A Minute With: Sriram Raghavan

February 6, 2015

Director Sriram Raghavan lives on the fringes of Bollywood, rarely making the scene unless he has a film about to come out. The film-maker is also unusual in that he has made two of the most underrated but slickest crime thrillers to come out of Bollywood in recent times, “Ek Hasina Thi” (“There Once Was a Beautiful Woman”) and “Johnny Gaddar”, while being inspired by, but never weighed down by the kitschy melodrama that most Bollywood thrillers are known for.

Raghavan’s latest film “Badlapur” is based partly on a book by Italian author Massimo Carlotto, and is a revenge drama of a man whose wife and son are killed, prompting him to seek vengeance. Raghavan spoke about the film, his love of the crime genre and why his last project didn’t do well at the box office.

Q: What is it that draws you to the crime genre?

A: I have no particular reason. Why does Stephen King write certain kind of stories and why does PG Wodehouse write the books he writes? When I started watching movies, I saw a lot of Hitchcock films. When I was 10, I saw “North by Northwest” and movies like that. We all like to get scared and (like) the adventure that a thriller promises. Even within the thriller-crime genre there are so many types of films you can do. “Badlapur” is a drama, a character-driven story. It is not so much about plot.

Q: Within this genre, which films and books have stayed with you over the years?

A: In books, even Enid Blyton had an impact. All those smugglers and caves and all that. But then gradually you move on… now I read a lot of Scandinavian crime fiction.

Q: What is “Badlapur” based on?

A: Basically it is an account written by a person (author Massimo Carlotto) who spent a lot of time in jail. He’s written quite a few stories, but many of his stories are actually about people he met in prison. The account he wrote is true but it happened elsewhere in the world. But some stories are universal, and I felt that this was a revenge story with a difference.

Q: You made “Badlapur” on the back of “Agent Vinod”, a big budget, top-billed film that didn’t do well. How did that affect you?

A: It did affect me, but there were some flaws in the film. Excessive length was the one flaw. It made it a very exhausting film to watch. It should have been 30-40 minutes shorter, which I knew on paper, but we finished it so late that I didn’t have the objectivity to see it. It also had a lot of good things, but those got ignored when the film didn’t do well. That is what hurt.

Q: What were the good things, according to you?

A: We mixed up a lot of things, tried to tell a story that was possible in real life. I love “Munich” as much as I love James Bond. There were elements of different spy movies that I tried to bring together, and failed. Somebody told me “it was too dumb for the smart crowd and too smart for the dumb crowd.”

We also took elements from the 70s and 80s spy thrillers of Bollywood. I love the Bourne series, I love “Syriana”, so we tried to incorporate all that. I think when you love something too much you can kill it by hugging it too tight.

Q: What are the rules you follow when it comes to making a good crime genre film?

A: I think the most important thing is not to be corrupt while making a film. By that I mean, I have an actor like Varun (Dhawan) in my film, and he is a big star. So because he is there, you try to put a song, or you dilute the film to please his fans. Luckily, we were all on the same page on this film, and the producer (Dinesh Vijan) told me that I shouldn’t dilute this film. Varun also agreed to keep this character as I had imagined it, rather than tweaking it and pandering to usual tastes. We’ve all managed to work towards an honest film.

Q: The film might be honest but are you being a little corrupt in terms of publicity? Your campaign has centred on songs, on a kiss sequence between the lead pair, etc.

A: (Shrugs) I find it very strange, but marketing is such a monster that I have yet to understand.

Q: You’ve consistently cast mainstream actors in roles that go against their image. What is it that you see in them that others don’t?

A: You are not always thinking about actors. With “Badlapur”, I wasn’t even thinking about casting. I was wondering whether any producer will want to make a film with a story like this. It is not your expected, feel-good, or even your regular thriller. Varun happened to drop in one day and I narrated it to him. I hadn’t even seen “Student of the Year”, because it is not my first choice of film. He responded well to the script. He and I have a love for a certain kind of content which doesn’t get made here. Like “Breaking Bad”, or “Fargo” (both the film and the series).

Q: If you had recommend three of your favourite films in the crime genre, which ones would you pick?

A: I’ll tell you about the out-of-the way ones that I like. There’s this film called “The Pledge”, with Jack Nicholson in it. Now that’s a dark film . Then there is “Fargo,” for anyone who hasn’t seen it yet. And then this film called “Before the Devil Knows you are Dead.” Wonderful film. And it is Sidney Lumet’s last film, made when he was 84 years old.

(Editing by Robert MacMillan. Follow Shilpa on Twitter @shilpajay and Robert @bobbymacReports | This article is website-exclusive and cannot be reproduced without permission)

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