Sandeep Reddy Vanga, the writer-director of Animal starring Ranbir Kapoor, Anil Kapoor, Rashmika Mandanna and Bobby Deol, is aware of the frenzied reactions the film’s trailer has generated, but hasn’t had the time to read them. “Ranbir, my brother (co-producer Pranay Vanga) and Bhushan Kumar (producer) called and told me about the feedback and I went back to finalising the post-production. I haven’t had the time,” he says, speaking to The Hindu for an interview during a brief visit to Hyderabad.
If a Sandeep Vanga film is around the corner, there are also bound to be debates. While fanboys talk about how he plays by his own rules of filmmaking, others sound a note of caution about the troubled protagonists in his films. A fan of David Fincher and Martin Scorsese, he says he enjoys deviating from the norm in terms of how he looks at a character, story and his editing process.
Excerpts from the interview:
Your films, Arjun Reddy (remade as Kabir Singh in Hindi) and Animalhave stories driven by troubled protagonists. What draws you to such characters?
Troubled characters make for great drama. Before launching a product, the tendency is to compare it with what is available in the market. That is one of the yardsticks, though not the primary one, when I work on an idea. Animal is the story of a father and son; I wanted to see what new I could explore within the framework of that relationship.
You had stated that the character of Arjun Reddy was inspired by real life and then dramatised. Is there a similar inspiration for Ranbir’s character from real life?
I studied in a school run by Aga Khan Education Service in Warangal, Telangana. I had a few friends whose parents were working in Oman and Dubai. These boys would be dying to meet their respective fathers once a year. The longing I saw in them stayed with me subconsciously and I used it to shape Ranbir’s character. The dark zone, of course, is fiction.
Ranbir Kapoor and Anil Kapoor in ‘Animal’, directed by Sandeep Reddy Vanga
You have taken your time to make your films —Arjun Reddy (2017), Kabir Singh (2019) and you have worked on Animal for nearly four years…
It isn’t deliberate. I do want to tell more stories. For a story to be authentic and give the audience a memorable experience, it takes time.
What is your writing process?
When thoughts and ideas take shape, I begin writing and it is a solo process. I revisit what I have written after a couple of days to see if it makes sense and discard what doesn’t interest me. There are times when a point infuses me with so much energy that it drives the screenplay.
Did you approach Ranbir with a bound script?
I go prepared with a script and dialogues. But changes occur depending on how an actor performs, the location requirement or even how another actor responds to the protagonist in a scene. Every film is a new experience and a chance to make new mistakes. Even after 10 films, I don’t think a director can say that he or she can write or direct with their eyes closed. Some films suck your energy, Animal did. I am sure it has been the case with Ranbir as well.
Rashmika Mandanna and Ranbir Kapoor in ‘Animal’
Is there is a need to draw a line between portraying troubled characters and not ending up glorifying them? Do you think of social responsibility while writing?
The definition of toxicity will be different for you and me. It depends on how you look at a story and its characters. I did not face much criticism for Arjun Reddybut it was different for Kabir Singh. I don’t want to name anyone but I saw a few people debating about Kabir Singh to get publicity before the release of their own films. A leading producer-director said he was scared to admit liking Kabir Singh. People acted as though I had made a film on the lines of the French film Irreversible. That film left me disturbed for days, though I could also see the artistic side of it.
As far as Animal is concerned, I’d like to say that I am glad it got an A certificate. It is not for anyone under the age of 18. I will not be taking my son Arjun, my brother’s kids or any of my cousin’s children to watch this film in the theatres. Maybe I will have another child-friendly cut of the film for them. I have children in my extended family between eight months and 17 years and this film is not for them.
Your announcement of Animal being 3 hours 21 minutes long drew comparisons with Martin Scorsese’s Killers of the Flower Moon (3 hours 26 minutes). This length means that theatres cannot screen five shows a day. Were there deliberations on such business aspects?
The first cut of Animal was 3 hours 45 or 46 minutes. I chopped till 3:21. I have seen the film multiple times and it is an engaging film. Ranbir is a great performer and will not let the audience relax for a second. My job is done when the producer is confident of getting his money back with some profit. I cannot predict if Animal will make ₹800 or ₹1000 or ₹1200 crore. But I can confidently say that the film will move, titillate and make the audience think. There are times when a short film of five or 10 minutes duration left me bored. There are three-hour films that have kept me glued.
Sandeep Reddy Vanga
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A year or two ago, it looked like Telugu cinema was driving the pan-India trend with Pushpa and RRR. Several films that tried to follow suit later haven’t done well. How do you look at this?
There is space for localised storytelling as well as films that can be released in multiple languages. Jathi Ratnaluwith its Telangana dialect and director Anudeep’s sharp jokes, generated fantastic talk and made money. I am not sure if it would have worked had it released in other languages. Films such as Pushpa or Kantara on the other hand worked beyond language barriers. A director’s job, I think, is to tell a story with conviction.
There are speculations that Animal and your next film Spiritstarring Prabhas, might be a gangster-cop universe.
I don’t want to force a universe. If such an idea comes up, it has to be authentic and exciting and not merely to make money by bringing together two great characters. I want to narrate compelling stories.
Your brother Pranay Reddy has co-produced Animal with Bhushan Kumar. Does that help with having better creative freedom?
Definitely. When my brother is a co-producer it is as good as me producing the film. He always wanted to be a part of cinema but took up a software job. I’m happy that he gets to explore cinema this way. In future, we want Bhadrakali Films to make big films.
You have also doubled up as editor for Animal. Didn’t you want another editor on board who can look at the film objectively?
My scenes are written unconventionally. A seasoned editor may not see my film the way I see it. I tried taking Arjun Reddy to a few conventional editors. They advised me against a three-hour duration since Vijay (Deverakonda), Shalini Pandey and I were all relatively new. I decided to do things my way.
I love the process of editing. It is almost like painting, even if it necessitates that I lock myself in the editing suite for four to five months. But I want to find another editor for Spiritso that I can use that time to work on another script.
What part does Rashmika play in a story like Animal that primarily is about the father and son?
Rashmika’s character knows Arjun (Ranbir) for sometime and can see his inner demons. She questions him. I cannot disclose more, you have to see the film. There will be a few scenes that you have never seen in Indian films, not even in classics. Rashmika has nailed her part.
Given the buzz that Animal has generated, what is your state of mind days before release?
I have hardly slept the last few days. I was too exhausted to attend the press conferences in Chennai and Bengaluru. It is only for Hyderabad that I decided to push myself. Post release, I want to relax and read all the feedback on my laptop.