Luv Ranjan's most known piece of work is not his debut sleeper hit Pyaar Ka Punchnama(2011), but a snippet from the film. The clip which has 2 million hits on YouTube has acquired an online afterlife of its own, even viewed by people who haven't seen the film. It's an angry, comical 5-minute rant by the film's key protagonist about his annoying, manipulative girlfriend in front of his flatmate. The scene contains the essence of Pyaar Ka Punchnama 1 and 2 (the sequel came out in 2015), which are about three flatmates who struggle with the women in their lives : The Boy vs Girl story told from the boy's point-of-view, and Ranjan's flair and ability to take it to unexpected places. The monologue touches everything from Batman to the pug in the Vodafone commercial to Christopher Columbus to the bullshit fantasy of Bollywood love stories.
It's an inspired bit which shows imagination and it has clearly resonated with many an Indian male. But it also makes you wonder why the director wouldn't bother to show the female characters as anything more than cardboard cut-outs. Ranjan's second film Akaash Vani(2013), reasonably different from the Punchnama films, gives equal importance to its male and female leads. But that film is also his only commercially unsuccessful one. Will Ranjan's new comedy Sonu Ke Titu Ki Sweety, releasing in theatres on 23 February, be more like Punchnama or Akaash Vani? Or neither? In the film, Sonu's best friend Titu, is getting married to Sweety. She is supposed to be The Perfect Woman and Sonu is suspicious about it. He takes every opportunity to sabotage the wedding, and in the process, falls in love with her.
In an interview ahead of the film's release, Ranjan spoke about why he repeats his lead actors, the alleged misogyny in his films, growing up in Ghaziabad, and Woody Allen.
You have cast Kartik Aaryan and Nushrat Bharucha as the lead in all your films, including your new film Sonu Ke Titu Ki Sweety.
I'm a simple, practical guy. We started our careers together. They are good at what they do, they are hard working. None of my films were mounted on the basis of commercial viability of my actors, so creatively they fit in. Why should I bother changing them? l'm not bored of them, and hopefully they are not bored of me either.
Like Pyaar Ka Punchnama 1 and 2, the key characters of Sonu Ke … are also the guy, the friend and the girlfriend.
In my head it's 3 things. When you are young, what is your life about? The job, the work you do, the friends you have and the woman you have. When I am making relationship based films, when I want to show a young man's life realistically, those are the things that I can explore.
You seem like a filmmaker who knows the demographic of his audience.
Any filmmaker knows that. And it's not knowing but deciding the demographic and then making the film. My primary target audience the age group of 15-35. It starts from kids who are about to get into college, who are in 11/12th standard, and it goes up to young couples.
A section of the audience see both the Pyaar Ka Punchnama films as misogynist.
Are they saying that half the population of women are all nice? No, right? So why can't I show the other side? I am not saying all women are like that. I am showing a story of these three women who are like this.
When I am telling a story, I like to stick to the point. If the point is, let's say one of the male characters in Punchnama 2 having a problem with the way the woman exploits him for money, I'll cover that. She may be 10 different things in 10 different ways, but I am telling the story of the relationship where this becomes a factor. I have no interest in going into whether she is respectful toward her parents because that's not the issue here. Was Raavan a pandit? Yes. But when you see "Ramayan", you see him taking away someone else's wife and that is what the war is about. Do we indulge in what Raavan did apart from this one act?
It's also about how one reads Punchnama. I blame the boys in the films as well. "Are you not ready to see it?" They are fools. I'd also suggest that people who think I'm a misogynist watch my second film Akaash Vani. If I may say so, it was feminist in nature. It was about a woman's right to choose.
These are tricky gender-sensitive times. Would you make a Pyaar Ka Punchnama today?
I would. I think we are taking ourselves too seriously. The issues we are dealing with are not going to change because of me not making a Punchnama. A Punchnama is for fun and not to give people gyaan. And I have an equally big female audience who have enjoyed the films. If you need to, address the misogyny of TV serial industry. We are becoming a very stupid society. A lot of people went after Badrinath Ki Dulhania. They said the hero is a stalker. Nowhere was the filmmaker claiming that the boy was right. He was ignorant, his character has a clear cut journey.
People have to see things in totality. And for that they have to come out of South Bombay first. How does a guy approach a girl in Meerut? When you're saying that Badri is stalking her, are you reading the reaction of the girl? Was she uncomfortable with him? What's going on is a narrow view of the whole thing. Which city is the story set in? What's the language of the guy? What was the reaction of the girl? How did the relationship go forward? You have to ask these questions. Only then will you understand the sur of the film.
About the monologue in Punchnama — it's an outburst by a mild-mannered man who has a lot of baggage. Him generalising women in the moment is absolutely real. It's just an outburst, but there were people who saw it out of context and took it as an idea or a philosophy.
When I am telling a story, I like to stick to the point. If the point is … one of the male characters in Punchnama 2 having a problem with the way the woman exploits him for money, I'll cover that.
Who's your favourite filmmaker?
Woody Allen. I just like the way he says shit people don't say. I find that style of writing, where you are saying what you are thinking, without sanitising, very interesting.
You grew up in Ghaziabad. How did you get into making films?
I got interested in writing because of my mother, who completed her doctorate in Hindi after we (Ranjan and his sister) grew up. We used to read her books. I started writing poetry. I went to Hindu college in Delhi University. Like any other boy at the time, I was preparing for civil service exams.
One day I was browsing through a website called Egurukul.com, to find out about civil services, when I saw an option of a filmmaking course. That's when I first came to know that you can actually study to become a filmmaker. I remember ordering a book about screenplay on Amazon.
I came to Mumbai in 2002. I was 22 years old. My school friend Ankur Garg, who is now my producer-partner(Luv Films, co-producer of Sonu Ke), was studying Engineering in Nagpur. He came down and we both went to meet the elder sister of a friend who worked in a travel agency. When I told her why I was in Mumbai she said one of her colleagues had once done a ticket for a filmmaker. I went to the production house office. It was Sunil Darshan Films and they were shooting Mere Jeevan Saathi with Akshay Kumar. He asked me to come to Filmalaya studio. It was my second day in Mumbai and I was already assisting on a film set. When people ask me, I say that I haven't struggled at all.
What are you doing next?
I am writing and producing a film which stars Ajay Devgn and Tabu. My editor Akiv Ali is directing it. As for my next as a director, we'll wait to see what happens on Friday, how it continues on Monday and then take a call. That's my belief system. There are of course films I want to make, but which one will get made, what are the circumstances that will get created, all that depends on how my latest film fares.