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“Simmba is a crossover film, of sorts”

Director Rohit Shetty talks to Bhakti Mehta and Titas Chowdhury about his upcoming Simmba, the experience of making the film, his brand of cinema and more

Bhakti Mehta (BM): We really liked the trailer of Simmba and we love the song Aankh marey.

Rohit Shetty (RH): (Laughs) Thank you so much.

BM: You have become a brand- the Rohit Shetty brand- with films like Golmaal, Singham, Chennai Express and All The Best. Karan Johar also mentioned this during the trailer launch of Siimba. Your take?

When I started making these films, I never thought about it. Even today, I don’t think about it. But now when people talk about me as a brand, I have started taking myself seriously, that okay I am a brand (Laughs). It is also because of the body of work that I have been doing for so many years; I mean, Simmba is my thirteenth film that is releasing in the coming week. I think what has also worked is, one, the films doing well on satellite when they air on television. My films cater to the family audience. Two, I am even doing television by hosting shows etc, so you can put a face to the name. Earlier, it was just Rohit Shetty; now this name has a face.

BM: At first, you were this person behind the camera and now you are in front of it…

Yes, all that put together has worked for me. I would not say that I have been deliberately building a brand but I have been conscious of the films I am making and the kind of audience I am catering to. None of my films has been an experiment. During so many years of making films, I have never once thought, let me do this experiment, let’s do this part. I think that has worked for me. I have been conscious of taking decisions and I think that has worked for me. All these things put together have, as you said, made me a brand (Laughs). I still don’t know!

BM: Yes, now there are genres of films that are defined by your name.

(Laughs)

BM: Coming to Simmba, you already have a cop franchise. What is the difference between Singham and Simmba?

I think Simmba is totally different. When you watch the film, the only comparison you can make is that it is set in the same world. That is how we have tried to sketch the screenplay. The film is in Singham’s world. He is the narrator of the film. Then comes this cop who is totally the opposite of Singham. He is corrupt, he is notorious and he doesn’t believe in the law. He is not honest. That is what makes him completely different from Singham. I didn’t want to do the same cop, honest cop, again. He has grey shades. I would say he is an anti-hero in the first half of the film. Then things change in the second half. It is completely different from what we have done in Singham. If I had done the same thing, it would have become boring. I would have cast Ajay (Devgn) if I had to do the honest cop.

BM: You mentioned just now and also at the trailer launch that Singham is narrating the story. Did you think about it when you started writing the story?

I wanted to create that world. I would not say we are trying to compete, or trying to be like Avengers. They are huge superhero films. But we can crate that kind of narrative in our own set-up too. So, it all started from there that let’s try to build a brand. Now we have Singham, we have Simmba and, you never know, we might make another film tomorrow where those guys come together.

BM: The crossover film…

Yes, the crossover film. In a way, this is also a crossover film. Nobody has tried this before. People tend to get confused with something new and try to analyse it. But once it’s done, it becomes a format, a formula. Next time somebody else does it, people will say that Simmba had done it and now it has become a trend. Whenever something new happens, it throws up questions and it should. But when you watch the film, when you see the narrative and the way it’s been woven into the screenplay, you will feel that the world you are in is the same.

Simmba is not the same story, with the same issue, and he is not the same character. Neither are the other characters same. With Simmba being in the same world, you will get a new story. It is in all superhero films, everywhere, either America is being destroyed or the world is being destroyed and somebody has come to save it. The way the narrative of these films changes every time and how their character changes, that’s what Simmba is all about.

Titas Chowdhury (TC): What we understood from the trailer is that there is this boy who used to look up to Singham and then it’s Simmba’s story. Was it planned to chalk out Simmba’s story from Singham or was it an afterthought?

We didn’t think about this when we were making Singham and Singham Returns but, after that, we wanted to create a universe, for sure. We wanted to create a universe where, in the future, we could take two or three guys together. To do that with a superhero would take a lot of time. Building up two to three people into superheroes would take at least 10 years. Here we had a cop, and creating a cop film is easier than making a superhero film. It takes a lot of time. When we started writing, we thought, let’s figure if we can create a world or a universe and then feed the audience something that has never happened in our country for the first time. When we started writing the film, we thought we would bring all these brands together.

TC: You have many successful franchises. You have Singham, you have Golmaal and Simmba might be your third. What, according to you, is the formula to make a successful franchise?

There is just no formula. There are so many part twos releasing, so many sequels releasing, but it is my belief that a sequel should be made of a film that works on satellite, not in theatres. It is not right to make a sequel to a film that worked in theatres 20 years ago. If the film works well in satellite, I think it means it is well received by the audience, time and again. After six months, when the film comes on television and it still works there, despite the debate in the family about who is watching what, so many other channels and modes of entertainment that are available, that means it has connected with the audience.

Then, after six months, it will cater to the larger audience. For example, Golmaal Again!!! was one of the biggest hits last year but if you see the footfalls, not even two crore people watched the film in theatres. So when it comes on television, the expansion is more after six months and if it does well there, then you realize that it’s time to play with this character or you can take this character forward. That’s what we did with Singham. Singham Returns was not the immediate next film we made after Singham. I made Bol Bachchan and Chennai Express and then we realized that Singham had become a big brand and so we took it forward. We will do the same with Simmba. If it does really well on satellite, if it is well received in theatres, and those characters become lovable, then we will take it forward.

BM: In your franchises, you don’t connect the stories of each film to the others. It’s basically a series of films.

The characters are the same, most of them. I think somewhere down the line, if you connect the story and if you keep moving with the same story, after a point, it becomes monotonous. It is better to take the characters and move forward with the stories. That’s what Hollywood also does, be it Spider-Man, Batman or Superman. They don’t continue the same story. They always continue the character. That’s what we are trying to do too, continue with the character and not the story. I feel it will become monotonous after two-three films. How much can you stretch the same story?

BM: You are the only filmmaker who makes one film each year in a set time period and your film releases on the day it is set to release. How do you manage that?

(Laughs) That is because of my team. It is hectic, it’s not an easy thing to do. You have to work 20 hours a day sometimes. It is painstaking. But then that’s the fun. Many directors tell me that their producers tell them, ‘Why are you so slow in making films? Look at Rohit Shetty, he makes a film each year and you guys are taking two years to make one film.’ But I love that. All my films are not like that but I think six months are enough for me to make a film.

BM: Taking this question forward, we spoke to Sara Ali Khan recently. She said that despite the many issues that crop up in the course of a shoot, you always manage to style calm.

You know you can pull it off. And these are the things that will happen. You cannot escape them. You train your mind to anticipate that these things that are going to happen and what the options are and what is Plan B. That makes it easier. Fretting will not stop problems from happening. Instead of worrying, it’s better to just shift to Plan B. That is true when shooting a film as well as in your own life.

TC: Sara was also telling us how she became a part of Simmba. She messaged you multiple times and you didn’t reply.

She stalked me, literally (Laughs).

TC: And then she finally came to your office and expressed her desire to be a part of the film, and you said, ‘Chalo, Simmba tumhara hai.’ You had not seen her work. What made you decide that she was a perfect fit?

I just went with the conviction of that girl. The way she came, the way she was asking for a film, ‘Mujhe kaam de do’, she said (Laughs). And she is Saif Ali Khan’s daughter. Somewhere, you have that connection. And here was a girl who was  struggling, so I told her, theek hai tu kar le picture, we will see what happens. Then, that night I thought, arre isko acting nahi aayi toh? (laughs). Then I thought we will see what happens.

TC: What was it like to work with a new lead pair? You are used to repeating your actors like with Ajay Devgn and Shah Rukh Khan.

I think Ranveer Singh’s energy is something else. He seems positive. The most important thing is, he is a great actor. He understands cinema, he understands the nuances of the character, and he understands life. All this energy, the way he dresses, the way he interacts with the media, the way he is the blue eyed boy of the media… all that is fine. But what works for him is that he is a great actor. The way he works hard on every character, whether it’s Padmavaat, Bajirao Mastani or Simmba, the way he moulds himself, the kind of dedication he has, it makes him what he is. All the other things just support him in his success. A good-natured boy, friendly with the media, arriving on the sets on time, everything is good about him, he is a good human being. These are things that will support him to become the next superstar. But the biggest quality is he is a great actor. From Gully Boy to Simmba to Padmaavat to Dil Dhadakne Do… he understands every world.

BM: The masala entertainer genre was very popular in the ’80s and ’90s but somewhere down the line, it faded. You are one of the few filmmakers who have, time and again, proved every critic and pseudo-intellectual wrong by driving in huge footfalls to watch these larger-than-life movies. Do you think this genre will ever vanish from the industry?

No, it will never go away. How do I put it? The new generation of journalists and the people who are writing articles today are not all that well-read or well-educated as far as cinema is concerned. They say that the times are changing. But I have been hearing this for donkey years now. (Laughs). Time is not changing; you are moving ahead with time. When you tag a film as a ‘multiplex film’ and say that the times have changed, that it is not the case. This kind of cinema has always been there.

Earlier, it was called ‘art cinema’; today it is called ‘multiplex cinema’. These two worlds have always been there. But why differentiate? Why scare the new generation of directors and actors that they should not do certain things? We are still a country where Naagin does very well (Laughs). We are in the entertainment business. Obviously you have to change after every eight-ten years. You change the interiors of your house too every eight to ten years, the same goes for commercial cinema. The format cannot change but the palette, the approach and tastes, can change. Today, Simmba cannot wear a blazer like cops in old films used to, like Amitji (Amitabh Bachchan) or Vinodji (Vinod Khanna) used to. ACPs used to wear blazers before, today you cannot do that.

All these things are changing. The approach can change. The aesthetics can change. But commercial cinema will never cease to exist. Also, it is not something that should be discussed. Illiterate journalists are doing this. When I say ‘illiterate’, I mean they do not know cinema. If you say that a Tumhari Sulu or a Hichki did well, they did so because they were good films. We had Ardh Satya also with Om Puri in the ’80s. We had Mili in the ’70s. We had Do Bigha Zamin in the ’50s and ’60s. It is just that those journalists write down what is the flavour of the season without doing any research. That is how they become a part of the race.

When an Amar Akbar Anthony was being made, a Mili, a Golmaal and a Chupke Chupke were being made too. These films co-existed. While Amitji and Dharamji (Dharmendra) were doing Sholay, they were wearing kurta pajama and doing Chupke Chupke too. Parimal Tripathi was Veeru in Sholay (Laughs). So, it is nothing new. It is just that we keep changing the palette. The future will have commercial cinema and there will be the other kind of cinema.

First, I believe we should not differentiate. A good film is a good film. You have scripts and palettes in a commercial film too. It is not like every art film or multiplex film is doing well. Our success rate is 10-12 per cent every year. 230 films release every year, of which 15 do well. This is not a point of discussion. It is being written that way because they have nothing else to say. ‘Times are changing’ means nothing.

TC: You said you can change the palette of commercial cinema so that there is a social message in the film also. Both Simmba and Singham have a message. Do you think it helps the audience to connect with the film?

It does. If you see a Zanjeer or a Deewar, the problems in those films were the problems of the ’70s. Today, these are the problems we are facing in our country. There is no solution, I would say, but there is a point of view. There are a lot of people who think this is the solution. A few may not agree, many may agree. That is what I feel we think ki aise hi hona chahiye. And that is the whole thing about this film. For the first 40-50 minutes, you think this is a typical Rohit Shetty-Raveer Singh film; accha gaana hai, comedy hai, action chal raha hai. And then it takes a turn. That is why we had to put it in the promo, that it will get serious. We are preparing the audience. After 40-50 minutes, it takes a turn. We are all excited; my team is excited to see how the audience reacts to it. Whatever we show, the problems we show, is what is happening in society today.

BM: This is the first time you are associating with Dharma Productions. Karan Johar and you have judged a show together. And he said if he ever went the masala, commercial entertainer way, he would do it only with you. What do you have to say about that? And how did the association come about?

It just happened. We were planning to do something during Bol Bachchan, but that didn’t materialise. And it kept on happening. When Simmba came along, I said let us do this together. And he was very excited with the combination of him, Ranveer and me.

BM: He seemed excited to be a part of the song Aankh maarey

I dragged him to do that.

BM: As we mentioned, you tend to cast the same actors again and again. Is there another film with Ranveer Singh?

I would love to make one. But for now we are all focused on Simmba. Once it releases, once it does well, that will also happen.

TC: What is next for you?

Next is a surprise, a New Year surprise.

BM: This is a surprise and a blast for everyone. There is a lot of buzz around Simmba.

Simmba has turned out really well. In the first promo, if you reveal what your film is about, they can sell it. Honesty works. You must not cheat the audience. There will be 20 to 30 per cent people who will say ki hum ko film nahin dekhni hai. The remaining people who come to see the film, you should not cheat them. That is the first brief I give my team that is cutting the promo. Tell them what the film is and let them take a call. We are in the entertainment business, where people are going to buy it.

BM: Promos are the only thing that help people decide whether or not they want to see a film.

And today it is no longer about promotion in malls etc. It doesn’t work. Everyone is doing it, so we are also doing it. By now, people have made up their minds whether or not to see the film.

TC: Marketing is a little subdued now. You don’t see people going to many cities to promote their films.

We promoted Golmaal Again!!! for 28 days and Simmba only for 25 days. Today, people know when a film is releasing. There is no need to do promotions that last for three to four months.

BM: During that time, you can make a movie…

Yes, four months is enough for me to make a film (Laughs).

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