthcoming works!