(Exclusive) Kangana is fearless and I respect her for that, says Dhaakad director Razneesh ‘Razy’ Ghai – Times of India

Whatever Kangana says outside of the film is not my concern. That’s her life. On the set, she was a thorough professional. If we argued, it was regarding the screenplay. The more you spar, the better your work gets. Like Kangana, I ran away from my home when I was 18. I stole five thousand rupees from my dad’s cupboard and left. I learnt to make movies by watching movies because I didn’t have the luxury of attending a film school”

Kangana Ranaut’s upcoming spy thriller Dhaakad seems refreshing given its cutting-edge action, style and production design. Debutant director Razneesh ‘Razy’ Ghai, who is an established name in the ad world, having made more than 400 commercials, tells Bombay Times what went into making a femme fatale film in India, a genre that hasn’t quite found a footing here, his two-decade-old journey in TV and advertising, foray into films and more. Excerpts…

Dhaakad truly seems one of a kind. We haven’t seen a full-blown female-led Indianaction spy thriller in a long time.
As someone who has been following Indian cinema closely, there have hardly been female-centric action films. Rekhaji did try something like this in the 80’s, but we didn’t have the technology or the resources back then. Now we have the resources but no one is doing it! A lot of people are saying that Dhaakad is looking very international but that’s not how I look at it. That’s my aesthetic sense and I am from this country. I live in Mumbai and I am from Ooty. Satyajit Ray’s film in the 70’s had amazing camera work and compositions. I feel in the 80’s our cinema went into a very different direction. I am trying to provide wholesome entertainment and bring back the compositions, lighting and costumes, with all guns firing. We need to put our stuff on the world map. We speak of representation but how many Indian films compete at Cannes? We generally talk more about who is wearing what. The only way is to encourage new filmmakers who have a different vision. For Dhaakad, I have tried making something different and I hope that resonates with people. Also, this film wouldn’t have been made if it wasn’t for my best friend Samir Bangara, who passed away on the same day as Sushant Singh Rajput in a biking accident (June 14, 2020). He is the one who helped us with our initial funding. He was my best friend and he isn’t here to see this film today. I dedicate Dhaakad to him. Without him, my vision wouldn’t have come to fruition.

You are a successful adman and come from an Army background. Growing up, did you always aspire to become a filmmaker?

I grew up in Wellington, a place in Tamil Nadu close to Ooty. It’s a busy cantonment area with lots of Army families. Our parents had hectic social lives, so the kids would get together and watch movies on the VCR. I grew up on World War II movies. Top Gun was also our favourite because it was about fighter jets. We would even wear jackets with those patches like Tom Cruise did. Together with my friends, we would watch great cinema. I would like to watch Amitabh Bachchan’s movies, too. I was very clear from class X that I wanted to be a filmmaker. When I told my father that I wanted to attend a film school, he asked me, “What is that, son?” He told me to either join the Army like him or become a tea planter because Ooty is full of tea estates. But I stuck to my guns and became a filmmaker.

So, basically you rebelled to become a filmmaker?

Like Kangana, I ran away from my home when I was 18. I wanted to study cinema but my dad put me in the wrong course, which led to a massive fight. I stole ` 5000 from his cupboard and left, and after that we didn’t speak for two years. I used to live in the slums of Andheri for a while because I didn’t want to take money from my father. My mom used to run a boutique so she would send me some money every month. I started working in television, then I worked my way into advertising, later I worked for a channel again and then founded my own company. I learnt to make movies by watching movies because I didn’t have the luxury of attending a film school. Things between my father and me got better when my name started appearing on shows (smiles). But despite the success I achieved, he would still introduce me as Assistant Director when I went home years ago. I reminded him, ‘Dad, I have been directing for years now’! He would shrug and say, ‘same difference’ (laughs). They ecstatically called me a few days ago to say that they watched me on Kapil Sharma’s show. I thought to myself that I have been doing some great work for two decades but it took that show for them to see it. Today, they are proud of me for sure.

We believe that Kangana was your first choice to play Agent Agni in Dhaakad. Both of you are people with a rebellious streak who have made it on their own. Somewhere did you connect on that ground?

Yes, that was a factor. I like people who are full of courage. She is fearless, always fighting against all odds and I respect her for that. I always go with a rookie or an underdog. I had shot a couple of ad films with her so I got to know her a little bit. When the time came, my first choice was her. If she had said no, then I would have thought of someone else. I fought with my producers to cast her. I didn’t just want to make an action movie but action with emotion. Femme fatale, yes, but Agent Agni is not just a lady who kicks ass. She is also deeply emotional and that’s another layer to her character. This is why Uma Thurman starrer Kill Bill worked because it has that emotion. Luc Besson’s La Femme Nikita also had that endearing quality. It’s not just about casting a woman who looks great and does action. I needed a good actor. The action in Dhaakad is grounded. We have a 14-minute action sequence where Kangana is outstanding. She has a great eye for storytelling and character development.

While Kangana is a solid actor, she is also known to be extremely headstrong, which often leads to the common perception that she is difficult to work with. Was your experience of working with her any different from this perception of her?
Whatever she says outside of the film is not my concern. That’s her life. On the set, she was always professional. If we argued, it was regarding the screenplay. The more you spar, the better your work gets. Disagreements are common so either I had to convince her or vice versa. Filmmaking is a collaborative effort and we had a wonderful working relationship. All the stuff that people told me before working with her, “You won’t have a job,” etc wasn’t true. Kangana comes up strongly against people who don’t know what they are doing. If I am captain of the ship and I start faltering on my stuff, that’s when she can get into things. But if I do my part of the job well, she will do hers.


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