Note: This interview contains major spoilers from the movie.
If you've seen filmmaker Sriram Raghavan's AndhaDhun, you'd agree that the thriller leaves you with more questions than answers. Does Ayushmann Khurrana's Akash regain his eyesight? But how? Or maybe he never lost it. The theories are endless, as are the chat threads on the internet which dissect the open-ended final moments of the movie. Raghavan and his co-writer and editor Pooja Ladha Surti are rather pleased with the confusion they have caused. It was a "definite ambiguous end", they explain. Then, there are also the various fanboy tributes to films and filmmakers Raghavan admires that he sneaked into the movie.
Here we ask Raghavan and Surti to uncover all the hidden meanings of AndhaDhun.
It's been weeks since the release of AndhaDhun and there are several YouTube videos and Quora threads with people decoding the possible meanings of how the film ended.
Sriram Raghavan: Which is a big surprise! The conventional wisdom all around us was don't make it a divisive ending. The example of The Lunchbox was given to us – that people didn't understand the end. I was like 'are you daft?' So yes, the end was a risk. It could have gone all wrong if too many people said samajh mein nahi aaya.
Pooja Ladha Surti: It was a definite ambiguous end.
How many possible explanations did you think of while constructing the open ending?
PS: There are about 2-3 right answers to what the end means.
SR: In the second half what can happen is that either he is still blind and he's become a better musician. He's found his groove but he's used to being blind. That is one possible ending. He could have just been kicking the can out of his way, doesn't mean he can see.
The other is that he's not blind and it's a subterfuge kind of a thing. But then how did he get the eyes? Again that opens up a bunch of questions. He could have got it from many sources. And in the film there is a structural break also which could be there for the heck of it or it could be there for a reason (when it skips two years ahead). So to answer any of these would reduce the whole thing. We thought after the titles we'll have a post credit or something, but then we decided against it.
Also we used to have screenings where I'd ask 3 or 4 people I trust to watch the movie. I'd ask them 'what did you think of the end?' and it was quite funny to see one person saying something and another saying something else. So I thought let's stick to that.
One of the theories I read was that Ayushmann never lost his eyesight in the second half.
SR: No, that's not possible.
The other theory is that the rabbit didn't exist. The fact that there was a rabbit on his walking stick meant he was using it to make up a story.
SR: That's quite possible.
PS: But we didn't want The Usual Suspects end where you are very sure that he conned the policeman. But yes, this theory that he could be making that last bit up is possible. He must have lied to Radhika Apte's character Sophie about what could have happened.
SR: If I was watching the movie objectively, I would think Ayushmann's taken Tabu's eyes.
PS: In the film you see the doctor has said that the we'll sell her kidney, get the money, you'll be able to get your eyes back, etc …. and then you see the car passes this lone tree and we cut to Europe and we say two years later. So in that version they never stopped, they went wherever they had to go, they harvested her and the doctor gave him the eyes and later when he meets this old girlfriend in Europe he's not able to tell her that this is what I did. It's a horrible thing to have that burden on your head so he doesn't want to tell anyone what he did. So he pretends to be the victim and she continues to be the villain. He tells Sophie 'I tried to help Simi, and then she tried to kill me, but god saved me…' It may be a lie.
SR: You've seen Life of Pi, right? That was one ending in my head – where you believe what you want to believe. So Radhika is one of the advocates of that. In the end she believes he is still blind and god saved him.
And what if the rabbit did exist? How would you explain that? Because if he's blind how does he know this rabbit hit the car and that's how Tabu dies?
SR: Someone must have told him that the accident has happened. Maybe the guy shooting the rabbit came and told him that 'ek khargosh tha aur usne tumhain bacha liya'. This probably happened at the time he is standing on the highway and the car is burning. Maybe after some time a bus came and people helped him. So he's still blind. In fact, Pooja had another ending she should narrate.
PS: So I had an ending which was the bleakest of the lot. In that Ayushmann is sitting in the car and the doctor is telling him about the sheikh and making the money for his operation. Then the doctor goes out to look at the boot of the car and his bag is lying there which has a whole bunch of syringes. When he's back, Akash says I've thought about it and I know what I want to do and then he stabs the person sitting next to him thinking it's the doctor, but it's actually Tabu. And Akash gets out of the car to rescue Tabu and stumbles on the dead body of the doctor. This was a singular end instead of the ambiguous one.
When you have so many possible theories, how do you brief your actors? Do you explain the various versions to them?
PS: Ayushmann had his own ending! He wanted a definitive one.
SR: I used to tell Tabu 'are you the victim or are you the villain – depends on how you interpret the situation' She'd look at us and say 'kya kar rahe ho tum log'.
You said something about putting post credits. What were the ideas you'll were working on?
SR: In one we put a small girl doing the hula hoop and in the end her father comes and picks her up and it's the same sheikh they were going to sell Tabu's kidney to. We also contemplated the screen going blank and then hearing the sound of the can being tossed so people would wonder where it came from.
Tabu's name Simi was a tribute to Simi Garewal's Kamini from Karz
We had a bunch of names and Pooja liked Simi. And I thought it makes sense because of Karz and what happens when she kills Raj Kiran's character – she runs him down with her car.
The big murder scene was inspired by how Sriram shot 'Raabta' in Agent Vinod
That idea was there. A lot of people didn't like Agent Vinod as a movie but they liked that song. People used to keep asking me if that lady playing piano was deaf too because there are guns going off. So when we were working on this scene that thought was there in our heads – the general idea that there's mayhem happening and there's a blind piano player in the middle of it. Although in AndhaDhun it is funny and in Agent Vinod it was lyrical.
The auto with 'Mud Mud Ke Na Dekh' written behind was a tribute to Raj Kapoor's Shree 420
Yes! 'Mud Mud Ke Na Dekh' was one of the initial titles of the film. Shree 420 is one of my favourite movies and the title sort of fits Akash's character too. In fact, we thought we'd take the song and make a new version of it. The song is also about giving in and corruption in a sense. So when we were shooting with the auto we thought this is a chance to register the title of the movie in some way.
Ayushmann's band Aznavour was a hat-tip to Francois Truffaut's Shoot The Piano Player
Yes, that was just for fun. I didn't think anyone would notice. And Charles Aznavour (the actor in Truffaut's film) just passed away a few days after our release. Shoot The Piano Player was also the working title of our film for the longest time. We had it on our clap board. But then it was an English title so I changed it.
Tabu reading Anita: The Trophy Wife which is about the murder of an older man married to a young woman
This was planned. I had just ordered the book by Sujatha Rangarajan on Amazon. These were Tamil books that had been translated into English. I remember my mother reading them earlier, but I don't know how to read in Tamil. Sujatha is a great screenwriter too who has written a lot of Mani Ratnam's films. I thought Anita: The Trophy Wife was a good book to give Tabu's character.
There's one which people missed because the camera doesn't really hold on it, but the building where the Manav Vij's character gets trapped in is called Kalyanji Heights because we have used Kalyanji-Anandji type of music there! (laughs) I do this for myself. I don't think even Manav knows. He had a lot of running to do that day so I didn't bother him with all this.
This I don't expect anyone to know but Mrs. Dsa's character was named after one of my class teachers – she's 95 now. I met her few years ago and I was so happy to meet her. In the script we called her character Miss Marple – an old lady who solves the mystery. When we needed to put a name, we used Mrs. Dsa.