The best thing about Rohit Shetty is that he doesn’t claim to make movies for the intellectuals. He is a director of popular cinema and would rather earn mass audience than earn a few nondescript stars (by film critics) which have no value for him. While he is scorned, the fact of the matter is that the guy knows how to make a well-crafted popular film, even when the content doesn’t merit any sense and significance.
That is why it’s interesting to delve into the mind of the man, who makes movies that overflow with idiocy, but bring in the laughs. “So long as my audience understands my intent and laughs with me, I’m fine. My audience is my king,” says the critic-proof, new rock star of the box office.
Emerging as one of the highest-ranking directors of our time, who has had uninterrupted success with seven back-to-back hits, Rohit has once again taken the box office by storm with Chennai Express (CE ) breaking every possible record and crossing the Rs 200 crore mark.
Over to Rohit.
How does it feel to be the man of the moment?
The opening of the film was fairly unprecedented and it left all of us happy. But I’m realistic enough to understand that six months down the line another blockbuster will come and smash the records of our film. Now, coming to your question, I do not feel that I’m the man of the moment. There’s a lovely saying by Michael Jordan that ‘talent wins games, but teamwork (and intelligence) wins championships.’ CE is clearly a team effort. We have all worked very hard on it.
You must be struggling to keep tab on the movie offers that are pouring in.
It’s a great feeling that everyone wants to work with you. But I think everyone knows that my calendar is set and announced, so unfortunately I’m not
inundated with any extra feelers. Nobody has called me (laughs). I’m starting Singham 2 in December and after that a film with Shah Rukh Khan again. I’m
writing the story and discussions for it are going at a rapid pace.
You’ve entered the exclusive club of brand names now. That must feel good, right?
Well, I was always proud of being who I am. But with seven back-to-back hits, I slowly see my name being taken with more respect. But honestly, in my personal space, I’m yet to figure out what exactly being a brand ensues. I’m aware that there are many pros and cons and most certainly it is a big pressure to live up to the expectations. Actually, it’s a bit scary or maybe my unfamiliarity with this space is making me talk like this.
It’s common knowledge that Shah Rukh Khan’s star power drove audiences to the theatres. But the fact also remains that you were the captain of the ship. You seem to be lying low.
Alright, I was navigating the ship but without Shah Rukh Khan we would have sunk midway. By nature, I am a low-key person and like being behind the camera. SRK is the most generous producer I’ve ever met; he’s my star and guide. He never questioned me, or discussed anything when I talked about the budget. He never had a doubt in his mind about my suggestions. He stood by me like a rock, so in such circumstances, it’s natural not to feel elated because CE s not my lone effort.
More success means more power and more money. Are you getting better with money and enjoying the power?
In our line, more success means more money for the producers (smiles). Yes, a little bit of power comes along with success and helps everyone if a film takes off. But nothing is permanent in any business and things are more transitory in show business. So, honestly I want to make some money fast.
There was a recent report that your half-brother (Hriday Shetty, from your dad’s first marriage) had disowned you? Does that hurt?
Naturally it was awkward for me when the report came out. My mother was also extremely upset. But he and I spoke about it and he denied it. He said that he didn’t say any such cheap thing. It was twisted to suit the nature of the gossip of the publication. My brothers and I talk to each other. The other day he texted me saying he loved Chennai Express. Anyway, we don’t have any problems as it was made out to be.
If you had the option of asking one thing from these five stars what would that be?
Shah Rukh Khan
Start my movie immediately. I miss you a lot.
Let’s do a film together. If I come to you, don’t say no.
Work with Rohit Shetty.
Start your day a little late. I almost walked in my sleep when I had to meet him thrice for meetings at 6 am.
Keep loving me always.
What was the turning point in your life, work-wise?
It would be my first film Golmaal (2006), which changed everything. By God’s grace, I never had to look back. Things just started unfolding for me.
Who is your favourite star today?
That’s a tricky question, but I will answer it. Amitabh Bachchan, Shah Rukh Khan and Ajay Devgn are the three people I admire the most. From the younger lot, I like Ranbir Kapoor’s work.
You’ve worked with Shah Rukh and Ajay. Have you ever offered a film to your idol Amitabh Bachchan?
Even though Amitji (Bachchan) has seen me from childhood, somehow I’m still scared when he is around. As a child, I used to go to the sets of his films with dad (veteran stunt-master/actor MB Shetty) and would quietly observe him from a distance. Recently, he shot a song for me in Bol Bachchan (2012). I would love to work with him. It’s my dream and hopefully when it comes true, I won’t be too dumbstruck on the sets to be able to direct him. I really want to write a script for him.
What kind of role would you write for Mr Bachchan?
I want to see him in a hardcore commercial film with great action sequences and cars flying across. I also want to see him indulging in some energetic dance. It has to be a rock star role! I’ll write it soon, but before taking it to him I have to be convinced about it.
Your personal story is quite inspiring. Is there a lucky mascot from the past that has always been with you?
I’m God’s chosen child. I don’t worry or carry anything extra to feel the strength. I’ve always felt the power of God beside me. Your strength lies in instilling honesty, truth and sincerity in you.
On the physical level, I always keep my team with me. They’re my lucky mascots. They guide me, keep me grounded and criticise me. I don’t get to show my gratitude to them, but through this article, I want to thank them. They’re extremely valuable to me. They were the first ones to see the first promo of Chennai Express (CE), and rejected it straightaway.
Are you religious?
Your karma should be good and everything else will follow. Your good karma will always win over your bad luck. I’ve seen a lot. Today,
we have four SUVs in my house. But there was a time when I used to travel in the local train to reach my school.
How did your closest friend Ajay, react to your success with Shah Rukh?
He is very happy for me. When successful, everyone has someone to express gratitude to.
Other than your mother and God, whom would you like to thank?
Behind every successful individual, there’s always more than one person. I would want to thank Ajay for getting me out of oblivion and for giving me a place in the sun. I remember one day, actor-director-writer Neeraj Vora came to my office to narrate a play that he had done. The play was called Aflatoon, which became Golmaal. I would also thank Shah Rukh for helping me carry forward my dream by giving me this movie. I had gone to him with the script of the Angoor (1982) remake. But, he chose CE which had been written and kept with me since 2008. I didn’t work on it as I wasn’t getting the right cast for it. I think it was meant for Shah Rukh.
Given a choice, would you redo any of your films?
No. I’m extremely happy with the way my films have turned up. I wouldn’t want to touch them. If you’re talking about remaking my own films, I think my films are too young to be remade. And, a caution to all, nobody should think of remaking my film for the coming twenty years.
Would you like to remake someone else’s film?
If I reveal the name of the film that I may plan to remake at some point in life, people will immediately jump and probably get the rights of the movie, thinking ‘Yeh movie mein kuch khaas hoga’ (there’s certainly something special about the film). And before I know it, they will announce it as their project. So, it’s better for me to keep quiet.
Owing to your looks and physique, people feel that you can easily become an actor in Bollywood. Has the thought ever tempted you?
Oh no. I’ll be a terrible actor because I’m very conscious in front of the camera. I’m also bad at emoting. Nobody will come to watch a film that features me.
Who is your favourite heroine from the past and the current lot?
Hema Malini and Nutan were my childhood crushes! I met Hemaji once when dad took me to the set of a film. Both these ladies stole my heart with their beauty and grace. I still remember the song ‘Dil ka bhanwar’ from Tere Ghar Ke Samne (1963) that picturised on Dev sahab (Anand) and Nutanji. Her expressions in the song were mind-blowing.
From the current lot, I would say Kareena (Kapoor), because I have worked with her and she’s like family. I’m quite close to her. Deepika (Padukone) is another actress who has managed to make her place in the industry. She’s matured amazingly as an actor. I really admire Priyanka Chopra as a performer too.
I’ve heard that you’re working with Salman Khan in a Karan Johar production?
Yes, the film that I’m doing with Karan will be a hardcore, commercial film. But, I haven’t finalised the story yet. And, till the time we don’t have the final script, there’s no point in discussing the star.
How will you carry forward your father’s legacy?
There isn’t anything so big for us to carry forward. Yes, I will keep his name alive by working hard with a lot of honesty. Somewhere up there, he’s happily watching us.
Critics usually pan your movies. Most of them haven’t spared even Chennai Express. How upsetting was it?
I don’t take them seriously as so far they haven’t given me a reason to do so. I believe when something is made from the heart, it connects easily. My films do not promise anything more than just some silly laughs. It’s not for those who analyse movies as case studies. It’s not for cynics and self-proclaimed intellectuals. A true intellectual is critical and analytical in the right and healthy sense. It’s a treat to get feedback from such beautiful minds, but sadly India largely lacks professional critics, like in the western countries. A lot of hard work goes into making a film, whether I do it or another director does it, and I strongly feel that they should give us that much credit. Don’t make us look like buffoons. Critics change their opinions every Monday. They text you excitedly on Friday, the next day, you see the reviews. Who cares? What we genuinely wait for nowadays is the audience’s reaction. Audience is my king.
We heard that there would always be two choppers waiting outside the sets of Chennai Express?
Not always, but for sequences which required their assistance, there were two choppers standing by at any given time. That’s a big thing though. That is what I mean by producer Shah Rukh Khan’s generosity. But I would also like to give credit to the team. My cameraman, dialogue writers Sajid-Farhad, story writer, editing team, action directors, stars, music directors, spot boys, drivers and everyone else.