(From L to R ) Dhanush, Sara Ali Khan and Tovino Thomas
With every scene, as he became emotionally closer to his actors, Aanand L Rai realised that something transformative was happening. In his 2021 film, Atrangi Re (Disney+Hotstar), he wanted to explore the purest form of love, both the man-woman and the father-daughter relationships. He wanted to be in a meditative state so he could touch the soul of his actors and audiences. “I really wanted to do this, especially after the commercial failure of Zero (his 2018 film starring Shah Rukh Khan). I wanted to tell everyone I have not finished with a complicated story. No one can stop me from dreaming,” says Rai. He is still trying to understand some of the criticism of the film because of its depiction of mental health. “Logically and politically, they are right,” says Rai, “but there is no logic when you fall in love.” He doesn’t believe in explaining, underlining, citing and cross-referencing everything if he is making a love story. “Otherwise, you can only fall in love after doing a blood test,” he says, “but life is not like that.” The son of a teacher, from a middle-class home in Delhi, he wants to tell his kind of stories and stay happy. “And I am reaching the audience that matters to me,” he says. There is no science to his casting or his story, he says. Sara Ali Khan was never lenient with herself. She lived her character Rinku every moment. “Sara is such a beautiful kid; she depicts freedom so well. She should enjoy the fearlessness with which she played Rinku.” As for Dhanush, only he could play the purest form of love. And Rai needed as big a star as Akshay Kumar to propel the story. “It took him just 15 minutes to say yes. He told me if you have the guts to tell the story, I have the guts to do it. You have to tell these stories, especially after a certain period in the industry. It is my duty, my responsibility,” he says. Something has to be out of the syllabus.
How many superheroes can say they live in the house they were born in, in a joint family, with lots of birds, fish and a dog? Well, Tovino Thomas aka Minnal Murali aka Lightning Murali can do so with pride. The actor, born in Irinjalakuda, Thrissur, has acted in 40 films since he began in Malayalam movies in 2012 and is one of the leading lights of the industry’s resurgence. Even as the two greats, Mammootty and Mohanlal, fondly known as Mammukka and Laletan, continue to shine brightly, Prithviraj, who straddles the old and new, Fahadh Faasil, Dulquer Salmaan and Tovino Thomas are showing the way to other industries. “We are all teammates. Yes, we have healthy competition. We are trying to take Malayalam movies across the globe, but we all know we can’t do it alone,” he says. Indeed, Tovino has been generous in remembering those who’ve helped him. From his breakthrough film Ennu Ninte Moideen (2015), where he was cast as a villain at Prithviraj’s persuasion, to his first noticeable role in ABCD (2013), which starred Dulquer Salmaan, he is quick to recount the step-up he’s got. He was assistant director in Dulquer’s Theevram (2012), and did a cameo in his recent Kurup. And when the teaser of Minnal Murali came out, Fahadh Faasil and Prithviraj were among the many stalwarts to launch it. “We all try and support each other so we can grow,” he says. The appreciation he has got for the Netflix film Minnal Murali (2021) has put him in the big league, but the 32-year-old actor remains grounded and hardworking.
Thought for the Week
From Himanshu Sharma, writer of Atrangi Re: “The world needs new storytellers, but we also need a new gaze and a fresh perspective with which our work is critiqued. How can you have age-old standards to look at new work? The advent of digitalisation has given a voice to the ordinary viewer. People should speak their mind about what they like, and don’t like.” Facts should never blind you from seeing the truth and intent of one’s work. “We are not here for propaganda or agenda. You have to give people new stories and ideas to talk about.”