India’s Aanand L. Rai Talks Returning to the ‘Raanjhanaa’ Universe With Dhanush, A.R. Rahman, Reveals Slate (EXCLUSIVE)

A decade after scoring a major hit with “Raanjhanaa,” Indian director-producer Aanand L. Rai is returning to its universe with “Tere Ishk Mein.”

“Raanjhanaa,” an intense Hindu-Muslim romantic drama, was the Hindi-language debut of Tamil cinema star Dhanush and featured chartbusting music by Oscar-, BAFTA-, Grammy- and Golden Globe-winner A.R. Rahman.

While keeping the plot under wraps, Rai told Variety, “When we were working on the ‘Tere Ishk Mein’ script, we realized that we are catching on to the same aggression. And in terms of genre, it’s falling in that genre of tragedy and I said, it’s actually belonging to that world. They’re not similar stories, but they have a similar heartbeat. We were getting the same feeling what we were getting when we were working on ‘Raanjhanaa.’ I said, let’s start belonging to that world.”

“Raanjhanaa” made spectacular use of the holy north Indian city of Varanasi and, while part of “Tere Ishk Mein” will be shot there, the majority of the film will be shot elsewhere.

On working with Rahman, with whom Rai worked subsequently on Disney+ Hotstar film ‘Atrangi Re,’ also starring Dhanush, the filmmaker said he didn’t want to tie the experience of working with the composer to a brief or a story.

“I want to indulge more when I have a big talent like A.R. Rahman, because it’s so much of learning and especially when you are going for a love story, you’re talking about something as pure as a man-woman relationship – it’s so beautiful to see him grow with time,” Rai said. “Even I’m stopping myself by giving him the situation of the songs. As a creative team, let’s talk about the story and see what melodies come in rather than I telling him that I need something like this. Let’s explore the entire world of “Tere Ishk Mein.”

Rai debuted as a director with “Strangers” (2007) and his breakthrough hits were “Tanu Weds Manu” (2011) and “Tanu Weds Manu Returns” (2015) with “Raanjhanaa” in between. The filmmaker is one of the pioneers of setting Bollywood films in small town India, away from overused Mumbai locations.

Rai turned producer with Ashwiny Iyer Tiwari’s “Nil Battey Sannata” (2016) via his Colour Yellow Productions and has since produced a range of films including Anurag Kashyap’s Toronto title “Manmarziyaan” (2018), Rahi Anil Barve’s Venice title “Tumbbad” (2018) and Vinil Mathew’s Netflix original film “Haseen Dillruba” (2021), all in the Hindi language. Ashish Bende’s Marathi-language “Aatmapamphlet” premiered at Berlin earlier this year.

“It’s so beautiful to see people from other countries looking at your culture, looking at your storytelling and respecting that and getting entertained – going global makes you feel that we are one world,” Rai said about his Berlin experience.

At home, “Raksha Bandhan” (2022), Rai’s previous film as director, underperformed at the box office. Rai says that the Hindi-language film industry is going through a “tough phase” and is “disconnected” from the audience.

“Regaining that and holding on to that relationship between us and our audience, we need to come up with with something very extraordinarily shocking, or surprising. So it’s time for us to churn out newer stories and more gutsy ones,” Rai said. “In my production house I’m trying to explore more newer stories and new worlds.”

Coming up are three as-yet-untitled ventures, further details of which will be revealed imminently. Rai says that they are a “pure satire,” an action-thriller populated with blind characters and an entertaining social subject laced with humor that says “bigger things in a very non-preachy way.”

In addition, there is the sequel to pulp romance thriller “Haseen Dillruba,” titled “Phir Aayi Haseen Dillruba,” which Rai promises will be pulpier. Hit Marathi-language film “Jhimma” (2021), where seven women travel to London and find themselves, is getting a sequel. “Jhimma 2” involves the protagonists travel to the U.K.’s picturesque Lake District.

“Marathi cinema has always shown those guts of getting into the space which commercial Hindi films are unable to do and doing it in a way where they are entertaining you,” Rai said. “I’m really enjoying doing Marathi films and producing Marathi films because it allows me to do something which I’m unable to do in Hindi.”

Rai is also readying a script for a series and is in discussion with leading streamers with a view to commencing production in mid-2024.

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