Even though he has delivered back-to-back hits in the past few years, Rohit Shetty has also given fodder to his critics, who feel that he only sticks to a particular kind of cinema.
While the director, who has made blockbusters like Singham (2011) and Chennai Express (2013), among others, admits that such detractions do bother him, he reveals that he is “catering to a certain kind of audience.” As he is busy filming his next big project, starring Shah Rukh Khan and Kajol, the 42-year-old talks to us about his success formula, his journey in B-Town, and more.
You started off as an assistant director (with Phool Aur Kaante; 1991). Have you achieved what you wanted to?
When you are an assistant director (AD), you visualise things. At least, I used to do that... I wished to reach a certain position. I wanted to direct films and wanted them to be successful. I am very happy, because I had never imagined this kind of success and recognition.
Your father (late MB Shetty) was an actor and an action director. Did you always wish to direct films?
I wanted to become an action director and a director. I wanted to create a genre, in which I could do action as well as direct a film. Luckily, I got training in both. I think the marriage of both — of an action director and a director — happened seamlessly for me. Whatever I had thought of, I am doing just that.
Your critics feel that you only make a particular kind of films…I know there are 10-20% of all people who don’t like my cinema. But when my films release, we do our research. My team goes on the ground, and checks how many people are watching them. It’s mainly kids, women, older people and basically family audience. I am catering to a certain kind of audience, and luckily that segment is quite big.
Another common perception is that your films lack soul.
As much as I would love to, I am unable to please everyone. I want everyone to like my film. If I say that I don’t get bothered [if everyone doesn’t like my film], I will be lying. When I was just two to three films old, I was much younger, and a bit arrogant. Today, I would love for critics to like my films. At present, though, I don’t want to prove a point to anyone. I am happy with what I am doing.
Your next is a big Christmas release. Would you call this your most challenging project so far?Every film is challenging. Shah Rukh says, "Even if we give you a grape, you will make it into a watermelon (laughs)." So, there should always be a challenge. If it’s not there, you won’t enjoy the process, and even if the film works, you won’t get the kind of high you should get. This film is mounting well, all thanks to Shah Rukh, who is a great producer. He has been my biggest strength. Like Ajay (Devgn), with SRK there are limited discussions. He understands what I’m saying. He understands my emotions as a human being and as a director. If Shah Rukh wasn’t the producer, I don’t know if I would have been able to helm such a big film.
When your first film, Zameen (2003), didn’t work, did that affect you a lot?I have always been a fighter. It’s in my DNA, and it’s also a way of life for me. If it didn’t work, it’s my fault, because I was the director of the film. Of course, you go through a phase when people don’t want to work with you, they try to avoid you, they don’t take your calls, sometimes they don’t even give you time for a narration. So, it’s quite harsh that way. I have gone through that phase. That’s the way the industry functions. But luckily, I had Ajay (Devgn) who helped me. That’s how Golmaal (2006) happened, and as they say, the rest is history.
What kinds of films do you personally like?
I love a good film. Since I am working on a particular genre, it doesn’t make me abhorrent towards other genres. For instance, I just saw Piku and Bajrangi Bhaijaan, and loved both.
What’s your film-making process like?
I work in a different manner. My upcoming film was actually written three years back. Now, Karan (Johar; film-maker) and I are making the remake of Ram Lakhan (1989). The process started during Singham Returns (2014). But I don’t become emotional about characters and stories. We write a script, and don’t touch it for six months. When we take it up again, we look at it objectively. After a point, my whole team becomes very harsh towards a script. I have an open-door policy, where even my office boy, ADs, technical team, and others, can give me suggestions.
Where do your inspirations come from?
Did your experience as an AD help you?
I have seen two different eras — an era before and the one after Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge (DDLJ; 1995). I worked as an AD on Phool Aur Kaante, and post DDLJ, I became an AD on Pyaar To Hona Hi Tha (1998). I have been fortunate that I worked in both the times.
Do you want to try out a new genre?
Definitely, I would also like to do something else, but I won’t do it to prove a point. The day a thought comes to my mind or I get a script I would like to make, I would make it. Having said that, it’s not easy to make films that we are making. It needs a lot of hard work and money.
There’s a perception that you only work with big stars…
It’s not that I only want to work with big stars. Today, the market has opened up so much that if you have to work with a newcomer or an upcoming actor, you need to have such a script [which will require new faces]. I can’t make a larger-than-life film [with a newcomer] because the Indian film market works on an image [of a star]. So, what you can try with Salman Khan, you can’t do that with a newcomer keeping the budget and the image in mind. If I get a subject, which I feel we should make with a newcomer, I will definitely make it.
What’s next?I have the remake of Ram Lakhan, followed by a film for Siddharth Roy Kapur (producer), and another one with (producers) Sachin and Sangeeta Ahir. They all have been waiting for me for a long time, and with a lot of patience.