Donning multiple hats, Anand Raaj, the lead actor, writer and producer of Andaman, talks about his motivation behind the movie and his experience of working with Sanjay Mishra and Rajesh Tailang
The makers of ‘Andaman’ have come up with a unique distribution plan for their film after facing constant rejections from production houses.
‘Andaman’ revolves around a failed IAS aspirant who goes through a lot while working as Panchayat Secretary supervising a quarantine centre as a local politician keeps creating hurdles in his path. Helmed by debutante director Smita Singh, the film is produced by 8 Pillar Motion Pictures.
In this interview, Anand Raaj, the lead actor, writer and producer of the film, talks about the vision behind ‘Andaman’ and the unique distribution that’s been devised for the film’s release, the experience of working with Sanjay Mishra and Rajesh Tailang on the film, among other things.
Tell us about ‘Andaman’. How did you conceive the idea behind it? What were the challenges that you had to face while making the film?
I have been working hard for the last few years to see my work on the screen but I was reaching a deadlock for one reason or another. And when Covid-19 got us locked in our homes it made me reflect. I got determined to unlock my life through my own efforts by making a film on my own. When I shared the plan with Smita, she immediately came on board as she too had been contemplating to direct her own film.
The first and most challenging task was to find a compelling story which could support our budget. I come from a rural background. I heard so many stories about migrant worker’s heart wrenching struggle to reach their villages and even after reaching they could not go home and they had to be quarantined in a village school. Such stories had affected me deeply. I knew that my film will be an inspirational village quarantine center drama where multiple lives will discover their true identity amidst those tough situations. Finding a script around which got both of us excited was the major breakthrough.
But, before we could start the pre-production, I got tested positive for Coronavirus along with a few of my family members. Our entire pre-production happened while I was quarantined. From casting to entire team building, each possible preparation was contactless, utmost care was taken towards minute details. Finally we were able to complete the shoot without any accidents.
In the film you share screen space with veterans like Sanjay Mishra and Rajesh Tailang. What was the experience like?
One’s art is a reflection of one’s inner world and both of them manifest this principle completely. They both are truly wonderful people. Their compelling performances come through their innate humanistic values. Sanjay sir is very stylish, charming and has an endearing innocence. Rajesh sir’s simplicity is incredible; he is very hardworking and serious about all aspects of filmmaking. During the shoot he made each of his co-actors very comfortable and even stayed till the end, only to give me cues. Both of them can make a brilliant performance look so simple.
The film is directed by a debutant director. As a relatively inexperienced screenwriter, film producer and actor, how did you overcome the unforeseen challenges?
From the very beginning we had decided that the thing which was going to rule each process of the filmmaking would be the script. Our unity was created around the script. We made each of our key members read the script thoroughly. From a week before the shoot both of us used to sit in on script discussions each day from 6 am to 9 am and then went about our individual responsibilities.
On the set every confusion or problem was sorted with one question: “How is this going to affect our story?” Each day we hit the floor with a determination to get the best out of the few pages allotted for the day. Amidst various challenges and chaos, this spirit was finally perpetuated to all. On the set both of us had too many responsibilities to handle, our conversation was very limited.
Tell us about your unique distribution plan for the film.
This film has been made with the support of a lot of ordinary and unknown people. We want to take this film to the maximum audience . Towards that we have created our own OTT platform called Open Theatre. We are running a very interesting social media campaign in which the audiences are not only the viewers but also our partners. We are all very excited and expecting a festival of joy with our audience.
How did your journey as an actor begin? While donning multiple hats how did you balance things out? How did you tackle the conflicts that arose?
My writing happened because of my love for acting. I used to be a successful businessman in Delhi but my thirst for films and acting drove me to Mumbai. After doing a few rounds of Aram Nagar auditions, I realized that it was not the way to my destination. Though I had no prior experience in writing, I decided to give it a try. I kept on writing, pitching and polishing my scripts. My third script was picked by a big production house but could not hit the floor due to the pandemic. That is when I decided to go on my own.
On set I had to protect so many things, even the smallest of mistakes could lead to a disaster. However amidst all the responsibilities, protecting the instinct of the character I was playing was the toughest responsibility. Sometimes, I envied the luxury of focus the rest of my co-actors had. However, being a writer of the film helped me to hold on to the essence of life I was living in front of the camera. This challenge has been really an experience of a lifetime.
Tell us about your influence and inspirations. What are your upcoming projects after ‘Andaman’?
Munshi Premchand, Dr Daisaku Ikeda and Werner Herzog are my biggest influences. I am one of those who have lived Munshi Premchand, the values which he has advocated in writing still rule me subconsciously. Andaman is dedicated to Munshi Premchand. I would like to believe I am reading the best literature in the world through the writings of Dr Ikeda. His writings get the best of material from the best of writers and people of past and present. Dr Ikeda is the only reason I could protect my dream of becoming an actor.
Werner Herzog is an unbelievable reality. He is one film maker who will make you believe that the only thing you need to make a film is life. If you think you have enough life and still not making films, you are lazy. Through his writing and his masterclass, he almost forced me to take the plunge.
As a writer, my next film is likely to hit the floor early next year. Our next production titled ‘Manmaani’ is likely to go on floor by January 2021.
(Cover: actor-writer Anand Raaj)
Murtaza Ali Khan has been a film critic since 2010. He has curated and presented retrospectives and film festivals for various embassies and high commissions in New Delhi. He has also served on the jury for a variety of film festivals. He tweets at @MurtazaCritic