MUMBAI (Reuters) - There was a time when Rohit Shetty and his brand of cinema came in for much ridicule from critics and the Indian film industry. The critics don’t seem to have stopped, but the industry certainly has. After delivering two billion-rupee hits, Shetty is Bollywood’s new darling.
Everyone, including Shah Rukh Khan and Karan Johar, wants to work with the director. Shetty’s new film, “Bol Bachchan”, which opens in cinemas next month, stars Abhishek Bachchan and Ajay Devgn.
Shetty spoke to Reuters about his journey to becoming one of Bollywood’s sought-after directors, his brand of cinema and why he loves blowing up cars.
Edited excerpts from the interview:
“My first movie was almost ten years ago. I started working on that film in 2001. From the time I was an assistant director to the time I directed my first film, it was almost ten years. I assisted in a lot of films. The time came when I felt I should direct a film and I told Ajay (Devgn). I was an associate in his company, we did ‘Pyaar To Hona Hi Tha’, we did ‘Raju Chacha’ together, and it was understood that I would direct one day. During ‘Raju Chacha’, I wrote the script for ‘Zameen’ and that’s how it all began. ‘Zameen’ didn’t do well -- but you learn from your mistakes. Learn how commercial films should be portrayed, you know who the producer should be.”
“I was sitting in my office when Neeraj Vohra came and said I want to narrate a plot to you. It was the basic plot of ‘Golmaal’ -- it was a play and it sounded interesting. I told Ajay the next day that I had heard a plot from Neeraj Vohra and it’s quite interesting. He asked me -- do you want to do this? And I said ‘yes, I do’. Everyone said he’s an action director and he wants to do a comedy film? But Ajay was supportive.”
“This was in 2004. It took us around one-and-a- half-year and the movie started in 2005. The rest is history. People were making fun of me -- he’s an action director who made a flop film and is now making a comedy, with an action hero. It was Ajay’s first comedy as well. We were on a suicide mission. I had a feeling it would work. I knew I was doing my best.”
“People found faults -- it was too slow, there was only one girl, a comedy should have two girls, there were too many things. When it was released, it didn’t take an initial. It was a July release and one week before it released, there were train blasts in Mumbai. We had a lot of problems -- people didn’t want to celebrate. But it picked up gradually and went on to become the biggest grosser that year.”
“I got a script from one of my writers and I thought that it would be a nice sequel to ‘Golmaal’. We shot it in 68 days. There were no hassles, it got released during Diwali and was one of the biggest grossers again. But things changed for me after ‘Golmaal Returns’. We saw ‘Golmaal Returns’ and thought God has blessed us because it’s a horrendous film. It didn’t have emotions, we were making fun of ‘Tashan’ and ‘Saawariya’ and there were four girls (heroines) and doing all kinds of kiddish stuff, and people liked it. But I told myself that I would not make a film like that again. I told myself that people have loved you and they have saved you, but be careful. Our writing changed after that film.”
“Although people think that we are making the same stuff, we know that we are not. If you see ‘All The Best’ and ‘Golmaal Returns’ it won’t look like the same team has written the two films. We’ve tried to bring in a bit of emotion, not overboard, but some emotions. There was a back-story, the film was a little subtle. The characters were defined and if we didn’t need more girls or heroines in the film, they weren’t there. It made a little sense.”
”When you read reviews, it’s humiliating -- If you have a hotel or a fast-food joint, you cannot judge the person who eats there and say he only likes this food and not Italian or Chinese food. We have so many flavours in our cinema. If it is entertaining, they like everything, whether it is a ‘Kahaani’ or a ‘Taare Zameen Par’.
“But these movies haven’t got as much flak as a ‘Golmaal’ has. Earlier I used to get angry, crib about it. If you don’t like the film, you analyse it and say you didn’t like the direction or the acting or the editing. In India, they make fun, which I don’t like. First of all, you see the film for free. When you read their reviews, it’s humiliating.”
“Then there was a point in my life, after ‘Golmaal 3’, when it didn’t matter at all. ‘Singham’ was one-and-a-half stars all over and it was one of the biggest hits of my career. It gave me so much respect. People think if it’s not critically acclaimed, you won’t get respect. But that’s not true. Even if you get one star, your film will do well if the audience wants to see it.”
“How does an industry function? It used to hurt when people ran down my films. I used to feel inferior. I wouldn’t go to parties or award functions because my cinema is not considered good enough. But now I keep my head high and I am proud of what I am doing. How does an industry function? On revenue. These so-called cinema lovers, few actors and directors and producers … how will they make a film if there is no revenue? And how is revenue generated? By movies like ‘Singham’ and ‘Golmaal’. They say a movie has made 1.1 billion rupees but is senseless. But imagine, that money has gone to a corporate house which will fund their films. How are so many theatres surviving? How are so many single screens surviving? Because of commercial films. You cannot be heartless and ungrateful. One year there should be no commercial film in the industry and then let’s see if the industry functions. It won‘t.”
“I am still that eight-year-old boy sitting in a Gaiety (an old single-screen theatre in Mumbai’s Bandra suburb) and the red curtain would go up and the censor certificate comes up and my heart would start thudding. I want to make those kind of films till I die. Those kind of films will always work. You need to tweak them, but then what was ‘Singham’? It was the same kind of police drama that Jeetendra did in the 80s. Critics and some people think times have changed, but I don’t agree. The same thing will work and it has been working since the 40s. We all got scared when the multiplexes came, but I made all my films during the multiplex era.”
“Shah Rukh Khan saw ‘Golmaal 3’ and he called me and said he loved the film. I was supposed to do ‘Angoor’ with him, but I felt it was too small a film for us to come together and I had the script of ‘Chennai Express’ and felt it was the right film and Shah Rukh agreed. It was the same thing with Karan (Johar). It’s not that they are approaching me because I am a billion-rupee director. Why would I work with a flop actor and spend a billion rupees on the film? If I am Karan Johar, why would I work with a flop director? That is how it is. You need to respect that approach.”
“When ‘Golmaal 3’ worked, everyone said only comedy works for him, so I decided to do ‘Singham’. Now everyone’s confused about how to judge me. I was writing ‘Bol Bachchan’ and I had break between ‘Golmaal 3’ and that film. Reliance came to me, asking me to make a film, but I told them I didn’t have the time as of now. They gave me the DVD of the Tamil film and I kept it aside. I watched it and it struck me that if I change it a little bit, keeping the north Indian mentality or the Hindi cinema mentality then it will be a fab film. I made it in four months. Ajay started shooting on the 7th of March and he heard the script at midnight on 6th of March. But I knew it would work.”
“I changed the whole second half of ‘Singham’, which will work with the south Indian audiences. There is no Sonali Kulkarni track or the problems that police face or the climax with Prakash Raj. The original was about kidnapping and all that. We made it into a film about the system. There was too much action in the original. Even though ‘Singham’ is an action film, there are only two actual action sequences. Everything needs to be toned down from a Tamil film. If I would have made the same film here, it would have worked but not as much as it did. There isn’t a single drop of blood in the film.”
“When I am shooting, I am inside the theatre, when I am in the editing room, I am inside the theatre. I always try to feel what they will feel. I see a film not as a director but as the audience. If I am entertained, they will be too. A lot of people in the industry take themselves too seriously. They lie to themselves and that doesn’t work.”
“I do it for kids. Ask an eight-year-old kid or see his face when he sees a car being blown up. They come to me, ask me what I am doing next. They loved ‘Singham’ because there were so many cars, and that’s why there was no blood, because I knew they will come to watch my film. And if you see ‘Bol Bachchan’, I know they will come, so I cater to them. I don’t want them to get uncomfortable, that’s why the heroine isn’t in a bikini. It wasn’t a planned thing, but now I know they are my audience.”