With a track record that boasts of five blockbusters, he is arguably the most successful director of his generation. He’s also the only director who has two films in his kitty that have grossed over Rs 100 crore nett in domestic box office collections. What’s more, both these Rs 100 crore plus hits- Golmaal 3 and Singham – released in a span of less than a year. Any which way you look at it, he’s the man with the Midas touch. Here’s Rohit Shetty discussing cinema, genres, the economics of filmmaking and much more with the Box Office India team
Tell us about the next Rohit Shetty film, Bol Bachchan.
It is a typical Rohit Shetty film. (Smiles)
What is a typical Rohit Shetty film?
It works! (Laughs) Jokes apart, it’s a family entertainer, a complete commercial masala film. It has comedy, action, drama, songs. It’s a proper package of a family entertainment and I’m working with Ajay Devgn, Abhishek Bachchan, Prachi Desai and several others.
How similar is Bol Bachchan to the film Golmaal?
It’s totally different.
Hadn’t you bought the remake rights for the original Golmaal?
Oh, you mean the original Amol Palekar starrer, Golmaal? Yes…Well… the basic gist of the story is the same. But when you watch the film, you will realise that it is completely different. Yes, I got the idea for Bol Bachchan from Golmaal so I thought it was a good idea to buy the rights. And we are also accepting that the basic story is from Golmaal.
At what stage is the film right now?
It’s 50 per cent complete and we start shooting again in mid-December. Then, we will have another five-to-six days’ work in April and then the film releases in July.
How important was it for you to avoid being typecast as a ‘comedy director’ when you were working on Singham?
It wasn’t a conscious decision. I had wanted to make an action film for a longtime but I couldn’t find the right subject. When I watched Singham, I thought that it should be made in Hindi.
Singham went on the floors in March with a July 22 release date. Was it a difficult deadline to meet?
It was hectic. Everyone in the industry except my team said it wouldn’t be possible. But we worked 20 hours a day for four months! We would shoot in the morning, edit at night and then shoot again, and the cycle went on.
And you decided to proceed with Bol Bachchan immediately?
I began shooting a promotional campaign for Bigg Boss the day Singham released. I started work on Bol Bachchan a few weeks later.
Doesn’t all this burn you out?
Not really. I’m enjoying it. In fact, being idle tires me.
After Bol Bachchan, what next?
We are planning a film with Shah Rukh Khan called Chennai Express. The scripting is underway and we will start right after Bol Bachchan.
And will that be a comedy too?
It will be another Rohit Shetty film.(Laughs) A masala film.
So the masala genre is back?
Yes, or should I say, it was always there but we were scared to try it.
You have worked with many stars. Is it difficult to handle their egos?
Once you deliver a hit, there’s no problem. Then if you say, ‘Yeh raat hai,’ people are like, ‘Yaar, isne itni hits diye hain toh yeh raat hi hogi.’ That’s how the industry functions. (Laughs)
Your Golmaal series has become a brand. What can we expect from the next installment?
We are working on the script. I have not yet cracked the right idea. The moment we get the right idea, I will make it. I don’t want to cash in on Golmaal simply because it’s a brand.
Throughout your career, you have been associated with certain production houses/people – Ashtavinayak as a production house, Ajay Devgn as a hero. How important is the comfort factor?
It’s very important for me. I have a certain team that works with me on every film; they have been with me from my very first film. Barring a few, none of my technicians change. Not many producers enjoy that kind of faith and loyalty. And I have a great rapport with Ashtavinayak and Ajay Devgn. Can you believe, when we started shooting for Golmaal 3, the producer Raj Mehta had no clue about the script? That’s the kind of faith he had. For Bol Bachchan too, he hasn’t a clue about the script. You have a greater responsibility when the producer has so much faith in you.
Judging by your track record, comedy and action… Do you choose these genres because they work or is it because you’re comfortable with them? (Smiles) It’s funny. Till February, it was just comedy and now its action too. But there’s one thing that doesn’t change. The film has to be a commercial film because, today, the stakes are so high. Whether it’s an action film like Singham or a comedy film like Golmaal or a family entertainer, it has to be a masala film.
Can we ever expect an intense romantic drama from you?
Sure, but that will also be a commercial film.
You are the only director who has two films that have grossed over Rs 100crore. How important are the economics of a film?
People who are stuck in art house culture forget it’s a money making business. In film institutes, the students are so conscious that cinema making should be a passion. I mean, we are not making a nuclear bomb. Why is everyone scared? We are here to entertain, not bomb a country. I ask them, “What is passion?” Even a cobbler is passionate about making shoes. What’s the big deal? It’s not about passion. We must view a film as a product. Bol Bachchan is a product and we have to sell it for Rs 150 per head. We have to serve the audience accordingly. On weekends, the product costs Rs 250.So the question is: are we serving them their money’s worth? That’s what is important. So if someone earns Rs 3,000 a month, you have to remember he is giving us 10 per cent of his salary. Everyone is passionate about their work. But why do we make so much of it? People who talk about passion are frauds. If it’s passion, why not invest your own money? I can’t crack a Rs 100crore deal and talk about passion. The director is always answerable to the person who’s investing the money, right? Yes, I can’t take a huge sum as my fee, and then negotiate with the producers and then say I’m doing something for the society. That’s nonsense!
What is your take on alternative cinema? Or filmmakers that make non-commercial films?
It all depends on the budget. There are a few people I know of who don’t charge very much. They have made seven-to-eight films and they are not all that commercially stable. There’s nothing wrong with that. Each to their own. If I don’t make a Madhur Bhandarker film, it doesn’t mean he is wrong. That is the kind of cinema he makes. Just because I am not able to make that kind of cinema, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t work. Conversely, just because you can’t make my kind of cinema, you say Golmaal is crap. Golmaal is crap, okay, but that’s what generates revenue and that’s why the industry is working. All because of this crap! (Laughs)
Are you mindful of the economics while scripting a project?
Yes. It’s very important. There was a subject I was doing. I finalised the actor and the producer agreed on it. But I decided not to make it because of his (the actor’s) fees. The economics are very important. How else will the industry function?
How important is promotion, given how cluttered the media has become?
I think the most important thing is your film’s first look. When your first look is aired on TV or in cinemas, that’s when the audience decides whether to watch the film or not. Maybe the music director or the exhibitor will come and tell us, “Aap ki picture garam nahi hai.” Then bechara producer bhaag ke doosra gaana shoot karega. Phir promos ko channels pe das baar chalayenge. Agar100 promos chal rahe hain toh 200baar chalayenge. So the first look is very important.
Do you design the first look of your films?
Yes, my film’s first look is designed by me and my editor. We have already begun planning how the first look of Bol Bachchan will open, which releases in July. It’s very important.
There was a comedy element in Singham but you promoted it as an out-and-out action film.
That’s because I didn’t want to cash in on comedy just because I made a film like Golmaal. I didn’t want to cheat the audience. I wanted the film to run on its own merit as an action film. You have to be honest to your film when you’re making a promo. Many people said Singham’s promos made it look like a B grade film but it worked. The bottom line is you have to be honest and promote what your film is all about.
Do you think we’re going overboard with marketing nowadays?
It depends from film to film. If we restrict marketing, it will also get restrictive for producers to make a film only on a certain budget. But, yes, it’s becoming too expensive and then the cost factor affects the director. Like these days, for a regular film, you spend Rs 12-15 cror eon print publicity. To recover that, the film has to make Rs 30 crore more. Ultimately, this adds to the pressure on the director because he makes a film on an X budget but that Rs 15-18 crore is now added to that budget. And to recover that, the film has to double its business. But marketing is something you cannot do without.
How important is a film’s music? Does it help promote a film?
It does. After two of my movies crossed Rs 100 crore, someone came up to me and said, “Sirji, do aur romantic gaane hote toh toh yeh dono film double zabardast hit hoti.” But do you remember that Golmaal Returns had only one song. My films don’t emphasize on music or maybe I am poor in the music department. Except for Golmaal, no other tracks of my films have been great hits. Well, I am trying to learn. (Laughs)
You have always made films with people you’re comfortable with. Now, you’re making a film with SRK. What about the new breed of actors like Ranbir Kapoor and Imran Khan?
It is important that the actor has faith in the kind of cinema I make. Many youngsters may not agree with my kind of filmmaking. They may view it as trash or B-grade cinema or like a ‘80s film.
What is more important – the script or the actor?
It depends on the budget. Script is very important. You can sometimes go wrong even with a big star. If you’re making a small film, it doesn’t matter much but if you’re making a big film then a lot is at stake. You can’t make a Rs 100 crore film with any actor by claiming that you are the best director and that you have the best script. The revenue will exceed Rs 100 crore. Or this will be a second Mughal-e-Azam.
Two films with Rs 100 crore. Have the expectations risen with Bol Bachchan and Chennai Express? What do you have to say to that?
You have to live with it. (Laughs). Now I don’t take on projects thinking they have to cross Rs 100 crore. I have the same approach I had taken on my first, Golmaal.
Do you keep a track of how much money your film earned during its first weekend?
Yes, its very important. Forget first weekend. I keep finding out how much it has made on the first day or right after the first show. (Laughs)
Also the reviews…do you read them?
(Laughs) If my film bags one and a half star, then my mom tells me, “Beta, I am so proud of you! Dedh Star milahai!” Unke aankhon mein aasoon aajate hain. Dedh star mila hai ek ki jagah. Look, I make commercial films and now I know that I won’t get good reviews for Bol Bachchan as it is a hardcore massy film. If the critics give four stars to my film, they think they might sound a little stupid. They have to take care of their reputations you see. (Smiles)
Have the industry perceptions changed?
Yes, in a big way! They change very quickly. That’s when you must do a reality check. When everyone’s praising you, that’s the time you have to be careful.
How important is it for you to keep a track of the other film’s release dates? It’s very important and I keep track of every film, who is making what. Ajay(Devgn) and I just had a meeting about next year, when our film will release, which other films will be releasing at the same time, what gap we should have between our films. We should not assume that we can release our film any time.
Are you a cinema lover?
I make it a point to watch films. I watch a film as soon as the DVDs are available. But I am more inclined towards the ‘70s cinema. My films also have a very ‘70sfeel. But I watch all kinds of films so that I know where the world is going.
Is there a difference in the way two corporate companies work?
Yes. Every company has their own rules. But I am more comfortable with Shree Ashtavinayak.
What works better for you – solo producers or working with a corporate house?
Solo producers any day!
But your next is with UTV Motion Pictures again.
(Laughs) Usko bhi solo kar denge. Jokes apart, they have been in the industry for a long time. They have someone like Ronnie Screwvala. They understand cinema and filmmaking. The corporate have brought in good money and changed everyone’s price including mine. Did you know that Sholay was made with two production managers and one accountant? Then, why do we need 200production people in suits? But every company has their own style of working.
Would you ever launch a production house?
I would be a very bad producer. Ek film and my company would go bankrupt. I can’t handle money.