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Surface-level stories don’t appeal to me: Aranyak star Raveena Tandon- Cinema express

Aranyak star Raveena Tandon: Surface-level stories don’t appeal to me

The actor and team discuss Aranyak, an 8-part mystery series streaming on Netflix

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Published: 14th December 2021
A still from Netflix show Aranyak

A string of coincidences surround Raveena Tandon’s recent streaming debut Aranyak. Her first film, Patthar Ke Phool, with Salman Khan, was released exactly 30 years ago. It was produced by Sippy Films, who, in a marked shift for both actor and banner, have also backed Aranyak. The stars have aligned so well one wonders if Raveena was holding out for this moment.

“Most definitely, there was a holdout,” she tells Cinema Express in an interview. Yet, it wasn’t prescience that kept her waiting, nor a paucity of good scripts. “There were some really good ones I was offered, some which are big hits today on OTT.”

Rather, Raveena says, she was holding out for someone like Kasturi Dogra, a role that leapt off the page and resonated with her emotionally.

“If you see my film career too, I’ve chosen scripts that are female-driven. The message could be quite strong sometimes, like in Maatr (2017). But there’s always a hint of women empowerment in all the things I do.”

Hence Aranyak. Streaming on Netflix, the 8-episode series begins with Kasturi, a small-town cop, taking a sabbatical. Her daughter, Nutan, is preparing for IITs—even as the child schools her to “fry onions with the stove on”, Kasturi feels she needs to be around. The girl’s father, Hari, is mostly at work; the flame has cooled between him and Kasturi. “Spare me the pity sex,” he tells her brusquely, in a scene that underlines the casual cruelty that has crept into their relationship. Kasturi, it becomes clear, has taken the break out of guilt—a common enough scenario for working women with families in India.

 

“I may not have identified with my character because I am among those few lucky ones who had the privilege of great family and emotional support,” Raveena, starting her fourth decade in Bollywood, says. “But there are so many Kasturi Dogras out there who don’t have that choice. They want to follow their careers and excel and achieve. But somewhere they don’t have that kind of emotional backing and support, whether it is from their families, marital families or sometimes even their children.”

In the show, Kasturi is handed a second chance when the body of a French teen turns up in the woods. Angad (Parambrata Chatterjee), Kasturi’s replacement, is initially scornful of her meddling presence and unrefined police work. Nevertheless, he keeps her around, and soon they start digging up secrets in the misty hill town.

“It came pretty naturally,” Raveena jokes when asked about the spiky camaraderie between her and Parambrata in the show. “He was in my territory.”

A still of Raveena Tandon in Aranyak

The concept of Aranyak came to screenwriter Charudutt Acharya during a trip to Himachal Pradesh. Though Sironah, where the show is set, is fictionalized, we see different dimensions of a modern hill station: legacy politicians, drug peddlers, the grip of myths, and superstitions among the locals. These sub-tracks keep the show busy, though not buzzing, for over 330 minutes.

“Thrillers are interesting but they are also a tightrope walk,” explains Aranyak director Vinay Waikul. “In a series format, you can explore multiple characters, tracks and angles. You can take the viewer on one track and suddenly you’re off on another. Ultimately, there’s only so much intrigue you can give. You cannot let the audience get ahead of the story.”

“I would second that,” Raveena adds. “On a series, you get to build up your character, flesh it out, and add in the nuances. You let the audience absorb who that person is. It’s a kind of liberation a lot of filmmakers feel when they’re handling a script like this.”

That may be, but the saturation of long-form thrillers has meant that viewers are already familiar with the ins and outs of the genre. When Netflix produced Sacred Games, in 2018, the market was just opening up. Today, there’s a cop-and-killer prestige drama on almost every platform.

Raveena Tandon plays the role of Kasturi Dogra in Aranyak

“You’re right, there are plenty of thrillers,” says Tanya Bami, Series Head, Netflix India. “But it’s that cycle of when people like something, we make more of it.” As a buffer, she points to the diverse slate of titles coming up on Netflix.

“You’ll find comedies (Decoupled), humanist thrillers (Yeh Kaali Kaali Aakhein), dramas (Finding Anamika). We have a really gritty drama in Mai. We have comedies like the Kapil Sharma special. Our focus in the next year is to have a mix of genres and voices.” 

With Aranyak streaming, and K.G.F Chapter 2 on its way, Raveena is excited for a new inning. The actor insists she doesn’t ‘map anything out’, letting a project truly appeal to her before jumping on board.

“Something that is surface level doesn’t attract me anymore,” says the actor from Dulhe Raja and Bade Miyan Chote Miyan, but also the one behind Shool, Aks and Daman. “Neither do I want to see myself on a poster every Friday. I just want to do great, quality work.”

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