There has been a profusion of films and television shows on Hanuman’s exploits, including VG Samant’s Hanuman (2005). Ruchi Narain’s Hanuman Da Damdaar is the latest addition to the list. The June 2 release focuses on the monkey god’s childhood and traces his evolution into a divine force. The voice cast includes Javed Akhtar as Valmiki, Salman Khan as Hanuman, Raveena Tandon and Saurabh Shukla as Hanuman’s parents, Kunal Khemmu as Indra and Hussain Dalal as Garuda.
Narain made her big screen debut as a screenwriter on Hazaaron Khwaishein Aisi in 2003 and her directorial debut with the crime thriller Kal : Yesterday And Tomorrow in 2005. After directing commercials for 12 years, Narain has chosen to make her comeback with a family-oriented animated film. Animation gives greater opportunities for creativity, she told Scroll.in in an interview.
What drew you to animation?
I have grown up watching animation films. They trigger your imagination more than any other medium. The kind of scope they give cannot be expected in any live action film. You can stretch the script of an animation film to fantastical levels. In live action, however, you are bound by the physical possibility of things.
How different was the experience in terms of the production?
If I knew how hard it was going to be, I may have thought twice about it. The medium is very different because everything is deliberate. In live action, you cast the actors and put them before a camera, and sometimes magic happens. But in animation, you have to make that magic happen.
Having said that, we did have a ball filming. Our only rule was that the line we literally fell off our seats listening and laughing to would go into the film.
Why did you choose Hanuman from all the Hindu gods?
In my mind and in my research, there was very little material on him, especially when he was a kid. As a writer and as a thinker, I would often wonder what would make someone so loyal. Nobody has the unwavering loyalty that Hanuman has. To be that loyal, you need a lot of conviction and strength in the face of opposition.
Usually when someone is all powerful, they tend to become the be all and end all. But Hanuman isn’t. And in today’s world, I found this personality to be even more fascinating. Nothing is about doing something for someone else or for a greater good anymore. It is a very relevant quality to remember.
There have been many films about Hanuman. What makes ‘Hanuman Da Damdaar’ stand out?
The story and the treatment of Hanuman Da Damdaar make the film different. There is a popular mainstream treatment. For instance, there is the song Confusion , which has been choreographed by Mudassar Khan. He got his crew to dance the sequence, which we then edited and gave to the animators. We have approached the production like a big feature film.
The trailer has many pop culture references, such as Salman Khan’s dialogue from ‘Wanted’.
Whatever you say, people associate Salman Khan with Hanuman because of Bajrangi Bhaijaan. There are certain lines in his films that you tend associate with Hanuman. The “Ek baar jo commitment kar di” line, in essence, also works very well for Hanuman. The meaning of the line echoes loyalty.
I wanted to tell a story in a way that people today can relate to. Also, in terms of language, there is a way we are used to seeing these stories depicted – which is very stuffy and highfalutin. What is made in your time needs to speak to you in your language. Language has to reflect and communicate with the people that you are making it for.
How did you select the voice cast?
In those days, narrators used to tell the stories and not write them. By virtue of the fact that the Ramayana was so widely transmitted, Valmiki must have been a great narrator. And I thought to myself, who is the greatest narrator in our industry? It had to be Javed Akthar.
Raveena Tandon has been someone who has worn her motherhood on her sleeve, which was perfect for Anjani’s role. And of course anyone would first think of Salman Khan for the role of Hanuman.
Sneha Khanwalkar, who has scored the film, has worked with you in ‘Kal’.
Sneha’s first feature film was with me, and I have always loved the way she thinks about music. While she is known for composing darker, edgier music, I wanted her for this film because her approach towards music is utterly unique.
Did you want to portray Hanuman as a superhero for children?
Yes, definitely. When you go to any kid’s fancy dress event, you see them all come dressed up as superheroes like Batman and Superman. Not one Indian character features in the lot. I want to be in a situation this time next year, where children would be dressed as Hanuman.
How strong is the market for children’s films, especially animation, in India?
I have a very different take on the notion of what a children’s film is. What ends up happening is that when children are cast in a film, people think it’s a children’s film. But a children’s film is something that is entertaining. In India, more children watch blockbusters because they are funny.
Are there more animation films in the pipeline for you?
Another animation film is definitely in the pipeline. Meanwhile, I am currently working on two films. One is a love story titled From A to Z, which is written and directed by me. The other film is a big-budget comedy, which will be produced by R.A.T. Films, my joint production venture with Ashutosh Shah and Taher Mithaiwala.