Dismissing the possibility of Kartik Aaryan playing Raju in the third instalment of Hera Pheri, Bollywood actor Suneil Shetty has voiced his willingness to see the rest of the original cast — Akshay Kumar, Paresh Rawal and himself — frontlining the cult comedy.
We recently caught up with Suneil, who talked about his OTT debut Dharavi Bank (an MX Player crime thriller series directed by Samit Kakkad), his three-decade journey in Bollywood and his experience of watching Lionel Messi lift the FIFA World Cup trophy for Argentina in Qatar.
Did your OTT debut, Dharavi Bank, remind you about your film debut Balwaan in 1992?
Suniel Shetty: (Smiles) I was a very confident individual when I made my debut. Coming from a non-film family helped me as well. It’s been 33 years! This time, I was nervous when I was re-starting as I wasn’t sure about the acceptance. Fortunately, the character Thalaivan (in Dharavi Bank) was liked by the people. I was called Anna by everyone but suddenly a whole lot of people have started calling me Thalaivan. It made me very happy.
Over the years, a lot of things have changed and have advanced in the filming process in India. What are the things you miss from your early days?
Suniel Shetty: The family feeling is missing. Everybody, starting from the actors, spot boys, art directors, dancers, and fighters, used to know each other and work as one unit. I see the new generation is totally detached. They are asked to be professional, so the personal touch is missing. Everything is now data and tech-based. Earlier, we used to know about the audience. Now, we know how many tickets are sold and not what is happening at the theatres.
There are no distributors now — corporates distribute films or another manager handles a particular stake. Earlier, wherever we travelled, we used to meet the distributors. They used to tell us what would work and what needs to be done. That final human touch is missing. Now the finance and commercials are dictating how a film should be made and not the creative people. The writer is not as important as the CFO or the CEO.
When you look back, what are the top three moments from your three decades?
Suniel Shetty: My first break, Balwaan, comes first. The next moment would be doing Hera Pheri as it helped me get into the Bollywood comedy space. My recent web series, Dharavi Bank, is also one of the top moments in my career.
Hera Pheri fans can’t wait for its third instalment. How excited are you?
Suniel Shetty: I am very excited because it would be really interesting to see if the financial condition of the three main characters — Raju, Ghanshyam and Baburao — remains the same.
It’s been 14 years since Phir Hera Pheri but the audience believes it was just yesterday. There is a massive audience for the franchise. We have our work cut out to meet the massive expectations.
We read a lot on Hera Pheri’s third instalment to have a new director and some new cast members…
Suniel Shetty: (Cuts in) A new director, for sure. But there are reservations regarding the cast. I would only want the original three (Suniel Shetty, Akshay Kumar, and Paresh Rawal). The original cast would want it as well.
Saying that, if there is another actor on board, it’s brilliant. The more, the merrier! Bollywood needs multi-starrer films for commercial purposes. Akshay is talking to the makers continuously. Even if Kartik Aaryan is there, he would be completely a new character. He isn’t playing Raju. He can’t play Raju. Only Raju can play Raju! If someone tries to fill Akshay’s or my shoes, a section of the audience can feel we would have been better, but one can’t replace Paresh (Rawal). Each of us has our own standing and that’s one of the reasons why this film has worked.
Coming to entrepreneurship, young actors and celebrities are investing in various projects. What are your thoughts or tips as a successful entrepreneur?
Suniel Shetty: Yes, one needs to invest wisely. One should invest in start-ups as young kids have brilliant ideas. Actors can help in marketing and back the right team and idea. India has great investment opportunities with 75,000 start-ups. In this way, an actor can also make sure that he is in a secure place.
Tell us about your experience of watching the FIFA World Cup final and Lionel Messi lifting the trophy in Qatar.
Suniel Shetty: Aahh, that’s something I ticked off my bucket list (smiles). Previously, Ahan (Suniel’s son) and I had gone to the 2003 FIFA World Cup. This time, we witnessed two legends — Messi and Mbappé. It was the ultimate experience. I couldn’t have dreamt of anything better (smiles)! Qatar as the host country was very nice. The people, the security — all happened very smoothly.
What are the other projects you are working on?
Suniel Shetty: I just finished the MMA reality show (Kumite 1 Warrior Hunt), where we have some top MMA fighters. It’s an emerging sport. Then I have Hunter, an action-packed thriller, where I am playing a cop.
As you are interested in so many things, what are the kind of shows you like to watch?
Suniel Shetty: I watched a lot of shows during the pandemic. I watched crime thrillers such as Narcos, Peaky Blinders and Empire. But I really enjoy reality shows on architecture, home, gardening and safaris because they give me new ideas and I learn a lot. I also watched shows on investment like Shark Tank as well.