Ahead of the release of Dilwale, the inimitable action team of Rohit Shetty talks about their passion for stunts and danger, and working with a filmmaker who knows no fear.
I started working in this industry in 1995 and, today, I am the action director of Dilwale. To become an action director, one should have at least 10 years’ experience and an understanding of how stunts are done, and how to take safety measures. My first film as a stuntman was Ram Shastra. I finally became an action director after 19 years of experience as a stuntman.
On Rohit Shetty
I call Rohit sir ‘Boss’. I started working with him with Golmaal, where I was a stuntman. I slowly started doing stunts with them and then, in All The Best, he hired me as an action assistant. During Singham Returns, I turned action director. Dilwale is my second film as action director.
Rohit sir is a godfather to me. I have heard from my seniors that his father too was a gem of a human being. He used to respect the workers, which is what Boss does too. His father was a respectable man and so is Rohit bhai. No other director includes the stuntman in the entire schedule of a film but we were always there, whether a scene was being shot or a song. And we weren’t just hanging around on the sets; we were working too. For instance, if it was a sequence where a car had to go through a crowd, Boss wanted us to be part of the shoot. He is the biggest Dilwala in the industry, and he respects a spot boy as much as he does an actor.
When we were told we would be shooting in Bulgaria, our instinctive reaction was ‘where is this country?’ But it was a wonderful experience as we also got to work with the Bulgarian stunt team. We also had two stunt coordinators from South Africa, both of whom Boss had worked with before, so they were especially called in to be part of the team.
We have spared no expense and have used Range Rovers, Audis, Mustangs and Beamers in our stunts. Dilwale is a very big film, scale-wise, budget-wise, story-wise and especially stunt-wise. You will get to see several never-seen-before stunts in this film. It is very unfortunate when people compare our stunts to those in Hollywood films. We do the stunts on our own and we design them on our own. They (Hollywood) take three to four weeks to prepare a stunt whereas we don’t. We design them and we shoot impromptu. We had a car stunt to execute and the foreign stunt team wanted to prepare and practice it but Boss was sure about it and they were amazed to see the results even after no preparation. Even the hand fights in the film are totally different.
On Shah Rukh Khan
He is the kind of actor who wants to do every stunt himself. If you show him an action sequence or a stunt, he immediately says he wants to do it himself. He is one of the best when it comes to action. He never neglects his work even when in pain or injured. Sometimes, you design an action sequence that will look larger than life on the screen but it doesn’t end up as planned because the actor wasn’t able to give one hundred per cent. They make excuses and say things like ‘my chest is hurting’, or ‘my elbow is hurting’. But Shah sir is one of the best. Despite the pain in his knee, he did so many stunts with cables. We never heard him once say,’ I can’t do this stunt.’
I have been working in this industry for five years and was the youngest in the team. My father, Sardar Manjit Singh, was a very reputed stuntman in his time. It is said that when people used to sign Amitabh Bachchan, they used to sign my father along with him as his body double as they were a perfect match.
I was very young back then and my father always talked about the film industry and his work. I keenly listened to him but wasn’t really interested in becoming a stuntman myself. My mother always wanted me to study hard and get a job but my father believed I should work in the film industry.
After my father passed away in 2003, I thought of getting into this field. I was in Std XII at the time. My mother suggested that I complete my graduation and then take a call on my career choices. After I graduated, I did a couple of jobs but, as people say, life takes you where you are destined to be. So in 2010, I became a stuntman and my first stunt was for a television serial. It was a shot where I had to jump out of a moving car. After the stunt, I felt so satisfied and immediately knew that this was the profession I was meant to have. Now it is more a passion than a profession for me. It is pure luck that I am now assisting Rod sir (Sunil Rodrigues) in Dilwale.
On Rohit Shetty
It was sheer luck and the blessing of my father that I got a chance to work with Rohit sir and Rod sir in Bol Bachchan, within just two years of starting my career. I had heard so much about Rohit sir and I remember how nervous I was when I had to give my first shot in front of him. I was terrified, not because of the stunt but because he was present. But Rohit sir made me feel very comfortable and that gave me the confidence I needed.
It’s been three years since I have been working with Rohit sir. He is the only director in the industry who truly understands action and the work of a stuntman. He is the only director who takes care of his team as if we are own family. When he says ‘A Film By Rohit Shetty And Team’, he actually means it. He holds a narration session for the entire team and solicits feedback from every department. He is the only director who does that and asks his team what they feel about the story and what we can do as a team in the film.
It is only on Rohit Shetty’s sets that the entire team, from DoP to spotboy, is familiar with the schedule and the scenes planned for the next day. Despite how big he is in the industry, he believes in maintaining transparency within his team. His films are excellent examples of team effort. He has made more than 10 films and he works with the same team. Whereas people pray to get an opportunity to work with Rohit sir, I am so lucky to be part of his team, thanks to Rod sir.
I had heard that Rohit sir didn’t like shooting in foreign locations because he didn’t like the producer to tell him he couldn’t take his entire team with him. He prefers to work with his entire team and, for him, it’s all or none. This was the first time the entire team shot at foreign locations and, mind you, Dilwale is a huge film. Since we knew that Shah Rukh sir was the producer of the film, our entire team was very excited to go overseas, especially together.
I moved to Mumbai in 1981 in search of work. I used to work at Walkeshwar. Two years later, Jackie Shroff’s film Hero released. All my friends used to call me ‘Jackie’ because I resembled him closely. I took it as a compliment and started dressing like him and adopting his body language etc. That’s how the acting bug bit me. I also started learning to ‘fight’ at Girgaum Chowpatty.
Then, my friends suggested that I meet Jackie dada as he would help me get a foothold in the film industry. So my friends asked him if he could help me find work in the movies. Back then, there was a fight master called Nasim Hussain, and Jackie dada wrote a letter of reference to the union. That’s how my career as a stuntman began.
Initially, getting work was tough, but then I gave some risky shots, work started coming in. Apart from being a stuntman, I was also interested in acting before I became a stuntman and had done a Gujarati film titled Maro Rasiyo Sajan. But I didn’t get many offers to act and there were more for me as a stuntman. Since I loved acting just as much, I have acted in films like Baazigar and Atank Hi Atank. I have been working with Rohit (Shetty) sir as a stuntman as well as an actor since Singham.
On Rohit Shetty
It’s an honour to be a part of Rohit Shetty and his team. He is always very supportive. I had lost all hope of acting but he gave me a chance and I am living my dream. Rohitji has action in his blood and he is a prolific stunt designer. We are so lucky to be members of his team.
I have been an avid sportsperson since I was in school and wanted to make a career of it. This early training helped me perform stunts and take it up as a career. I have worked for 22 years in the industry and Darr was my first film as a stuntman. Tinu Verma was the action director on that film and he gave me my first break. I worked with Tinuji for almost 20 years.
On Rohit Shetty
I have worked with Rohit Shetty and his team since Golmaal. This was a comedy film but it had lots of action and Jai Singh Nijjar was the fight master on that film. I am still working with him (Rohit Shetty) and Dilwale is my eighth film with him. The best part about working with Rohit Shetty is that he knows the strengths and capabilities of everyone he works with, and he always involves his entire team while making a film. From spotboy, to stuntmen and the assistant directors, everyone knows exactly what’s happening on the sets and details of the next day’s schedule.
I was born and raised in a chawl in the suburbs of Mumbai. I didn’t have any dreams of what I wanted to become when I grew up. All I knew is that I had to earn to be able to survive and, at the time, one could make good money working in the Hindi film industry. I happened to know someone who was working in the film industry and he suggested that I become a stuntman as I had the height and build for it.
I had no idea what it entailed but it clicked and here I am! I got my first break with Tinu Verma in the film Barsaat and it’s been 20 years since. The sad part about being a stuntman is that when we are injured and cannot work, everyone forgets about us. There are some of our colleagues in this predicament; they are injured or bedridden and have no income. The industry does nothing to help them. I hope that changes.
On Rohit Shetty
Rohit sir is undoubtedly the only director who is emotionally involved with his team, especially the stunt team. He is acutely aware that we put our lives on the line every single time and that we give it everything we have just to get the perfect shot. He treats us with respect and love and we can always depend on him. We are not only his team but also his family.