The Angry Young Man is dead and so is the relatable action hero; almost superhero-like, the action heroes of today are not anti-establishment but above the establishment. Debutant filmmaker Anirudh Iyer, decodes the anatomy of his film, An Action Hero
Anirudh Iyer made his directorial debut with An Action Hero last month. Frontlined by the unlikely pair of Ayushmann Khurrana and Jaideep Ahlawat, this meta-movie follows superstar Maanav (Khurrana) as he tries to escape from a raging municipal councillor Bhoora (Ahlawat), who thinks the superstar has killed his brother and wants revenge. It’s a biting and hilarious commentary on the relationship between film stars, and the media and fans, which has become increasingly toxic over the past few years. “We wanted to put a mirror and show society what is happening. And we wanted to do it without any bias or malice. The intention was to not offend or attack anyone but at the same time, tell the story as honestly and fearlessly as possible. That is why we chose humour,” says the newly minted Bollywood filmmaker.
For the Iyer boy, who hails from a humble South Indian family in Mulund, this was always the dream. “Very early on, I cracked this thing that someone is making what we are seeing on television. I would go behind the television set and wonder how what is happening inside that magic box is actually happening. I had decided very early on in my life that I want to make these movies. I was fascinated by the idea. One of the first movies that really made me make that decision was Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge,” he reveals.
But it wasn’t an easy dream to follow.“When I told my parents (my mother works at a bank and dad at a cement company) that this is what I want to do, neither of them was happy about it. They wanted me to stick to engineering. Full drama happened at home and that went on for months. But eventually, my dad agreed and together we managed to convince my mom. I started off by doing corporate films and then joined Dia Mirza’s production house, Born Free Entertainment. It was while there that I got the opportunity to work on Bobby Jasoos. That was my first Bollywood movie. Later on, I joined Anand L Rai and worked as an AD,” says the filmmaker who worked as an assistant director on Rai’s Zero and Tanu Weds Manu Returns. An Action Hero was produced under his banner, Colour Yellow Production. We sat down with the filmmaker to talk about all that is light, camera, and of course Action (Hero)! Excerpts:
You kind of spoof the Bollywood action movies. But it also seems like a tribute to the genre…
The kind of actions we see nowadays in such movies is mostly hyper-masculine where the heroes are portrayed as bigger than the system, bigger than everything. That is an interesting way to tell stories, but it is not the approach I wanted to take. I wanted to put this character in the most real of situations. For Maanav to pull off all those action sequences, we had the whole backdrop or backstory of Maanav being an action hero. He had the skill sets to do those action scenes; he had built his entire career doing those. As a storyteller, I like to justify the character’s actions in the real world. I prefer the realistic to the fantastical.
I have always loved movies, especially the Russian and European ones as well as some from Hollywood, which portrayed action in a realistic way.Even in our Hindi movies of the ’70s and ’80s, there was a lot of rage, which was the driving force. We had Bachchan sir playing the ‘Angry Young Man’ who would fight for society or his people or for his values. There were always strong reasons, motivating factors, behind his actions. It wasn’t mindless action. Those kinds of movies really inspired me growing up. It’s all about emotions, even action is an emotion… it is a heightened form of anger.
You mentioned the ‘Angry Young Man’. It had emerged from the socio-economic and political realities of the ’70s. Do you think today, with the changed societal context, the Angry Young Man has lost his motivation and relevance?
It has. Perhaps the quintessential ‘Angry Young Man’ does not exist anymore. It is not cinema’s fault. It is how society has evolved. Today the meaning of action has changed to the point where the action hero has become that element of society who is above society. The action hero today is not relatable anymore, but aspirational. He has got a superhero quality to him — he can do anything and everything. It is a very different space, but interesting at the same time. I am not sure if a relatable action hero can exist in today’s context.
Your movie is larger-than-life, yet relatable. There is an interesting juxtaposition of the over-the-top with the realistic. Tell us something about this queer but crucial balance.
Yes, we have a few over-the-top action sequences, especially in the beginning, where we are showing Maanav shooting for a movie. The rest are as realistic as possible. We wanted to bring out the difference between a filmy action scene and a real-life action scenario. Another place where we went a bit over-the-top was the climax scene, where his journey from an on-screen action hero to a real-life action hero is complete. We brought back the filmy action hero there in real life. If you look at the parkour scene or the chase scene or the fight with Bhoora inside the cottage, you can see the difference. When you fight in real life, it hardly ever looks ‘cool’. It is usually ugly and gives a disturbing visual. We wanted to put that difference across.
How important do you think it is for movies to be larger than life to get the audience to the theatres?
I think cinema belongs in the movie theatres. It is a beautiful experience to be watching a movie with 300 strangers as a community, as a collective. That experience will always be much greater. You cannot compare it to watching a movie on your mobile phone or replicate it on OTT. Having said that, I am glad that certain movies that otherwise might not get that sort of an avenue in a movie theatre are getting a platform now. OTTs are providing an alternative platform, especially to new filmmakers. But I am a movie theatre guy and I will always make movies for the theatres. But yes, movie theatres are experiences and simple stories will not make the cut going forward. You need to pack it with a lot of big experiences now to bring the audience to theatres.
Do you think in the past few years, Bollywood was so focused on small-town relatable stories that the South filled the void of mass entertainers?
As for South cinema, it is not that they have started making mass movies now, those were always there. It is just that we are now being exposed to them more. There is a crucial difference between amil/Telugu/Malayalam cinema and Bollywood. For example, Tamil cinema is made with the primary focus to cater to the Tamil audience in Tamil Nadu, who pretty much have the same culture and reference points. Bollywood has a much wider audience base — we are catering to the north, south, east, west, the entire country, and in our country, every 300 kilometres the cuisines, the language, the culture, the exposure, and the experiences change. And it is almost impossible to please all these people with a single movie. So, Hindi cinema has a much bigger challenge. We also have the responsibility to be woke now and do progressive cinema. There was a time, in around 2010, when people were really appreciating cinema with a social message.
These are phases. If you get stuck in one you will run the risk of making stale cinema. I think the best way forward is to make the movies you want to make, and if it is made well, they will eventually find their audience.
Is it possible that we are viewing South movies with a different lens than we are viewing Bollywood movies? Are we being overly critical of Bollywood?
Absolutely. Their storytelling is very different. Hindi cinema is something that the whole country somehow owns; it has become the language of the masses. So, it is your cinema. But when you are watching movies from a particular state or in a particular language, it becomes ‘their’ cinema. You are more judgmental about your own people and more forgiving with others. You are less forgiving with your own children than that of your neighbours’, because you want your children to be the best. It is a very subconscious bias.