Raaj Shaandilyaa


Not only actors but several television writers are also making a crossover to films. The latest one is renowned television writer Raaj Shaandilyaa. Though Shaandilyaa made his writing debut in movie years ago, he is now set to begin his inning as a director.

Yes, the writer of hit comedy shows like Comedy Circus and Comedy Nights With Kapil is making his directorial debut with the hugely anticipated film Dream Girl, starring the much-in-demand actor Ayushmann Khurrana and Nushrat Bharucha in principal roles.

Ahead of the release of the movie on 13th September, Eastern Eye caught up with Raaj Shaandilyaa and tried to know from him the reason behind roping in Ayushmann Khurrana in the lead role, his crossover to films from television, and much more.

 

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Ayushmann Khurrana is a brilliant actor. But how did you come up with the idea of roping in him in Dream Girl?

There are few things which we do not plan but they just happen. While writing the story, we thought that if we were approaching an actor, it had to be Ayushmann Khurrana. It was just a thought. The reason was that he seemed perfect for the character because he has a lean frame. Also, he has done a few plays where he has essayed the role of Radha and Sita and it fitted him well. After writing the script, we approached him first and it so happened that he liked the script and said yes to it. Within 10 minutes into the narration, he said, “I am doing this film”. So, it was not planned because if he would not have done it, I would have made the film with other new actors. There are many actors like Vicky Kaushal and Karthik Aaryan who are doing well in the industry. But I felt that transforming yourself into a girl is not every actor’s cup of tea, so I chose Ayushmann Khurrana for the film.

Did the fact that Ayushmann Khurrana’s films have been doing quite well at the box-office influence your decision of casting him?

When I wrote this film, neither of his films Badhaai Ho (2018), Andhadhun (2018), Article 15 (2015) had released. Also, he had not won the National Award for Andhadhun. This was a year back when his films Shubh Mangal Savdhaan (2017) and Bareilly Ki Barfi (2017) became huge hits at the box-office. I always felt that when I am doing a commercial film with Ayushmann Khurrana, it has to be something which he hasn’t done before and even he, as an actor, has been trying and doing different kinds of films for quite a while now. I was like I should make a comedy film which should not seem too experimental. So this film has comedy in it, is experimental and is a family entertainer too. So that’s the big thing.

Did not you feel that instead of getting into an experimental zone, you should have made it an out-and-out commercial film?

This is not an experimental film because the way he speaks to people with the voice of a girl, is something that has been happening. This has been happening in bits and pieces and here we are making it prominent according to the story. There were films in the past where actors like Govinda and Aamir Khan have played female characters and they have spoken in the voice of a female, especially on phone. If you have a look at the old Ramleela, or even now when it happens, it’s always the man who portrays a woman. Yes, we are coming up with a new story and new moments.

When you make movies like Dream Girl, chances of one going over the top are higher. What were the challenges that you faced when you sat down to write the script?

I always see to it that whatever I write, it has to be entertaining. People should enjoy it and after that the story, characters or the events. Also, I still have that fear that at times it so happens that you like your own work. Because this is comedy, I know that which one will make you laugh and which will not. This is not a drama or romance. At times it so happens that when Emraan Hashmi romances, many people like it but then there are some who feel that he overdoes it. So, comedy is such that you will laugh but how much is an afterthought. So, it was an experiment but I also thought that maybe I might go over the top, but then this film is balanced and will entertain everyone.

 

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The trailer has already become a hit and also the songs have garnered good response. Don’t feel that somewhere down the line the expectations have become high?

The expectations have certainly become high and since this is my debut film, I feel good that the expectations are high and then on the other hand I also fear that since this is my first film, people might come to see the film thinking that there will be as many as 100 jokes but then there were only 90. So, yes the fear was there, and now that the trailer has received humongous response, rest assured that whatever you have been promised in the trailer, you will receive much more in the film.

And what about the music?

I had decided not to recreate any song and whatever songs you see in the movie are original ones. But then the whole team thought of making a Marathi song and then I thought that Marathi would have become a bit too much, so I thought of a Hindi-Marathi combination. And then Ekta (Kapoor) came up with the idea and said, “Let us make something that one would play during Ganapati and benefit our film”. So we made a different creation of “Daga Lagali Kala” which people are liking a lot.

You have worked in the television industry for several years, and now you are set for your directorial debut in Bollywood. How has been the transition?

It’s the same as the difference between a bachelor and married man. When you are a bachelor, you do any damn thing and it is with your consent, and when you get married, you got to be a bit careful. That’s the only difference. There, the writing had a different style because on television you could do different things every week. You could put forth your ideas every week, and here you have only one week. In films, you have to put forth your message in 2 hours and you have say it along with your characters. So that was the thing. I enjoyed doing TV then and now I am enjoying directing films too.

With Ayushmann Khurrana as the leading man, how confident are you about the success of Dream Girl?

There are two types of successes with regards to films. Nowadays, there is no such criteria of good and bad films. Today, commercial films get their due and recover their cost even before the release of the film through satellite, digital and music rights. So, now I think that since the people are liking the trailer, I am a bit confident that the same people will go to watch the film and that the film will do great business. But how much is what does not concern me. People enjoying the film is business for me and not that it is making ₹ 100 crores.

 

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You have written for Farah Khan and Anees Bazmee, two filmmakers known for their larger-than-life films. Do you think that has helped you draw inspiration?

I always feel that one cannot compare one filmmaker with another. I have learnt a lot from Anees Bazmee, I have done a lot of shows with Farah Khan and I have been observing her choreography. So, it is not that I have directed a larger-than-life-film. It is a small-town story and film. It is a story of Mathura and I felt that if you show grandeur, it will seem very unnecessary. It is like you are making a huge film while residing in Mathura. It is not needed. So, I felt that I can showcase grandeur in songs. You might have listened to Radhe Radhe. So, the song is a dream sequence. The song is a pre-climax from Nusrat Barucha’s point of view, and coming back to the Marathi song, it is not in the film. It is a promotional song. And there is yet another Punjabi song and that too is the promotional song of the film. The songs in the film are in sync with the film. There is not anything where you feel that it is going over the top.

You have previously written films like Welcome (2015) and Freaky Ali (2016). And now that you are making your debut as a director, what were the challenges that you faced in your journey and also do you think that Dream Girl has happened to you at the right time?

I feel that good things do not come at a particular time. Time is only seen when one is doing bad things. For example, you do not see time when you visit temples. When your time is good, things happen automatically. So, coming before or late is something which I do not believe in personally, but yes, I was to direct a bit later. I used to think that I would give one or two more years to my writing. But opportunity was good and Ayushmann Khurrana liked it too. So, I was like, “Let’s just do it now”. Talking about the struggle, starting from television, I had my own struggles back then. I did Comedy Circus for seven years and that journey was entirely different – writing daily and doing various things. Also, those were my initial days and I was brimming with different kind of passion. Though the passion has not decreased. I still work with the same passion. I am just enjoying the journey now and I am going to bring something new in the future.

When you wrote the story and narrated it to Ayushmann Khurrana and Ekta Kapoor, did you think you would direct it?

Before narrating the script to actors, it was decided that I would direct the film. But when I was writing the script, it was not decided. It was like that let us first write the film and then we will decide who will helm it. After the script was ready, the team said that I should direct it. I was like, “Okay. Better late than never”.

Do you feel that with Ayushmann Khurana winning the prestigious National Film Award ahead of the release of Dream Girl will help the film?

Of course, it will definitely benefit us. It is like an icing on the cake when your actor’s films are doing well and things just get connected. At times, your actors’ films don’t do well. So, it is just a matter of time because everybody is working hard. The best and worst films have the same amount of hard work invested. So, the benefits are definitely there. A film which is supposed to make ₹5 may now make ₹10. So, it is a good thing. The producer has invested money and that needs to be recovered.

What are your upcoming projects?

I am writing three films. Out of three, two are for Salman Khan Films, and apart from that, there are two films for Balaji Motion Pictures. They are almost comedy, different kinds of comedies. The next film that I am directing is also for Balaji Motion Pictures.