Both as a filmmaker and producer, Aanand L Rai has told stories that are rooted, simple and relatable. This year with Zero, he makes his biggest film yet with superstar Shah Rukh Khan. Can it be hard for a filmmaker to serve the 25-year-old legacy of a superstar, and yet retain his own voice? Rai says he's yet to meet the superstar in Khan. An excerpt from the interview:
Let's talk about Zero – the most ambitious film of your career. I read this interview that you did in 2013 where you talk about how you have to emotionally connect with your actors. And you said that I feel I'll be able to connect with Shah Rukh. He'll understand what I'm saying without me having to be a director. How did you know then that you could connect?
I had a strong feeling. I met him in 2015. I somewhere knew that jab bhi main inse milunga, there will be something which will gel. And it has happened. It has happened magically. And I'm not talking about a director-actor tuning or bonding. I'm talking about one person to another person. I have learnt a lot from him. Again, nothing professional about it. On a very personal level. Aur main bahut saari baatein karta hu unke saath. And trust me, agar hum dono aise nahi hote, Zero is really a tough film. But I'm telling you this is one of the finest journeys I've had till now and I've really enjoyed it.
But you knew instinctively that this is an actor who you will connect with?
I somewhere knew. I don't know whether I'm able to convert that on the screen but the real man inside him, I can very confidently say, that I know him. And as an actor, what he's asking for, I can really understand that.
Working with someone like Shah Rukh is always a double-edged sword because there is a myth of a 25-year-old legacy of a superstar that you do have to serve, and yet retain your own voice. My sense was that Amol Palekar with Paheli or Maneesh Sharma with Fan were not able to walk that tightrope. Was it a struggle for you?
No, it wasn't. I'll give the entire credit to Khan saab for this. Because I never met that star. Somebody asked me a few days back, "How was it working with this superstar?" I said, "I've yet to meet him. I've yet to meet the superstar." The best part that happened with me was that before starting the film, 10 months we were just together. So when I took my first shot, the clean pure actor, without any stardom, was there with me. From the word go, when we started, he was a friend, a philosopher, a guide, a family member and a student. And it's tough for him to do that. But he did it. And that's the reason I can say that it's a 100% pure film. There is no hangover, there is no stardom, there is no pretence. And this was the basic requirement for Zero. And I think, we have been able to attain that purity.