Interview: Sudhanshu Rai, a storyteller, actor and filmmaker

Sudhanshu Rai

Interview with Sudhanshu Rai, a storyteller, actor and filmmaker

Mr Sudhanshu Rai is a storyteller, actor and filmmaker with more than 100 stories and successful streaming releases in his kitty.

With a bagful of stories and motion pictures, published and released under the banners of Kahanikaar Sudhanshu Rai and Saints Art, the storyteller-filmmaker is known for touching upon subjects as well as genres that have rarely been experimented with, especially on the Indian screen.

Following the conclusion of the first season of his storytelling show ‘Kahaniyaan, with Kahanikaar Sudhanshu Rai’ on leading radio channel ISHQ 104.8 FM, he came up with his first production Chaipatti, which garnered rave reviews and positive feedback across video and OTT platforms like Disney+ Hotstar, MX Player and YouTube.

Thereafter, he directed and played the titular role in Detective Boomrah, a web series based on the iconic fictional character created by Sudhanshu himself a few years ago.

The first season of the series was released on MX Player and YouTube. After the success of these and his last outing as an actor and a writer, Chintaa Mani, Sudhanshu Rai is now set to play the protagonist in an upcoming psychological thriller Bollywood film.

Prior to debuting as an actor and a filmmaker, Sudhanshu initially started his journey as a storyteller on various social media and other podcast platforms.

At present he is one of the most-heard storytellers on global audiobook platform

Tell us a little about yourself

Sudhanshu Rai: I hail from a small town of Uttar Pradesh, Gorakhpur where I did my primary schooling. My childhood was interspersed with everything that a small town has to offer- close knit families, high flying emotions, and people with very strong personality traits, which made me a keen observer.

I later shifted to Delhi where I pursued my education. College opened up the world of theatre to me, where I wrote several plays, acted in them and won various awards.

The journey continued even as I pursued MBA from Bengaluru. I decided to stay in Delhi as this place played out so many discreet stories in front of me.

My visit to Nayi Sadak during my early days in Delhi was an experience in itself, as I came across many cultures and languages that truly make this place a cosmopolitan city.

It is Delhi, which inspired and influenced me in becoming a storyteller, even as I dabbled with various medium like the print, radio, film making and acting, but I remain a storyteller at heart.

Can you tell us about your journey as a storyteller? How did you get started?

Sudhanshu Rai: While in college, I focused on acting, but as life moved on, I realized I have so many stories to tell. I have authored more than 200 stories.

So, about five years ago I launched my YouTube channel- Kahanikaar Sudhanshu Rai that became synonymous with thriller, supernatural horror and detective stories.

Later I had a successful season of ‘Kahaniyaan Kahanikaar Sudhanshu Rai Ke Sath’ on a leading FM radio station. Gradually, I shifted gears and evolved to film making to tell my stories.

Chaipatti, a horror comedy which I directed as well as acted in was received warmly. I reprised a popular character- Detective Boomrah in the next project that became a trending hit instantly, and is still available on Disney+Hotstar. Chintaa Mani, a sci-fi thriller took the viewers into realms that were unthought of.

My next Bollywood project is a sci-fi psychological thriller, which will disrupt the oft used style of narratives.

At heart I remain a storyteller, and still love to sit amongst my listeners for a LIVE show and transport them into a different world, every time.

And this would be my ode to the storytellers on this World Storytelling Day, that I will continue to tell stories, whatever be the medium.

What is your favorite type of story to tell? Why?

Sudhanshu Rai: While I have written stories traversing various human emotions, it is thrillers that have excited me as a storyteller and over time I realised that there was a gap in this space, although the audience too loves this genre.

The amount of love that Detective Boomrah received was something that was outside of the realm of imagination.

Other crime thrillers like The Killer, Sylvester’s Cottage and The Missing Mr Kwatrochi proved the point.

When we at Saints Art dabbled into this genre with our films Chaipatti, Detective Boomrah and Chintaa Mani, I realized that there is immense potential for this genre in the Indian entertainment industry.

OTT became the launching ground for thriller as a genre, but such stories will surely find their way into mainstream cinema.

Cinema has its own charm, but there is no greater satisfaction than to tell your story to a LIVE audience, replete with sound and light effects that is akin to a concert or theatre like experience.

How do you captivate your audience and keep them engaged throughout your storytelling?

Sudhanshu Rai: Storytelling today has become much advanced than just a narrator sitting and reading out a story. There is voice modulation at play, to bring out the various emotions of each character.

Then sound effects or live music add to the storyline and make it more enticing. Lighting also plays an integral part, especially when there is a thriller unfolding before the audience.

This theatre like experience transports the audience into a different realm, where their imagination is the key factor.

Such storytelling sessions can immediately uplift the mood, free the mind of everyday troubles, impact the outlook of the listeners and fill them with happy emotions that lead to a relaxed mind.

Often, they laugh out at funny instances, empathise with the protagonist or celebrate when the protagonist is able to successfully solve the mystery.

This engagement from the audience is possible mainly because of the minute details in storytelling. Apart from these supporting elements, I have always ensured that the characters of my stories are everyday people, who are relatable to the audience.

A lot of times, the characters stay with the listeners or audience for a long time, and become a symbol of the work.

Last point, which is not to be missed is the fact that there is no alternative to a strong storyline to keep the audience hooked till the very end.

Can you share a memorable experience where your storytelling had a significant impact on someone’s life?

Sudhanshu Rai: It is always heartening to see that the major chunk of the audience for my stories is in the age group of 13-50 years.

While I have always gotten positive feedback on my audio stories, it was this one time when a listener reached out to me and said that he was a student, battling anxiety.

What he shared next warmed my heart and motivated me to continue the good work. He said, that he is has acute symptoms, and when he listens to my stories, it helps him to regain calm and minimizes the anxiety.

Likewise, working professionals too find my stories to be a great way of unwinding after a hectic day. Such feedback humbles me, yet motivates me to keep working every day.

What do you believe is the importance of storytelling in today’s society?

Sudhanshu Rai: I have already spoken about the impact of storytelling on the mental health of my listeners. Apart from providing wholesome entertainment, it helps to awaken the senses and deal with digression of troubling thoughts.

Nowadays corporates are organizing storytelling sessions for their employees, instead of conventional recreational activities.

Government owned units are also warming up to the concept of including storytelling. As they listen to these stories unfolding before them, in a theatre like experience, and go through the story from the eyes of various characters, the oration supported with ambient music leads the listeners to a world that not just entertains but helps them to keep their stress at bay.

Technology has also made things easier as we have many stories online that one can listen to from the comfort of their home and at their preferred time, and unwind after a long and hectic day.

What advice do you have for someone who wants to improve their storytelling skills?

Sudhanshu Rai: Our audience has evolved over the years, and need stories that invigorate them, while entertaining them at the same time.

They want something new and experimental, yet something believable but relatable. While nostalgia does work to a great extent, it is the newness of the content that attracts them.

As storytellers, we must be able to create characters that stay with people, and take the story forward, instead of creating a clutter.

For aspiring storytellers, I can only say that there is a need to provide the listeners with an experience that they will remember for a long time.

While ambience, sound effects will play an important role, the storyline will always be the foundation for a great story.

A focus on voice modulation will give the listeners a variety and break from the monotony, making you a true storyteller, who is not just reading but telling a story, just like it happened.

What was the inspiration behind turning a storyteller, actor and filmmaker

Sudhanshu Rai: While stories fascinated me since childhood, I observed my surroundings and weaved them into stories.

But it was college that gave me a platform to tell my stories and also enact in the plays staged by the theatre society.

When I got validation as an actor and storywriter it gave me the confidence to reach out to a wider audience on the social media, through my YouTube channel and radio.

One thing led to another and before I knew it, I was ready with the idea for a horror comedy, Chaipatti. Later I reprised Detective Boomrah, a very popular character of my stories for a web series and there was no looking back.

Chintaa Mani my last project was a sci-fi thriller and with my next Bollywood project I am moving ahead in my acting journey as this psychological sci-fi thriller is what makes me very excited right now.

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