Anirudh Iyer: “In December, I want to sleep!”

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Anirudh Iyer makes his directorial debut with An Action Hero. Photo: Raindrop Media

T-Series Films’ and Colour Yellow Productions’ An Action Hero, releasing December 2022, is the first action film ever for producer Aanand L. Rai as well as hero Ayushmann Khurrana. But more significantly, it marks the debut of Anirudh Iyer as a director.

Anirudh hails from a humble middle-class Mumbai family. As he puts it, “I have no film background. My mom is a banker and my father works for a cement company. They were both scared of my wanting to be in films. In our setup as South Indians, a son either becomes an engineer or a doctor!”

Films were something Anirudh always wanted to do, so though he began a course in engineering, he could not focus. “Finally, I begged my parents and my dad said, ‘Okay, do what you want. If you listen to me, you will curse me later if things do not work out. So it is better you curse yourself!”

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And what was it that attracted Anirudh to cinema? “I would ask my mother about who makes the films I would love, and how? Like any kid asks. On Sunday, there used to be articles on the making of old films, and I would read them too.”

Among Anirudh’s inspirations was Mani Rathnam. “I really wanted to know how he made movies that made me cry even if I watching the same scene for the fifth time. But as I grew up, I met other people who influenced me, pushed me.”

He grins and goes on, “Among our community, nothing is bigger than education. So my parents took a loan and sent me to the MetFilm School, said to be the best filmmaking school in London. I wanted something practical and hands-on.”

Then back in Mumbai, a mutual contact helped him meet Aanand L. Rai, who was looking for a first assistant on Tanu Wed Manu Returns.” I went with my CV to him, and he took my interview on everything other than cinema! Aanand- sir talked for 40 minutes on food and also asked about my family. At the end, disregarding my CV, he just said, ‘Come from tomorrow!’”

What do his parents think of Anirudh now?

“They still do not completely understand what I am doing!” Anirudh laughs.”My father once came on set and got bored and left, as we need to do a shot over and over again! And as per his perspective, he asks me, ‘Are you on the site?’ and I have to tell him that we call it a set, not site!”

Anirudh declares that he was subconsciously preparing for his debut and big day even as he was assisting for such a long period, working without any holiday. “People also keep preparing you, so for me it was a seamless transition.”

What did he learn from Aanand L. Rai? “I learnt something every day. Look, filmmaking skills are the ABCs that every director needs. But Aanand-sir knew how to bring the 200 people on set together to work for one vision. That knack was something extraordinary. And he would give me advice about keeping calm and eating on time, but nothing on the film! He said that if he did so, the film would neither remain mine nor become his, and he wanted me to bring my voice to the screen!”

What does he have to say about the fact that every film has four or more assistants and hardly anyone makes it independently? “I agree it’s a tough world!” Anirudh says. “The bottomline, I think, is that you need a good mentor, someone who puts his faith in you. I hope to do that one day for the six assistants I have, who are very smart, and give them a platform to make their own great cinema!”

Ayushmann Khurrana in and as An Action Hero. Photo: Raindrop Media

Calling An Action Hero, a topical film, Anirudh says that he told Ayushmann Khurrana to focus on the story (which excited both) more than the action. “Ayushmann, luckily, asks a million questions before he comes on board. He is the bravest actor around today and a brave human being. He took a month to come on board, but once he was in and sure that we were on the same page, he was completely mine and has blind faith in me.”

What about Jaideep Ahlawat as a choice for the antagonist? “I wanted someone authentic in terms of emotions!” he says. “Apart from that, he is a fabulous actor. You just have to see his eyes to understand what he is all about.”

As a debut director, wasn’t choosing a subject like An Action Hero a risk? There is no heroine, it is not a complete action drama and not even a safe, romantic subject for a debut filmmaker? “It was!” he agrees. “But at Colour Yellow Productions (Aanand’s banner), we chase clutter-breaking stories, and not genres. I too believe in that. I hope that things work out in my case. This film is about an actor we see on screen and about what we know and think about him, and the real person there behind the star.”

What next can we expect from him? “I have some idea on which I will begin work in January. In December, I want to sleep!”

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