‘I? Never! It’s always us!’

Blockbuster director Rohit Shetty in conversation talks about acting, acting up and of course directing some Rs 100 crore capers. Read on...

Singham Returns earned  100 crorers in the first five days after its release. It also took the highest day-one opening. Were you expecting a response on this scale?
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.

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

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’?
(Pauses) It was difficult.

Did you always want to make films of this kind?
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.

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

 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.

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.

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 that, iss film mein drama hai, action hai, comedy hai.

Barring 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?
(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.

As a trade magazine, we are in touch with everyone from the industry, whether filmmake, distributor or exhibitor. Everyone speaks with the utmost respect of two directors – Rajkumar Hirani and Rohit Shetty. Why do they have so much faith in you?
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.

What is more difficult for you – delivering blockbuster or being humble?

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.

You don’t believe in the word ‘I’?
Do you see a change in the way you shoot now, given your body of success?

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.

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

 Or, for that matter, even the box office gives you a reality check.
 No, but when I say reality check it means 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.

Singham Returns is a part of a very successful franchise and you also have the Golmaal franchise. How do you maintain a balance?

 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.

Do you also visit cinemas to gauge the audience reaction?

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.

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

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?
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.

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

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

In that case, how challenging are sequels?
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.
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