'We just blew up three or four cars'

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By With Singham, Rohit Shetty - director of the Golmaal series of comedy films - has proved that he can be a master of the action genre as well. But he tells Velly Thevar that one is only as good as one's last Friday release
  • Published 21.08.11

Filmmaker Rohit Shetty’s suite has a stunning view of the wild Arabian Sea. The sea is more turbulent than ever on this Mumbai monsoon morning. And Shetty, who has an unhindered view of the sea’s churning from his hotel suite, can’t have enough of it.

“I love the sea. It gives you a breather. It doesn’t suffocate you,” says Shetty, who has booked the huge sea-facing suite and conference room at the Hotel Sun Sand in Juhu for a brainstorming session for his next film — yet another comedy.

That’s not surprising, for his new film, Singham, and his three earlier films in the Golmaal series were all shot in Goa. “I simply love Goa, and I believe it is lucky for me,” he says with a laugh.

Thirty-seven-year-old Shetty is riding the wave of success in Bollywood. Singham was his first successful foray into the action-cum-masala potboiler genre after the hugely popular franchise of Golmaal. With Singham turning out to be one of the biggest hits of the season, Shetty has a new feather to add to his heavily plumed cap. The director of successful rib-ticklers has made an equally successful transition into action films.

But the man keeps his own funny bone well-guarded. He is mostly reticent, and almost stiff, through the interview. He laughs so rarely that it’s quite a surprise when he excuses himself to take a phone call, and suddenly breaks into an uninhibited and childlike laugh, triggered by something that’s been said by the voice at the other end. Clearly, there’s more to the man than meets the eye.

Shetty has old ties to the industry. His father was the actor M.B. Shetty — known simply as Shetty — who was admired as much for his daring stunts and action sequences as his shining bald pate. The son has a receding hairline too, but the thinning hair accentuates his broad forehead, making him look younger than his age.

But Shetty doesn’t have too many memories of his father, who died of a heart attack when he was in Class III. Shetty senior — who acted as a villain in films such as Don, Shalimar and Yaadon Ki Baaraat — sent a chill down the audience’s spine whenever he appeared on the screen. But the son remembers him as a “jovial” man. “He was easy to get along with,” says Shetty, whose step-brother, Hriday Shetty, is also a filmmaker.

Rohit Shetty represents the old world of Bollywood where films were made to purely entertain. Not surprisingly, his cinema is hugely inspired by the films of the Seventies. And his knowledge of cinema of that era is clearly stupendous. “In fact, at the risk of sounding immodest, I am considered a walking-talking encyclopedia of Hindi cinema of the Seventies. I get phone calls at all odd hours from friends in the industry who cannot recollect the name of a film or its details,” he says.

He can reel off reams of information on the directors and producers of the time. “I know everything about Nasir Hussain’s style, about Brij Sadanah’s films, about Raj Khosla, Raj Sippy, Vijay Anand, Dulal Guha, who made Dushman with Rajesh Khanna and Pratigya with Dharmendra, about Mukul Anand who introduced all kinds of new techniques to cinema,” he says.

That’s because, right from an early age, he was fed on a diet of films. And it’s no surprise that his favourite film ever is Cinema Paradiso, which he never tires of watching. The 1988 Italian film is about a young projectionist in a small town who develops a passion for films that eventually shape his life.

And so at the tender age of 16, when most teens are a confused bunch of hormones, Shetty, armed with nothing else but an abiding passion for Hindi masala films, started working as an assistant director to the stunt master in the 1991 film Phool Aur Kaante. That was Ajay Devgn’s first film and the bond between the two has only strengthened over the years. Devgn is a constant in each of Rohit Shetty’s films — from Golmaal to All The Best to Singham. “There is a comfort level — we have faith in each other. We believe each other in a blindfolded manner,” he says matter- of-factly.

It was Devgn, in fact, who is believed to have stepped in to control an ugly spat between Shetty and Reliance Entertainment, the producers of Singham, during the making of the film. The grapevine has it that throughout the shoot in Goa, the production unit of Reliance and he were at loggerheads. Finally, Devgn intervened, bridging the gap between the two sides. For the first time in the course of the interview, Shetty — with his intelligent brown eyes that spell calm — looks a bit nonplussed when the subject crops up. “I won’t brand the entire company; we had differences with some people in the company,” is all that he says. As an afterthought he adds, “They need to respect technicians.”

Singham is just the latest in a series of hits for Shetty. Long before Singham, his name was so synonymous with the Golmaal franchise that he was often referred to as Golmaal Shetty. Though critics say the first in the series far outdid the sequels, his mastery over comic timing has never been in dispute.

“Actually Golmaal happened by chance. I was working on a thriller for Ashtvinayak films. Neeraj Vora who wrote Hera Pheri approached me out of the blue and gave me an idea about an old play called Aflatoon. I found it very interesting and instantly decided that I wanted to make it into a movie. I never even anticipated that Golmaal would eventually become a household brand and that it would change the course of my destiny. The Golmaal franchise will always be special. It is the highest rated film on satellite television. Every week it is on some channel or the other.”

With comedy emerging as Shetty’s chosen genre, few thought he would venture into other areas, especially since his 2003 directorial debut Zameen, an action film, failed at the box office. But surprise, surprise. Shetty was not an action director and stuntman’s son for nothing. He was itching to do a Dabangg much before the 2010 action film broke all records. When he saw the Tamil film Singham, he thought it would make for a wonderful Hindi film adaptation. Of course, he adds that unlike the Tamil version, the Hindi film is “more mellow” and they “tweaked” the original quite a bit. “Doing an out-and-out action film after the Golmaal series was quite a challenge. But I had to move out of my safe zone. People cautioned me, ‘What if it doesn’t work?’ But I always wanted to do an action film,” he explains.

And so did he blow up 20 cars for the film as reported by the glossies? “Oh no. We just blew up three or four cars,” he says almost apologetically.

But even in an action film, Shetty tries not to fall into pessimism. “I simply get bored by dark cinema. Singham was not a dark film. You won’t feel heavy when you come out of the cinema house. I hate sad endings. I want the audience to love the films I make and sport a smile on their face while they watch my films for two hours,” he says earnestly.

Today all the big names in the industry work with Rohit Shetty. Kareena Kapoor loved Golmaal so much that she agreed to be a part of the sequel and the third part too. But Rohit Shetty has not lost his moorings while flying with the stars. “I do not take my success seriously. I want to be the same person irrespective of a hit or a flop,” he says. “At the end of the day, you are as good as your last Friday release.”

He has had a good run of Fridays so far. Watch out for his next venture — the comedy that he’s now drafting in his hotel suite. The sea, after all, is right behind him.