Writer Raaj Shaandilyaa will soon be making his directorial debut with Ayushamann Khurrana’s Dream Girl. While Raaj began his career with a television show Comedy Circus, he went on to write comedy films like Welcome Back and Freaky Ali. He also wrote Sanjay Dutt and Aditi Rao Hydari starrer revenge drama Bhoomi. Now while he is busy with the post-production of his directorial debut, he got into a freewheeling chat with CineBlitz and spoke about Dream Girl, Ayushmann coming on-board and lots more.
Dream Girl is your directorial debut, how has your experience been helming the project?
I was assuming it to be way more difficult but it isn’t like that. We were having fun. The thing with Ayushmann is, he enjoys working and the whole team was enjoying the process. For me as a director, whatever I was asking my actors to do they were gracious enough to do it and that is how everything fell into place.
Now that you have been on the other side of the table, what do you think is more challenging – direction or writing?
According to me writing has to be more challenging. Because the director comes in at a phase where he knows that he has to direct whatever is written. But when you begin writing you don’t know what to write and what not to, you start from the scratch. So, writing will be the most difficult job in this hierarchy forever. Yes, some people do write on someone else’s story and direct them but when you have to create a world from zero and make it believable it is challenging.
Do you have to set some rules as a writer?
No, but I have to meet people to bring that realness. Be it observational comedy or situational comedy, it all comes from your observations and the real-life experiences. Talk to people, meet as many as you can, because experience won’t come to you if you talk to yourself. So as a writer for me, some things are already in my mind, some people give me, and the combination of the two is writing. There are no particular set of rules or process, thoughts have their way, own time and you cannot control them.
Tell us something more about Dream Girl…
I can’t talk much about the film at this point, but yes, it’s a different form of presentation. It’s a normal film, shot in India, the landscapes we know. People should go with their families to enjoy the film and see Ayushmann in this new avatar.
Where did the idea come from?
My co-writer Nirmaan (Nirmaan D Singh) had brought this concept to me while I was busy with Welcome Back. It was just an idea then and we decided to do something on it. It took us some time to polish it, nurture and finally stamp it ready. It was a niche film initially, now it is a commercial film where more people can connect to it.
How important is it to make your film commercial?
Making a commercial film does not always mean that one wants to mint money. The thing is appreciation; you cannot just run in a race forever without winning anything. In today’s scenario if you make good content on any platform you are appreciated, but also if a film earns good it will open gateway for that producer to make more such good films. So, commercialisation is important.
Was Ayushmann your first choice for this part?
Yes, we wrote this story with Ayushmann in our minds. We had decided the first person I narrate this story has to be Ayushmann and if he rejects it, then we will go to someone else.
What was Ayushmann’s first reaction to it?
So, I had messaged Ayushmann that I have something for you when Balaji Telefilms were not in the frame at all. Ayushmann was busy shooting for some project then which led to a fortnight gap after our conversation. In the meanwhile Balaji came on board, Ekta (Ekta Kapoor) liked the script and she called up Ayushmann and he didn’t know it was the same script I had approached him for. He had some 10-15 minutes free, he called us over to Yashraj Studios. Then I narrated a few scenes and the next thing I know is Ayushmann was on board in 10 minutes. Though he took a narration for 2 hours afterwards, but the first yes was in 10 minutes.
How did the casting progress?
Ayushmann was nervous if he can pull it off, but then when I made him understand the backdrop and the set up he was okay. Then slowly people started coming in, Anu Kapoor, Nushrat Barucha, Abhishek Banerjee, Manjot. The team started to develop so strong that it in turn boosted Ayushmann’s confidence. If you see the complete cast and crew I am the fresher here. So, I’m glad I had such a talented entourage in my first film as a director.
When an actor like Ayushmann is working in your film, how much are you under pressure to deliver what’s expected?
See, my concern has always been to execute what I want or what I feel. If the person working with me has something better than what I have, I would be more than happy to consider. So the pressure is not on one of us, we were on the same ground to make this film happen. We were having our time, enjoying the process.
We are witnessing a lot of stories coming out from North India, in this case, how do you keep the set up fresh?
When you go into the small town India to make a film, you either show the landscape or the characters closely. So, we have tried inculcating both in our film. If your film is set in a particular place, it should reflect. We have shot in Gokul, the set-up is very simple – narrow lanes, colourful houses, small shops. So when you see Dream Girl you will have the flavour of Mathura, be it Ramleela or Krishnaleela.
What do you feel about writers getting their dues and being celebrated now?
I began with TV in a show called Comedy Circus. Then, writers were not given credits in the end roll, so I asked why my name was not there. They said no one ever asked for it, but I didn’t back out. I was ready to leave the job if not given credit. So I was the first writer on TV to have spoken about this. I didn’t come here just to earn money. Also when you mention a writer you credit the content that is being made. The audience has evolved, no longer are they going for just the stars, they want to know who wrote that world. I am happy that it is happening. Every piece of good work needs appreciation. Also, a huge shoutout to all the journalists and reviewers who talk about the writers and give them a centre stage to enjoy the limelight.
For more updates and gossip, stay tuned to CineBlitz.