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October 28, 1999


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'Sunil Shetty is very lucky that he is still around'

Sunil Shetty Sunil Shetty may have started out as India's answer to Arnold Schwarzenegger but, with films like Border, Gopi Kishan, Hu Tu Tu and Bhai, he's proving he can act as well. Now that he has some really promising movies on hand, he tells Sukanya Verma that he is all set to strengthen his reputation as an actor of calibre.

You've been maintaining a low profile for some time now. Were there any specific reasons?

Yes. I did not have any film scheduled for release and I am through with my so-called backlog trash. Whatever is coming now is something that I am looking forward to. So I don't feel it makes any sense talking, when I don't have anything substantial in hand.

I only want to talk about my films. I am fed up of talking about anything else that I am doing. Right now, the only thing that is being spoken about is the business that I have been doing, the restaurants that I have opened and things like that.

I shall enter the millennium with my new films, which are decent. And I think one is in the news only when you have a film on the verge of release; that's when television carries all the promos. The media is something I've stayed away from for a while now! But this hasn't been planned, no strategy as such.

Were you banking a lot on your last release, Hu Tu Tu?

I was, because I was working with one of the finest directors in the country. From my point of view, I thought it was a very nice film. Though it did well in Maharashtra, it somehow just did not click elsewhere.

It also goes to show the state of affairs in the country. I mean, people all over are just fed up of politics, they don't want anything that has to do with politics. It isn't just the fate of Hu Tu Tu; the elections also tells a lot about the state of politics.

The people don't want all this nonsense. They want stability in any form. I think that is why Hu Tu Tu did not get the kind of success it deserved, because Gulzarsaab's every line in that film made a lot of difference.

How much did you gain by working with Gulzar?

Of course, I gained a lot from working with him. I mean, when you are working one of the finest directors in the industry, you are on your toes all the time. Working with him has made me wonder why I did not make the decision of doing the right kind of films earlier in my career. But then, I was a beggar and beggars can never be choosers. Now I do have some authority over the kind of work I want to do. I choose and select. Money is not the factor for me; I want to do better films.

Your performance was appreciated even though the film bombed. Did that console you?

I have gained a lot from this film, people did appreciate me. Also, I realised the difference between good cinema and bad cinema

Don't you feel people prefer you as an action star?

Yes, they do. But I don't think Border was an action film. I would consider it a real film. A story about real heroes, not reel heroes. And there wasn't any dishum-dishum in the film. On the whole, it worked because the film's subject made a lot of sense.

Mohra worked because it was a thriller. So, yes, action does work for me in a big way because that's the kind of image I have. But I believe that if I work with quality directors on quality subjects, they all will click. Actually even Rakshak was a decent film, but I guess the action sequences during the pre-climax and climax were too long.

Besides, families automatically stay away if there is blood and gore in a film. As a result, it goes to the masses where only male audiences turn up and they appreciate it. The action comes out more than the emotion. Even the promos project the movie to be a heavy-duty action one, which works against the film. Which is what happened in the case of Rakshak, Vinashak and Krishna.

That's why I say sensitive directors make a difference. It will take me a while before I break out of it. I could have done it very easily after Gopi Kishan, but I was already caught in the so-called bhed chaal (herd mentality). I signed films left right and center, and they were all action-oriented.

What are your forthcoming films?

There is Priyadarshan's Hera Pheri, which will be my next release. It is an out-and-out comedy, it's a hilarious film. Success or failure of the film notwithstanding, everyone watching the film will roll on the floor with laughter. Because it is an out-and-out, genuine, situational comedy. Even the thought of what might happen next will make you laugh as you wonder, 'Oh no, this guy is in trouble and it's all so innocent.'

The film has humour based on poverty. And when it's that way, it's real also. So it's got that feel and that emotion. I am also doing Dhadkan, which is a Dharmesh Darshan film. It's an out-and-out romantic film.

It has been rumored that the film is loosely based on the Ramayana.

I wouldn't call myself Ravana in the film, because I believe my role is the best one. Maybe Ravana was a great character with many faces, but I am not Ravana. I am playing a man looking for his love, who originally belonged to him. But he loses her because of his poor status, though he knows very well that she loves him like crazy. And, in the Ramayana, Sita never loved Ravana. Whoever made this statement has absolutely no idea of what he is saying.

How is your tuning with Akshay Kumar?

Good. We are co-artistes and, as co-artistes, we vibe really well. Apart from that, I do not really socialise with people from the industry. I don't have any specific reason, it's just that I have a lot of childhood friends who I spend time with. There are 14-15 of us today and we meet every Saturday-Sunday along with our families. It is like, weekends are just for families. On other days, if I am not shooting, I sleep by 10 o'clock. I am not a night bird or a nightclub guy.

What was working with Priyadarshan like?

Maybe he isn't that hot according to Hindi film standards, but he is a brilliant director. I would be free to work with him anytime. Give me 10 directors on one hand and give me Priyadarshan on the other, and I'd prefer to work with Priyan. He knows exactly what he is doing. When you watch his film, you love every frame.

I think Priyan is at his best while handling humour, and this is the first comedy film that he is doing. I am sure that people will expect a lot of comedy from Priyan after this film. And his comedy is clean. No buffoonery, no bad language, no hitting below the belt. It's pure fun; families will enjoy themselves. It is something in the mould of Khatta Meetha.

When will the film be released?

The film is ready for release; in fact, it should be out any time. We are just waiting for the right time to launch the music. We should be able to release the film six weeks after that.

Border Click for bigger pic!
What about Refugee? Is it as good as your role in Border?

It is. The rapport I share with JPji is tremendous. So, whenever we come together, the results are mindblowing. The kids (Abhishek Bachchan and Kareena Kapoor) are absolutely brilliant in the film. And I know for a fact that people will admire the film a hell of a lot. My role is amazing. I play a Pakistani ranger responsible for the coming together of the girl and the boy in the film. I wouldn't like to reveal anymore. I don't think I shall be making the impact I made in Border. The kids will take the credit and rightly so, I feel. Because, star kid status notwithstanding, they are genuinely good for their first film.

At one point, you were doing films with directors who were mainly exploiting your capacity for action. Now, you are doing films with intelligent directors who are exploiting the talent in you. What difference has it made?

It does make a hell of a lot of difference. Sunil Shetty is very lucky that he is still around. Because out of the 20-22 odd films that I have done, 19 of them have been directed by rank newcomers. They were first-time directors, which only goes to show that I worked on an emotional level. Anyone would come to me with a sob story and I was willing to work with that person.

Now I need to take care of my interests which I am doing by working with sensible directors. I worked with J P Dutta in Border and Rajiv Rai in Mohra. Deepak Shivadasani, who directed Bhai and Gopi Kishan is another a seasoned director. And I don't need to say anything about Gulzarsaab.

Newcomers cannot market their film properly. Also, the producer restricts them by saying don't do this or don't do that. Don't spend so much. The right girls don't want to work with new people, so the set-up becomes weak. I will be working with new directors, but first I have to get out of the mess I am in.

Have you gained or lost because of this attitude?

As far as the industry is concerned, I have lost. But I've gained a lot in life -- good will, trust. What I am today is because I did what I believed in and people have believed in what I am. That's the only reason that I am still getting work. I don't think any other actor who gave a flop after flop would be getting work, let alone the kind of films I am getting. I am someone who believes in what I do more than in God.

I guess am like this because of my family, my upbringing. My parents are far too simple. If you come to my house, it is like any other south Indian family's -- small, close-knit. I value all that I have. I might be earning any amount, but I know exactly what kind of lifestyle I need to have and I never overstep it.

I guess, now, since I am a family man, a father, what people think about me matters a lot as it will eventually reflect on my loved ones. Today I have a daughter and a son who are seven and three years old respectively. They understand everything. I don't want them being affected by anything.

Do your kids enjoy your films?

No. They may have liked a few films like Gopi Kishan or others. There is too much of bang-bang, dishum-dishum in most of my past films. Now that they are understanding cinema, they observe that Papa is doing better films.

My son does enjoy my action films. But the women in my family would be happier if I did socially relevant films. My mother, like any mother, says, 'What a lovely film!' and 'You have improved!' Which I know isn't true.

Tell me about your forthcoming films, apart from the ones we have discussed.

I am doing Rajiv Rai's Paree where I have a very well-etched role, though it a multistarrer. Then there is D Rama Naidu's Azhaan, which also stars Sushmita Sen. I am also doing Kundan Shah's untitled film opposite Raveena Tandon.

What about the film you were supposed to do with Ramgopal Varma?

I am committed to Ramuji's film. The thing is, he keeps doing one film after another. One never knows which film he will do next, so only when he starts this film will I talk about it. I am doing Rahul Rawail's film. I think I have good directors and good set-ups.

Are you doing Jhelum, J P Dutta's next after Refugee?

Yes. I think once Refugee gets over, he will start with Jhelum. From whatever we have been told about this film, I think it will be one of JPji's best film. And, yeah, I am in that film. I better be or else JPji is in trouble. It's again a film on the army, which I think is a hit topic.

What, according to you, is the life span of a hero?

A hero can go on for life, as long as he ages gracefully. Today I am 38, I know how much my body can take. Now when someone comes with me a role saying, 'Yaar, law college student ka role hai,' I won't accept it. I know I am not that age, so don't make a fool of me or yourself.

On the sets of Hu Tu Tu
On the sets of Hu Tu Tu Click for bigger pic!
Like in Refugee, I am not that typical romantic hero. It has a feel of romance to it, but I am playing my age. It is not some teenybopper shit. If it's Dhadkan, it's obsession. You could be obsessed with a girl at any age. I don't have inhibitions about playing a father even. Because if I would have been married at the age of 20-21, like a Gujarati or Marwari boy normally is, my son would be 14 years old today.

How do you manage your hotel business despite such a hectic schedule?

I make time for it. I have cut down the number of films I am doing. If you have noticed I am have been quiet about this, but I am doing a single shift a day. I have got two-three films on the floor, two-three waiting to go on the floor. So it's not as if it's hectic. It is all planned and organised.

In fact, this month I did not work at all for eight-10 days, as I wanted to concentrate on my business. But I must say I have a fantastic team who have been working with my dad for, like, donkey's years. I have had my own people working with me for a really long period of time as well. I am, like, 38 years old now but I have a driver with me who has been working with me for, like, 28 years. My make-up man has been with me from day one, my trainer has been with me 19-20 years.

When you have good people around you it becomes far easier. Because I am a celebrity I get the credit for it, but the actual credit goes to these people who are my backbone. I've got my cousins and my friends working for me, and I am someone who believes in sharing. If I am doing business, I will not keep anyone on salary. If he is taking care of the business, he will be on a percentage. He doesn't need to feel that he is working for a boss. He needs to feel he is the boss.

Recently, I have opened a Thai restaurant called Thai Me Up, which is going great guns. I have my cousins who are managing the entire thing and they are partners with me. I am lucky to have Manna for a wife, she too helps a lot. In fact, it really takes off a lot of stress. Like my father is maybe 70-75 today, but his mere presence takes the stress out of me. We work as a family.

Why are food and glamour being thrown together these days?

The problem is that everything that is branded today works. People have limited budgets and, whenever they spend it, they want to spend it right. Cross promotions, value for money, redemption, you eat here, you get a free ticket elsewhere are the factors that are drawing people in. This is because of the cost factor, of inflation. People having salaries, like, Rs 8-10,000 won't go out every weekend. But when they go out once a month, they will see to it that the money is spent in the right way.

Are you planning to open something like Planet Hollywood in the near future?

Yes, I do plan to have something of that sort. I want to put together a place where stars can also earn that kind of money. Right now, it is in the process of being formed. Hopefully, by December or the beginning of the millennium, I will announce it. It will take me two years to execute it.

What was your experience of meeting the jawans at Kargil like?

I felt my life was useless. I felt all of us are useless. Because, for Rs 2,500, those boys are actually putting their lives in stake for the country. Every soldier that went up to Tiger hills knew he was dead. If they came back, it was a miracle. And, if they came back, it was because they love their country so much that they were willing to serve her.

I feel we all are fools, fighting over nothing. We have nothing to look forward to, they have got so much to look forward to. It was a learning experience. I met the soldiers, the civilians, the jawans, their families. It was really touching. I am more human now, seeing all this. I have the urge to do something about it.

What are your views on video/cable piracy?

It is such a strong underworld network, no one individual can do anything. Nothing can be done without an association. Producers' associations can go take morchas and do what they want but nothing will happen unless the government decides to do something about it. And who is losing revenue? The government.

But I believe we are going to walk into the millennium as one of the strongest industries, because I foresee health, food and entertainment as the three vital industries of the millennium.

What about your statement that you were going to quit films?

I said I shall definitely quit films, but when I am on a high. I am not a loser. It's not that I have a ego, but I do believe in winning. And the day I hit a high, I'll definitely be out.


Because I want to do a lot more and I feel I am capable of doing a lot, lot more. I'll stay put with production and things like that. I am very organised actually and, right now, I am in a very disorganised world. I am at an age when I am losing my temper, I'm not patient anymore. If it is an commitment, I make sure I fulfill it.

Disorganisation depresses me. And it affects my health, my pressure rises. If someone else is stressed , it gets diverted to me also. They fire from your shoulder when they want to, for simple things like publicity.

Won't you miss the limelight?

No, not at all. Limelight is everywhere. Today an industrialist is also as big a celebrity as a film star. Look at Bill Gates and Rupert Murdoch. Love and affection are a part of the adulation a star gets, but if I hold my own in whichever field I am, I will attain that too.

What are your plans for the millennium?

I want to do good films. I also want to be a whizkid in business. I want to be a tycoon by the end of next year and I give myself only a year-and-a-half. And it is not for the sake of excess money. I hope I can put my name and fame to good use.

Right now I am working for a school with children for Pride India and for a school in Kargil. I know that the army has got a lot of people there and they have the resources too. But I've tried whatever little bit I could I do. My mother-in-law is also working towards forming a boarding school. That way, the children will be away from their parents, war and terrorism. They will not be affected, education will reach them. So, if I make more money, I'd like to do a lot more. I don't want to go this way to anybody (makes a begging gesture).

There are hundreds of people working for AIDS and cancer, but I want to work wherever it will make a difference. I will never succumb to doing charity, until I know for a fact that it is genuine. I need to see results. I don't trust anybody now. Everybody has been back stabbing, fleecing money from each other.

I am doing a children's album, collections from which will go to charity. I am not singing because I can sing, I am singing for a cause. I know one extra cassette might sell because people will think that they are getting a cassette as well helping a cause. I just hope it works out fine. Even if I can change the life of one child, I shall feel blessed. I hope my dream comes true.

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