Besides breaking all box office records, Chennai Express has made the Rs. 100-crore club redundant and ushered in the Rs. 200-crore league. Director Rohit Shetty talks of the highs and lows of being a film-maker with the Midas touch
The collections of Chennai Express are still going strong at the box-office in the fourth week. Enough reason for Rohit Shetty, the director of the film, to have a bright smile on his face. He breezes into his palatial office on the sixth floor which opens out to a spectacular view of suburban Mumbai. Quaint remote-controlled toy cars lined up on his window sill are proof that his passion for cars are not just relegated for action sequences in his films. One learns that when the director is free, he and members of his staff play around with these cars! Wearing a striking black tee, the only hint of any kind of flamboyance about the unassuming director are the tattoos on his arms. Slipping in a chair, he admits to being thrilled with the success of Chennai Express, but is quick to clarify that heís not carried away by it and is already working on the final draft of Singham 2, his next.
Itís rare to see toy cars in an office! Have you always had a fascination for them?
(Laughing) Half of them belong to my son, who plays with them, but yes, cars have been a childhood fascination. I have a fetish for them. I donít know whether itís a bad or a good thing, but I spend a lot of money on those things, be it in films or in my personal life. Itís a boy thing.
How are you celebrating the colossal success of Chennai Express?
We had a get-together with Shah Rukh (Khan) and the whole team of CE. But I donít want to get stuck with the success. If you get carried away, you may begin to believe that it will happen again. But the fact is, this kind of success happens just once-in-a-lifetime. I want to give it respect and cherish it as a sweet memory to encourage me to do good work.
Chennai Express broke many records, including the highest first weekend collections, fastest to reach Rs.100 crore and cross the Rs.200 crore mark. Which among all these figures was the most unexpected?
For me, every day has been exciting ever since it opened well on the first day, then came the fastest Rs.100 crore, then Rs.150 and so on. But the biggest surprise was it crossing the Rs. 200 crore mark, and the fact that it was still running strongly in its fourth week. So there is something about the film which has connected with the audience. I knew that the film would do well, but not in this manner. I am really feeling good.
How has the film industry reacted to the filmís success?
Some people say that money does not bother them, but I can see that it bothers everyone. I know that because the so-called intellectual actors and directors were calling and checking with trade analysts if the film is really doing that well. That was something I found shocking! Why should they be bothered whether the film has crossed Rs. 200 or not, especially when they say that the Rs. 100 crore mark does not bother them? If UTV is earning a huge amount by making a non-intellectual film, I know they will encourage 10 small guys to make small intellectual films, so somewhere down the line every film makes a difference.
The critics were not exactly kind to your film. Do you feel that they never gave you your due?
I know the film was trashed right from the beginning. Some trade analysts said they would like to buy the rights of the film to make it in Hindi, (because it had a smattering of Tamil in it) and some said the film will lose money. When I call them, they do not take my calls now(smiles). So nobody knows what will work.
You think Chennai Express has got you the respectability you deserve?
I donít care if critics donít respect me. My audience respects me a lot and I know that from their reaction when I go on the roads. To me that is the most important thing. There are 200 critics, and sadly most of the time they are wrong. If I go to see an Anurag Kashyap film, I will go with that mindset and if they come to see a Rohit Shetty, they should be prepared for my brand of cinema. Everyone has the right to love a genre or dislike a genre, but when you are on a public platform you canít be judgmental. You donít like a product or a genre that does not mean it is wrong. They know I make commercial films, so they should come with an open mind. I have proved them wrong every time. If I were proved wrong by someone, I would shut my mouth and run away from the country. Likewise, they should shut shop. Just make your film from your heart and it will be taken care of by the audience. I may go wrong in the future but with seven hits you get a sense of what works.
You mentioned in an interview, the more successful a film the more money the producer makes. So are you turning producer now?
I will produce films, but not so soon. I am in the process of putting everything in place and it will take a year or so. However, my whole strategy is that I will not direct for my company. Because somewhere down the line I will lose the responsibility of a director and of a producer. As a producer I donít want to produce the kind of films that I am making. I want people to come with their own scripts and ideas.
So you are not producing Singham 2?
No, Ajay (Devgn) is producing it with Reliance Entertainment.
Making people laugh and conceiving action scenes comes easy to you. In reality how difficult is it?
Comedy is the most difficult genre. As for action sequences, I feel sad when people come to me and ask me how many cars I would be blowing up? It takes a lot of courage to do that because thereís a man sitting inside the car when it is flying. It is not easy and extremely expensive. Shooting action scenes with cars and trains is not the same as shooting in a room or a hotel. It is the most difficult genre, but the sad part is that it is looked down upon.
What are you like on a Friday morning?
I get shit scared. I get nervous. Thatís because the industry does not support me, neither do the so-called trade analyst or critics. On Friday mornings, Twitter is filled with tweets that try to bring me down by saying things like the film will lose steam by Monday, or be a loss. Most criticisms come from those in my fraternity. I feel that if they donít like a film they should just keep their mouths shut during the weekend. I have to be courageous at such times. But thankfully, no one can force or stop an audience to watch a film. On Friday morning, no hype, negativity or positivity works. Itís only the film.
When a film is complete, whose opinion do you value the most?
My teamís opinion is the most important. They are not biased; they tell me if they donít like anything and I listen to them. Every film I have made has been through a lot of rework. One of the CE promos was not my first cut. When my team saw the promo, they immediately told me that that it did not look like a Rohit Shetty film. So UTV, SRKís team and we watched the film in the cafeteria one night and after listening to everyone, I worked on it again.
How did you manage to transform Deepika Padukone into a rural character?
Many actors donít relate to the kind of genre I make and sometimes think that I go overboard. So when Deepika started working with us, she had this block in her mind too, but gradually after the first three days of shooting, she began understanding the character and then there was no looking back.
Heard you are already missing Shah Rukh Khan?
Shah Rukh and I both had a perception and image of each other, but when we met we connected immediately. Our energy level when making film is very high and secondly, our reaction to bullshit is very quick. We will be working again on another film after Singham 2. We still have to decide on the story idea.
Are you in discussion with Kareena Kapoor for Singham 2?
I am still working on the final draft so the cast is not decided.
What about your film with Karan Johar? Will it have the Rohit Shetty stamp?
Thereís still time for that. And yes, he wants to make a film my way that is why he has taken me!
When not making films what do you like doing?
I like watching films because one can learn a lot from other peopleís films. After watching a film I ponder over it for two-three days and analyse the moments I liked and why I connected to it.
Why are you so media shy?
I am not media shy. I just donít know what to talk about as I donít like to blow my own trumpet. You can say I donít know how to present myself.
Have you been influenced by any film-maker?
More than being influenced, I get inspired by film-makers especially the new lot. As a kid I loved Vijay Anand, Nasir Hussain and Manmohan Desaiís work. Today I get inspired by films like Vicky Donor, Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara, English Vinglish. I donít want to copy their films, but I get inspired and work harder in my own space, my brand and genre.
What qualities according to you are suitable for film directing?
There are no particular qualities that a person needs to have to direct a film. Take the case of Mehboob Khan or K. Asif, who did not receive formal education but went on to become two of Indiaís greatest film-makers with classics like Mother India and Mughal-E-Azam.
What is your take on institutes teaching film-making courses, especially in direction?
I only have one issue with the courses and institutes ó the portfolio of people who teach there bothers me a lot. They are either people who have not done anything for years and at times, have never directed a film. Also, the students should not be burdened about being the next Satyajit Ray and Guru Dutt, they should be given their own space and should try to make their own mark.