Director Rohit Shetty on the filmi formula, creative partnership with Ajay Devgn, working with Shah Rukh Khan and more
Within the industry, people think that a commercial film is a load of crap but that’s not true. Just because we don’t intellectualise our movies, it does not mean that there is nosense to them
Rohit, after four successful comedies under your belt, why the transition to action films?
After Golmaal 3, which got me huge recognition, I felt that making another comedy would be cheating my audience. And out of the blue, Singham came. I watched the film and thought this is the one that I should make in Hindi. I narrated the basic idea to Ajay and even he was excited so we started. We had planned Golmaal 3 and then Bol Bachchan (an adaptation of the original Golmaal) but then we saw Singham and decided to make an actioner between the two. We did Singham and it worked.
Did you feel anxious about taking on an unscheduled project?
(Laughs) I had sleepless nights. With Singham, I wanted to prove to the industry but above all to my own self that it was not plain luck. Some said these films are working because they come during Diwali, some said it’s working because it’s a brand – as if I have bought the brand from somewhere ki, ‘pao kilo brand dena’! That brand was created by me. So I wanted to make a movie that had just one or two songs, was not a comedy and did not release during Diwali.
How did it all begin?
It was sheer accident that Golmaal came my way. I was making a thriller for Ashtavinayak with Ajay and out of the blue I met Neeraj (Vora) at my office and he narrated this play, which was the basic idea for Golmaal. I instantly told him I wanted to make that film and scrapped the thriller I was making. I took the idea to Ajay and he agreed to go with it but I never thought that it would become a brand by itself.
Would it be correct to say that the success of Golmaal restored the industry’s faith in formula films?
When we started with Golmaal, commercial films were not doing that well, neither were multiplexes but Ghajini changed things and then Wanted, which did well in both single screens and multiplexes, changed the perception.
Tell us something of your creative partnership with Ajay Devgn who has been a part of all your films.
Ajay and me go back 20 years. I know him from the time when he was about to get launched as a hero- I was 16 at that time. Both our fathers were action directors. I have been with him for almost all the films that have been made by his company so I find it very easy to work with him. He’s like family.
When Zameen flopped, forget about working with me, nobody would take my phone call-Ajay was the only one who stood by me and that’s why Golmaal happened. If I would have gone with Singham to anyone else, they would have told me that I should stick to comedy. Ajay had the faith in me and that’s why it happened.
Besides, Ajay has a good understanding of cinema so it works like a dream.
After Bol Bachchan, you will be working with Shah Rukh Khan-why the big switch?
It’s a natural progression. The truth is that any director writes a film with Aamir, Ajay, Salman or Shah Rukh in mind and of course, the eventual casting happens according to your place in the industry.
After Golmaal 3 released, Shah Rukh, who had liked the film, called me. We met up soon after with the thought of working together. At that time I was planning to make Angoor and UTV Motion Pictures was a part of the project. Shah Rukh liked the idea so I told him I would finish work on Singham and then get back to him with a working script for Angoor but while writing it, I got bored.
Since I was working with Shah Rukh, I felt that I wanted to make something bigger. Fortuitously we had the script of Chennai Express ready with us, so my team and I took a call to approach him with the new script. I wondered if Shah Rukh would think that I was mad and throw me out of his office when I told him I no longer wanted to make Angoor! I was pretty tense but I told him that I was not excited about Angoor but I had another script for narration. And somehow, he immediately understood. He said, “I will do the film that excites you.”
I narrated the script of Chennai Express and he liked it.
What’s the story (of Chennai Express) about?
It’s a hard-core commercial film with a romantic angle. The story is about this man’s travel from Mumbai to Rameshwaram and what happens during the journey. There is a lot of romance keeping Shah Rukh in mind but it will also be a typical Rohit Shetty film with cars blowing and lots of action.
So blowing up cars is Rohit Shetty’s signature style?
It’s whacko of me to say this but kids love the chase and the cars overturning and blowing up (Laughs). In fact, people often ask me, “Is picture mein gaadiyan hain na?”
While shooting for Singham in Vashi, a unit member, who went for a smoke, overheard an interesting conversation. A group of people standing there had just witnessed the shot of a car being blown up and they were saying, “Arrey gaadi uda hai na to Rohit Shetty ka picture hoga!”
Does it upset you to be known as a director of “mindless comedies”?
Within the industry, people think that a commercial film is a load of crap but that’s not true. Just because we don’t intellectualise our movies, it does not mean that there is no sense to them.
Since 2006 my films — Golmaal, Golmaal Returns, All The Best, Golmaal 3 and now Singham — have been in the top five. We don’t even make it to any of the award nominations. Earlier I used to get angry but now I have accepted that it’s going to be that way.
Are you flattered at being compared to senior directors like David Dhawan or Priyadarshan who have a formidable track record with comedies?
I would be happy to be like David Dhawan or Priyan Sir who have had more than 50-60 hits. Priyan sir has done films in both Hindi and South Indian languages and he’s also a National Award winner, which is huge.I am just five films old so I don’t think it’s a fair comparison.
Which are the films that you draw inspiration from?
I watch movies from the ’60s and ’70s- Nasir Husain’s or Ramesh Sippy’s films – and observe the storytelling technique. A research we conducted indicated that the ’70s style of a hero-driven drama, which the younger generation is not familiar with, would work but with a slightly different presentation. For them it’s a brand new thing and we have seen it work. I am making films from that era.
Your observations on the Gennext superstars?
I am scared of the younger lot because they are all doing very well but none of them can yet pull off a full-blown commercial film. And that is very important. If you see the reigning top stars, they can do both. Aamir does a Taare Zameen Par but he can also do a Ghajini. For instance, among the new lot, there is nobody who can play a tough cop. I feel the young crop does not have enough faith in commercial cinema, which is a pity.