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‘I’? NEVER! It’s always ‘US’

Blockbuster director Rohit Shetty in conversation with team Box Office India

Box Office India (BOI): Singham Returns earned Rs 100 crore in the first five days after its release. It also took the highest day-one opening. Were you expecting a response on this scale?

Rohit Shetty (RS): When we made the film, we knew people would like it, especially the audience that likes to watch my kind of cinema. But we never thought it would take such a huge opening. That was a surprise.

BOI: When you say ‘your kind of cinema’, what do you mean?

RS: A Rohit Shetty and team film! When I say ‘my kind of cinema’, there is a segment of the audience that watches my kind of films and a segment that doesn’t. Those who like my kind of cinema are also part of my team. They belong to Rohit Shetty and team!

BOI: Do you say ‘your kind of cinema’ because you have worked so hard and for so long? And was it difficult to build the ‘Rohit Shetty genre’?

RS: (Pauses) It was difficult.

BOI: Did you always want to make films of this kind?

RS: I have always wanted to spread happiness and I am happy doing the films I make. But it’s difficult when your film is about to release. On the morning of its release, people trash you on Twitter and Facebook, some TV channels and newspapers. You have to swim against this tide and conquer. It’s always been difficult and will continue to be.

BOI: How have you managed to deliver seven back-to-back hits?

RS: Eight! Haan, total eight hits hain, vajan zyada hai. I don’t really have a formula. It’s just that we work with honesty and we work hard. I’m not saying that others don’t. But I guess I am lucky.

BOI: When you say ‘Rohit Shetty kind of cinema’, a Singham is different from a Chennai Express, which is different from a Golmaal. So it’s not like you’re replicating the same type of film.

RS: No, it’s not a replica but we always upgrade from what we have done. We are always doing better than in our previous films, keeping all the ingredients in mind to cater to the audience, drama, comedy everything. It’s like the trailers of some films… ki iss film mein drama hai, action hai, comedy hai.

BOI: Baring the critics, who else criticises your movies? Within the industry, most people believe in your kind of cinema and want you to succeed with every successive film. Is it because they believe you’re an incredible human and you should thus be showered with success?

RS: (Laughs) It would be incredibly stupid of me to say that I am an incredible human being. But it’s a small industry and if you speak ill of someone, they get to know. I have stayed away from this. I believe in karma and keep away from the slightest bit of negativity.

BOI: As a trade magazine, we are in touch with everyone from the industry, whether filmmakers, distributors or exhibitors. Everyone speaks with the utmost respect of two directors – Rajkumar Hirani and Rohit Shetty. Whenever a film from either of you is about to release, they want both of you to showered with success. Why do they have so much faith in you?

RS: I would like to thank the industry for having such faith in me. I am such a small guy. I never think ill of anyone because that’s the way I have been brought up. More than believing in God or keeping upvas (fasting) and doing pooja, I think it’s better not to think badly of anyone or it will come back to haunt you. Also, God has given me so much, so if I think or speak ill of anyone, it would hurt Him. In gratitude, it is better that I work for Him and I guess that’s what people like about me. It’s best that you don’t interfere in anyone else’s life. That’s why I am not on Facebook or Twitter. Let me clarify that all those accounts are fake.

You guys are friends and to this date, I have never called you to check how much a film has made. I never do that because everyone should grow. And if everyone progresses, I will progress. What I charge or what my budgets are only show that the industry is progressing. That way, my future will be better.

BOI: What is more difficult for you – delivering blockbusters or being humble?

RS: Being humble is in my nature. But I am not diplomatic. I am stupid and because of that I get phasaoed sometimes. Because I speak my mind and speak my heart. Delivering hits will always be difficult. Even when Singham released, I was scared on that Friday morning and was wondering what would happen to the fate of my film.

BOI: Despite being Rohit Shetty?

RS: If you take success for granted, then it’s all over. The moment you start thinking that main kuch bhi banaooga chalega, kyunki main Rohit Shetty hoon, that would be my downfall.

BOI: You don’t believe in the word ‘I’?

RS: ‘I’? NEVER! It’s always ‘US’.

BOI: Do you see a change in the way you shoot now, given your body of success?

RS: Yes, there are a lot of things that I have to keep in mind and that is because my entire team and I go into the psyche of the audience. When we started work on Singham Returns, I asked them if the film is what they would want to see, or what is it that I would want to watch in Singham Returns. Was it great action, dialoguebaazi, drama, a bit of humour and a lot of emotions like Singham had? So I asked them if they would like to watch all that in Singham Returns and they all agreed. So I try to get into the mind of the audience and understand what it is they would like to see me doing in my next film.

And, even after my film releases, our work is not over. My ADs make the rounds of cinemas, observing how people are reacting, which cinemas they are reacting, and if they are reacting, how they are reacting. We keep all this in mind when we are making our next film.

BOI: Do they make a note of all those things, like, iss scene pe achchi tali mili par iss scene mein humko laga tha logon ko achha lagega par aisa nahi hua?

RS: Yeah! They note down all these details and let me know what is working and what’s not. Like when we made Golmaal 2, we thought it was a horrible film but it did well. I would say that my most mediocre work was Golmaal Returns. It lacked emotion and we were arrogant, and we made a lot of fun of other films. That was a learning experience for us, that God has given us so much and we need to chill. After that, we started putting emotions into films like All The Best, Golmaal 3 and Singham.

BOI: Failure usually changes a person. Although Golmaal Returns was a successful story, you still gave yourself a reality check?

RS: That’s when you need to have a reality check. Today, you may say I have delivered eight hits but, for me, Raju Hirani is one of the finest directors. For me Rang De Basanti is far better than any of my films. You need to have that reality check.

BOI: Or, for that matter, even the box office gives you a reality check.

RS: No, but… When I say reality check… The box office is good but there are many films that are not good but they do well perhaps because of the star or a hit number. At the end of the day, you have to be honest with yourself. When I watch Singham Returns, I know it is one of the best films I have made so far. But my body of work is nowhere near 3 Idiots or Rang De Basanti. And that keeps me on my toes… inspiring me to work harder.

BOI: Singham Returns is a part of a very successful franchise and you also have the Golmaal franchise. How do you tweak each new franchise? And how do you maintain a balance?

RS: It takes time. You need to grow with it. Singham released three years ago and we had included punches and shots that were new. Many films after ours copied these elements and they became repetitive. That’s why Singham Returns is over-the-top but not all that over-the- top. We tried to change things, like camera angles. The way we approached the film and shot the film is very different from the way we did the first instalment.

BOI: Do you also visit cinemas to gauge the audience reaction?

RS: I do but after that, it’s about what other filmmakers are doing. What they are making, how are things changing? If you don’t do that, you tend to lose the connect. I also have a young team that inspires me and I learn from them. There is a point where you teach them and then comes a point when you start learning from them.

BOI: Rohit Shetty, the successful director, doesn’t mind learning from the younger generation?

RS: No, I always have an open-door policy where everyone has the right to express what they think about my films, good, bad or whatever. I think that’s why my films are so well received by the audience. At the end of the day, it’s not only my film but all of us are the audience. What happens is, you are a director and think in a certain way but, finally, we are also part of the audience. Thus, when I am watching 3 Idiots, I laugh and I cry. When I am watching Hera Pheri, I too laugh and react like a member of the audience. When you’re a director, after the first 15 minutes, you notice how he (director) took the shot, achcha isne yeh kapde pahne, isne aise dialogue bola. And then you get engrossed in the film. After that, you either like it or you don’t. Then it’s no longer a director or a cameraman or a writer watching the film. Just the audience.

BOI: Apart from your success, people also talk about how quickly you work. How do you manage to wrap a film within the given time limit?

RS: That credit goes to my team, not me alone. I simply arrive on the sets, give instructions and take the shots. Credit goes to my production team for that. Without them, I wouldn’t be able to pull off a film in four months, a film like Singham Returns.

BOI: For Chennai Express too, the date was announced before the shoot began. How much pressure does that put on you?

RS: Pressure wrecks your creativity. You need to work hard; you need to believe in your own work; you need to inspire your team; get inspired by your team; and work together. There is no such thing as pressure; you need to work with honesty. And on Friday, your film will either be a hit or a flop. But the whole journey of five to six months should be a memory you treasure.

BOI: You spoke about ‘Rohit Shetty films’ and the parameters attached to them. Does that keep you from making a very intense love story?

RS: I don’t feel like making that kind of cinema. If I do try and make an intense love story, it may be because I want to prove a point, main yeh bhi kar sakta hoon. Today, they (audience) have watched Singham Returns and will remember the film for a month before they move on. Then they will go and watch Mardaani; they will watch Emraan’s (Hashmi) film Raja Natwarlal; they will watch Mary Kom. And then Bang Bang, Happy New Year, Bombay Velvet and then PK or another movie. After a year, when I come back, they will see what I have done. So we get stuck and that is the point where failure starts, ki you know I made Golmaal, you know I made the first trilogy, Golmaal 3. But the audience has forgotten, their emotions will change in some time and they will come next year and see my naye vale poster, arre gaadiyan udi hogi, comedy hogi, action hogi.

This is because after my film, they will watch a film like Mardaani, where they get a different genre. Then they will see a Mary Kom and get a different genre. And then they will watch Happy New Year and PK and Bang Bang, where they will get everything. The problem arises when you think you’re the only person in the industry, Rohit Shetty is the industry. But it’s not like that; you have to think from the audience’s perspective.

It’s like a product. Once a year, I come out with a new product. People happily buy this product and after my product, they want to buy another product. They want to be entertained by another film. And we release more than 250 films a year.

BOI: In that case, how challenging are sequels?

RS: Sequels are very challenging because there is a character you can’t experiment with. You have to play within the boundaries of that character and still create a new film out of it. Creating a new story becomes difficult. The only time this helps is when promoting your film. People already know what the film is about. When we were promoting Singham 1, everyone was, like, kya ye Dabangg hai? Kya ye Dabangg hai? Kya ye Dabangg hai? So, while promoting Singham Returns, there were no questions about who Bajirao Singham was.

BOI: But in this film, you introduced many new characters, like Daya…

RS: (Cuts in) My son watches CID and I don’t know why (Laughs). Secondly, why is it doing so well after 17 years? We might find it stupid, the lines the character in CID recites, ki accha blood hain matlab khoon hua hai (Laughs). But people still watch it. I had told my designer Rahul Nanda when we were shooting in Goa, that I was shooting a film where Ajay Sir (Devgn) comes and says ‘Daya, darwaza tod’ and people would clap. That is because I have observed my mother, my son and my wife watching CID on television. If I didn’t observe people, I would never have seen the shot of him breaking a door. So I know my audience and that they will come. When something is working, you should respect that. There was a time when people used to tell me, ‘Arre, yeh toh fluke main chali. Now they have nothing to say because aath baar (eight times) toh fluke nahi hoga na. We have started saying it’s pricy but Rohit Shetty’s audience loves it.

We have so many Gods. We say why can’t we make films like Hollywood? They have only one God who speaks one language. They have one holiday, December 25. We have 3,000 Gods and I don’t know how many languages, and so many cultures. People forget that we have so many film industries in our country… Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, Malayalam, Gujarati, Punjabi, Hindi, Marathi, Bhojpuri and Bengali. All of them are doing well and there are different cultures like in Inox, Marine Lines, people are ashamed of clapping while watching a film. When the same film screens at Gaiety and Chandan, the audience goes mad. Since there are so many different types of people in our country, you need to respect all types of cinema.

BOI: What made you turn producer?

RS: (Laughs) More money! I think the whole equation of sales has changed and it’s not that you need to invest your own money. There are corporate houses and it becomes easier. When you have your own banner, you can make a film exactly as you please because you are not answerable to anyone. And you can risk pumping in more money. When I say I became a producer, it’s not like the entire ` 100 crore comes to my production house. People assume it’s more profitable to become a producer. It’s actually riskier because your money is at stake. But the best part is you’re not answerable to anyone.

BOI: Isn’t it better to take a fee and feel safe?

RS: Everything is changing, and considering how much is at the stake, it’s better to take that risk.

BOI: Are you saying you are the most expensive director?

RS: (Laughs) I don’t know. What I am saying is you don’t need to burden the film. Everything is so systematic now. Earlier, we used to shoot for 21 days. We would show the distributers photographs and albums, and then he would send us a cheque. All that has changed and the process is easier and much more transparent.

BOI: Apart from learning from your own films and other director’s films, you have taken elements from old movies like Golmaal and Bol Bachchan. Do you think it’s a good idea to be inspired by movies made in the past?

RS: Yeah, emotions will never change; you need to have a problem in the story. Now that can either be the gunda in the village, or the ladki ka baap, or ladki ka boyfriend, which is the case with every love story. I was telling Karan (Johar) just the other day, that ever since Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge released, in every love story made after that, the girl is about to get married to someone and you know that character jiska end main popat hone vala hain (Laughs). In Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, it was Salman Khan; and in our own film Pyaar To Hona Hi Tha, it was Bijoy Anand. The problems are the same whether, it’s the ‘60s, ‘70s, ‘80s, or ‘90s. Like the dargah song in Singham Returns… the way we moulded the situation. It is the Amar Akbar Anthony situation in the song Shirdi wale Sai Baba, where the mother gets her sight back. We can’t do that, so we tweaked that situation in a subtle way and people like it. But it is a Manmohan Desai situation. In our film, the hero goes to the dargah and the villain wakes up from a coma in hospital. How you present that emotion is very important.

BOI: We often say the audience has changed but the reality is the audience is the very same.

RS: When we say the culture is the same and the audience has changed, it means we have upgraded. Maybe we have upgraded ourselves but the emotions are still the same. Maybe we have become more melodramatic but our emotions haven’t changed. And why should they change?

BOI: While shooting your films, you capture Indian locations in a very lavish way, whether in Goa or Mumbai...

RS: (Cuts in) I am so cheap, I don’t shoot abroad. (Laughs)

BOI: You capture Indian locations like no other director does. For instance, in Singham Returns, the action sequence next to a railway track was fabulous.

RS: I want to shoot in Mumbai in a way that will make people talk about it. So credit goes to my production team, who had to face a lot of problems but we also had a lot of support from the Police and other authorities. That’s why Mumbai looked so beautiful. It is a very beautiful city; it’s just that you don’t usually get permission to shoot at places like Gateway of India. But we did. Yes, it is very difficult to shoot near the railway tracks.

BOI: With Singham Returns, you brought machine-gun battles back to the big screen. What was the thought behind that?

RS: It had been a long time since a Hindi film had a machine-gun shootout. Also, we didn’t want too many hand-to-hand fights with people flying all over the place because that has been done. Every second hero kicks the baddies and sends 10 people flying through the air. We wanted a little authenticity and that’s why we brought in the gun-fight sequences. When you see it in every other film’s sight sequences, I will have to do something new!

BOI: Comedy and action are your favourite genres. Do you make a Golmaal or a Singham in that frame of mind?

RS: (Laughs) No, my frame of mind is not the same. If I make a film on a psychopath serial killer, that doesn’t mean I will start killing people. It’s crap, ullu banate hain log. It’s just that you write a film and you enjoy a film and you just make it. You need to be happy when you are making films, when you are happy and your unit is happy it comes on the screen and then the audience will be happy.

BOI: Will your production house be producing films for other directors or your team’s ADs?

RS: Yes, why not? We will start doing that soon. We will make sensible cinema. (Laughs)

BOI: Will you let them make films in ‘your genre’ or you will keep that to yourself?

RS: No, that genre will be mine! We have launched our company and will be producing small films for now. I will not encourage them to make my kind of cinema because that would be like the same product coming out of my production house. So they need to go different ways. And, yes, I might produce different films from other directors.

BOI: Lastly, when you look back, there must be an A-list actor who must have said ‘no’ to you when you offered them a film. They must have said, ‘you make bad films and I don’t want to be a part of your project…’

RS: (Cuts in) They all visit me in my office now. (Laughs)

 


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