'I've been critical about my father David Dhawan's work'
There's a lot in a name, especially if your area of work is going to be the Hindi film industry.
Rohit Dhawan, son of comedy king David Dhawan, is directing his first film, Desi Boyz, in which two men indulge in bizarre actions to combat recession.
The cast includes heavyweights such as Akshay Kumar, John Abraham, Deepika Padukone and Chitrangada Singh. The film is due for a November release.
For a first-time director, not more than 25 years of age, Rohit comes across as a surprisingly serious individual. Most surely not the David Dhawan son you would imagine.
A major in writing and direction from New York University, Rohit talks to Ankur Pathak about growing up surrounded by films, his relationship with his father, Salman Khan and Govinda, and how his last name has got absolutely nothing to do with a big studio backing his first directorial venture.
When and how did you conceive the idea of Desi Boyz?
It came to me a couple of years ago Earlier I thought it made for a great English dramedy. The kind of conversations and free-flowing banter, the wittiness, the characters all of it had great potential, ideally, for an English film.
For a Hindi film, it carries a considerable amount of risk. Desi Boyz is not a laugh riot; the humour is more tongue-in-cheek. It is largely to do with the characters that you can instantly recognise as your everyday guys.
The teaser doesn't give out much, apart from two attractive men doing ridiculous things.
It deals with economic crisis, unemployment and how these two people (played by Akshay and John) rather than succumbing to it (the recession), decide to take it head-on, and come up with bizarre things to battle the down turn.
The idea was triggered by the recession in the US, and many people didn't have money to pay for their house rent, they were getting laid-off, committing suicide and so on. So I thought of these two characters who battle the crisis, and the plot developed. For a Hindi film, there is a certain novelty attached to it.
Image: Akshay Kumar, John Abraham and Rohit Dhawan
'I will make films where commercial cinema meets realism'
What kind of cinema defines your personality or inspires you to make films?
I don't watch a film to inspire myself. For general entertainment, I will always rent an American thriller. I am also a huge fan of John Hughes films. I think he could bring out the feel-good factor incredibly well, be it Ferris Bueller's Day Off, Sixteen Candles, Breakfast Club or even Trains and Automobiles, and Home Alone.
He took it to such an exceptionally brilliant level that even when he was making a serious drama, a dialogue or a small scene would reflect humour. Back home, I love the work that Rajkumar Hirani, Farhan Akhtar and Karan Johar have done.
Logic has never been an important part of your father's films. Is that something you have carefully worked on?
No, it is not something that I have specially taken care of. It is simply that I have written a script which required a certain sensibility throughout its plot, so people don't start questioning the decisions these guys make.
I needed to follow logic, and that is essentially maintained. It is not a film where characters are larger than life; they are real people like you and me. Let us say I will make films where commercial cinema meets realism.
Being a filmmaker's son, what are the immediate childhood memories that come to your mind?
Too many of them. There have been innumerable films on whose sets I'd play and loiter around. I'd end up spending my summers back-to-back in Switzerland since that's where all the songs would eventually get shot. I didn't do much but just sit and watch on the sets.
I saw how a crew is assembled, a shot canned, and how actors put their act forward. Technically, there was a lot to see. I was just a child but I understood the amount of effort that goes into making a film.
Image: A still from Desi Boyz
'Cinema instinctively attracted me'
Did that condition you to become a filmmaker or did it block you from thinking of any other profession than filmmaking?
(Long pause) I think both. Being a filmmaker's son, cinema was something I was constantly exposed to, and by that I mean a hell of a lot of films since my father has been around for decades. Films, sets, editing I saw everything. So, it was pretty natural for me to be drawn to cinema. It instinctively attracted me. However, had I not liked the course after I signed up for it, I might have easily opted out and done a major in a different field.
When was the last time you had a blast in a theatre?
I saw Singham in Chandan (a single-screen in a Mumbai suburb) and it was a big blast. It certainly is one of my favourite films of the year. It was so entertaining and I had a lot of fun.
Which is your favourite David Dhawan film?
The Divya Bharti-Govinda starrer Shola Aur Shabnam is my all-time favourite. My favourite Govinda-David Dhawan films would be Aankhen, Shola Aur Shabnam and Swarg. After that, I loved the films he made with Salman Khan. Judwaa was an amazing double-role film, Biwi No.1 was super fun, and among his more recent films, I thoroughly enjoyed Mujhse Shaadi Karoge.
One you don't like too much?
There are a lot of his films from the late '80s which I haven't seen. I hope to catch them some day on DVD. There isn't any film of his that I don't like. There are only films which I like better than others. The thing with Dad was that even in those days, his films were so well edited; they moved with a sharp pace and never stretched beyond two hours 10 minutes. So you never got bored. It is something which filmmakers are trying even now.
Image: A still from Desi Boyz
'It is difficult to be objective about your father's film'
But you wouldn't pin-point one?
Actually, I cannot. I can't remember going to a film trial and coming out not liking the film. In those days, there was so much excitement when he cane out with a new film. When it is your father's film, it becomes very difficult to be objective and pass a critique on it but I certainly know the films that I like better than others.
What is your equation with actors your father has mostly worked with Govinda, Sanjay Dutt, Salman Khan?
Immensely warm. And that, of course, has to be. I have grown up watching the three of them, and pretty much idealising them too. I really look up to them and respect them for the kind of work they have done and the men they are. While growing up, it was a great relationship, but once I started assisting (he was assistant director on Partner and Don) the equation was purely professional. But, still, since they have seen me growing up, whenever I'd go to their vans to call them for their shots, they'd look at me as a cross between a professional and the kid who'd just hang around.
Did you ever get special treatment in your school/college or did you flaunt your film background?
No, not at all. It is something I'd never do as a person. Moreover, I went to a college in South Mumbai (HR College, Churchgate) where people don't bother much about your filmy status. Neither were the people I hung around with distracted by any of it. I think there's a difference being an actor's son and a director's son. Obviously, there was a lot of excitement among my friends when Dad's film would be released, but beyond that they didn't make a world out of it. I never had friends who wanted to go on a film set or meet a particular star or anything like that.
Image: John Abraham, Rohit Dhawan and Akshay Kumar
'My father and I share an extremely fun relationship'
You said it was difficult for you to be critical of your father's films. Does that also hint at a strict father-son relationship?
No. Since the time I had a decent understanding of cinema and a better grasp of the medium, I have been sufficiently critical of his work. In fact, he too started taking me a lot more seriously and we started to have a lot of discussions on films.
Would you say he has been your buddy, somebody you can comfortably introduce your girlfriend to?
Yes, definitely. He is a very chilled-out guy and we share an extremely fun relationship. I'm close to him and my brother and I do bring a lot of people home, a girl or a male friend. He is a laidback person, and I think his cinema reflects that very well.
Is there an extra baggage that comes with the surname?
No. With a director's son, it is not as much as it is with an actor's son. That is because a director's voice is heard, whereas with an actor, you read a lot more, you know a lot more, and moreover, you connect on an emotional level to him through his films.
Image: On the sets of Desi Boyz
'Sanjay Leela Bhansali wouldn't have launched Ranbir if he wasn't a fine actor'
You have an Eros International backing your first film. Your brother (Varun Dhawan) debuts with a film directed by Karan Johar. Would you confirm that Bollywood has a lot to do with family dynasties and functions largely on personal equations?
No, not at all. Cinema is nobody's birthright. I think today's top directors are testimony to that fact. Neither Rajkumar Hirani nor Imtiaz Ali nor Vishal Bharadwaj has got any family connections and still they are where they are. Anurag Kashyap has become the king of a certain kind of cinema. Bejoy Nambiar where did he come from? He has made one of the finest films this year.
Family connections can open a door for you. Like, I can maximum get a narration with an actor, or my brother can just manage to get a screen test with a director. Nothing beyond that. We are talking big films here which require an investment worth crores. Nobody is going to invest so much money in you if you don't have it in you. I got my very first film because of my talent. Sanjay Leela Bhansali wouldn't have launched Ranbir Kapoor if he wasn't such a fine actor. Akshay Kumar and John Abraham are working with me because they liked my script, not because they liked my face.
Does the critical reception matter at all?
Oh, it most definitely does. I do crave for that acceptance especially from the handful of critics that we have, and the ones whose words I greatly respect. The number of stars and the last two lines create a fair amount of impact. Although I'd like to see the public response and critical appraisal in equal light, I'd be slightly more partial to the box-office because ultimately that is what is going to land me with my next job.
As a first-time filmmaker, what is your greatest fear?
People not finding my film entertaining enough.
Image: John Abraham and Rohit Dhawan