Crime and edge-of-the-seat thrills are the mainstay of Sriram Raghavan's repertoire of films. Right from his first feature film, Ek Hasina Thi (2004) to the latest AndhaDhun (2018), Raghavan has traversed through the psyche of the Indian audience and forced them to abandon the unsuspecting belief they might hold of the unassuming man/woman next door. Such is the influence he directs over narrative storytelling that he keeps the watchers obsessed with his characters, even after the run time is over, and then some more.
Sriram Raghavan has constantly been dabbling with urbane, slick films that hinge on modern crime stories and depend on cliffhangers to keep the viewers engaged. There is downside to making such thrillers, he claims. "Audiences love thrillers if they are well made, and riveting stories. The big risk with certain thrillers, in this age, is that people will give away spoilers. Our job is to try and make the film so interesting that even if you know the spoiler, you are still hooked. It’s not easy."
One might argue that location is central to the story in films. Well, in atmospheric thrillers like Talvar, Kahaani or Raman Raghav 2.0, the city certainly adds layer to the psychological impact that one might have while viewing them. Raghavan has a different story for basing AndhaDhun in Pune, which he confesses was motivated by a personal choice. "Some stories are not location specific. Andhadhun could have been set in Shimla, Goa or Pondicherry... Pune, for me is special because I did my school, college and FTII there. The city of my childhood is so rapidly changing that soon I won't be able to recognize it. I guess, it was a desire to capture some bits of the city before it all disappears."
In Raghavan's films like Badlapur, Johnny Gaddaar, and even Andhadhun, there is a gushing sense of nostalgia with the past and an affair with retro, classic music, which keeps recurring in the OST. He says, "Well, I love old songs. In Badlapur, we had a character singing a jail break song from Tinnu Anand’s Kaalia. He was taunting Liak (Nawazuddin Siddiqui) about his numerous attempts to escape. In AndhaDhun, Anil Dhawan played a retired '70s actor so we got to use a bouquet of his old film songs in our film. Teri Galiyon Mein from Hawas almost feels like it was written for our movie (AndhaDhun)."
He adds, "I get cheap thrills when I go to YouTube and see the number of people who have viewed these songs after watching AndhaDhun. In Johnny Gaddaar, we were working with Dharmendra, and just as a lark, we decided to use snatches of his classic films as part of our OST. We used songs from Bandini, Naya Zamana and Yakeen."
AndhaDhun nears on the idea of an open ending, where the film's characters may or may not reach a resolution in the story line, in the conventional sense of the word, but a certain catharsis is delivered for the audience to reconcile with the experience of the film (The Lunchbox, Photograph). As Bollywood keeps getting experimental, the makers constantly search for fresh ways do deliver the climax. The did-he-did-he-not feeling is complex, yet alluring, even for the directors.
Talking further about Ayushmann Khuranna's Akash in AndhaDhun, Sriram says, "A crime is either a well thought out plan or an impulsive act. In AndhaDhun, the character was practising a subterfuge, for the sake of his music. And later because he fell in love. What began as a harmless prank turned deadly for him, and he kept going from frying pan to fire, till his survival instincts kicked in. Whether he becomes a criminal at the end of it, depends on your interpretation of the character."
Raghavan is the poster boy of slow-burn narrative. His film AndhaDhun is in the running for the Best Film at the upcoming Reel Movie Awards 2019 and Raghavan will himself try to outclass the likes of Meghna Gulzar (Raazi), Amit Sharma (Badhaai Ho), Amar Kaushik (Stree) and Rahi Anil Barve (Tumbbad) for the Best Director award. He says, "It is a good thing to reward content driven cinema. Often there are too many silly categories just so that X or Y actor can be given an award. I only hope that technicians are given equal importance in the scheme of things."
Raghavan is a master of suspense in India and his film AndhaDhun is also getting a theatrical release in China as Piano Player. For the love of classics, Raghavan says that his only advice to the upcoming filmmakers is that they watch 'em all.
Follow @News18Movies for more