Even if I wasn’t Suniel Shetty’s son, criticism would still be there: Ahan Shetty
'I'm very happy that I can carry this legacy forward and even if I get 20 percent of the respect that my father has earned, I would be very happy,' says Ahan Shetty.
Ahan Shetty will make a big splash on 3 December with his launch film Tadap, ‘a raging love story’ that he calls every bit a dream debut. “What more could one ask for? I can’t be happier but, of course, due to Covid there was a bit of anxiety. We began filming in 2019. We had shot 80 per cent of the film and there was a gap. It’s been such a long journey. It was two-and- a-half years of patiently waiting. I was very anxious," says "shy and introverted" Ahan, who is happy to carry the legacy forward that his actor-father Suniel Shetty established in Bollywood about three decades ago. Ahan will be seen playing the role of Ishana in Tadap, re-make of the 2018 - release Telugu film RX100 (with Kartikeya in the lead) helmed by director Milan Luthria.
The Telugu version -- a dark and gritty saga of love is the raw and realistic portrayal of a hurt lover who goes on a rampage when his girlfriend isn’t in his life anymore. Luthria says he has changed a few bits in the Hindi version to make it a little more pan India. “I have made it more family friendly. The original was a little darker, there were some portions which were possibly not so well suited for the universal audience but we haven’t changed any of the fundamentals. Personalities changed organically. We have changed a few sensibilities, a few backdrops, costumes, and, of course, reduced the length because southern films tend to be longer,” said the director.
Ahan is aware that he has to face many challenges in his very first film -- one is the audience drawing comparisons with the hero in the original, and the other of portraying two contrasting personalities in the film with conviction. “The first time I watched the Telugu version was as a viewer but the second time I watched it because I knew I was going to do the film. I know that there are going to be comparisons between me and Kartikeya but I have tried to do it my way. I haven’t tried to mimic him at all,” he says, furthering, “Even from the trailer you can tell that the hero has two different personalities which is almost like playing a double role in my first film. I wanted to take up that challenge and get the best out of myself. We go back and forth throughout the film in time. One of my characters is very happy and loving but the guy on the other side is very aggressive, he has a lot of angst, so these are two very contrasting personalities. I am sure there will be this divide where viewers will struggle to call my character a hero or a villain.”
Though it may be a big responsibility of launching a hero, Luthria’s approach was “very simple and sensible”. “In my head this was not any different from working with any other actor. I have to make my actor perform, I have to present him well and I have to make sure that he justifies his character. I told Ahan to come prepared and be yourself and don’t try to get overawed by the occasion. I told him to do what comes naturally to him and don’t try to overdo anything. It is a difficult film, shot in different locations, there are action sequences, there are huge dramatic scenes which any young actor would have buckled under. I didn’t honestly miss the fact that most of the other actors I have worked with and they were not on my set for this film. You tend to take it for granted when you have an Ajay Devgn, Vidya Balan or Akshay…they will do it, they are professionals, experienced, talented but I didn’t miss them and I told this to Ahan very early in the shoot. I told him that I am not missing any of them, you are right there,” says Luthria.
Lauding Luthria’s process, Ahan says, “Milan sir gave us the script for a few days and after that he wanted us to leave the script behind so that we improvised on the spot. He told me that to play certain characters if you keep reading the script and the scene then the scene could fall flat. So I would just touch upon my character. I didn’t realise but I started fidgeting with my character and that helped.”
Love stories are a few but Sutaria assures that one hasn’t seen a story like Tadap, “At least not with an ending like this. The treatment that Milan Sir gives to his films is amazing. I am a huge fan of all his work, especially The Dirty Picture. I loved Vidya Balan in that film and I liked the way he has approached this film,” says the actress, who never had any apprehensions about doing a hero-oriented film and that too the launchpad of a star-son. “I knew that both, boy and the girl had so much to do so there wasn’t any fear. But I don’t look at any project like that because if you start looking at things that way it will only hinder your progress. It is important to see the story and how and where you are fitted into that story. This film is so strongly female led as it is male led,” says Sutaria, who has a couple of big projects in her kitty including Ek Villain Returns and Heropanti 2.
“Tara has a lot to do in the film. When I met her the first time I was surprised. I had made both Ahan and her do a scene together from The Dirty Picture to see their chemistry and both were very good. Some of the scenes would have overawed any other young girl but she knows her job. Right now the focus is a lot on Ahan but when you watch the film you will realise that she has an equally powerful role,” says Luthria.
"Both Ahan and Tara have been outstanding in their grasp, they are very camera friendly, they are very photogenic, they are very clever, they don’t speak much and they listen a lot, they absorb and work very hard. They are ambitious about their career in a quiet way and no fuss, no frills, all they would do is come well prepared and work very hard, take direction well and go back and sleep. They had no time for anything else, they were so focused. I was happy to see that kind of passion and dedication, discipline," adds the director.
Ahan, who has yet to build himself a career in Bollywood, may be starting out with an action entertainer but going further Ahan wants to be more versatile, “and a little smart in what I choose next”. “I don’t want to be known as an action hero. I want to do a variety of roles and not get stuck with one genre. I have trained so hard on my acting skills so why not use those. Acting to me is therapeutic. But there is one genre I am scared of which is horror because I am myself scared of watching horror (laughs). Later down the line I would like to attempt comedy," he says.
Ahan’s struggle is of a different nature; he is aware of numerous discussions around nepotism and 'privileges' the star kids 'enjoy'. However, the newbie, who maintains a low profile, simply says, “Unless you are talented no director or producer will want to make a film with you just because you are someone’s son. The audience decides whether you make it or not. But no matter what, even if I wasn’t Suniel Shetty’s son, criticism would still be there. But I’m very proud of being Suniel Shetty’s son. I don’t think there is anything negative at all. I’m very happy that I can carry this legacy forward and even if I get 20 per cent of the respect that he has earned, I would be very happy.”
Although he would like to take independent decisions and not seek career advice from his father or actor-sister Athiya, Ahan says he is open to hear what his family and friends would like to contribute. “My family, friends, and girlfriend have been very supportive throughout this film so it is only fair to listen to what they have to say. They will continue to be part of the journey because I always feel you can’t forget those who have been with you,” says Ahan.
“My dad has told me not to fear that one Friday. There are films that will do well and there are films that won’t do well. You just have to learn from your mistakes. The industry is unpredictable and so is life, you have to go with the flow and do things that make you happy, don’t change yourself as a person just to please others,” he further adds.
The Covid 19 pandemic substantially affected the film business and it also appeared that the rise of streaming platforms could have brought about a change in viewing habits but with people showering love on the first big Bollywood release Sooryavanshi that opened in cinemas after the pandemic-induced restrictions, has instilled faith in the industry to which Ahan says, “I was very happy with theatres opening up. Big films, superstars are bringing people back to theatres. I will do my bit with whatever I can do...”
“...obviously you want to keep the audience happy but at the same time you can’t have that pressure on yourself because then you start to lose sense of yourself. People ask me about facing competition since there are so many youngsters around but I say everyone is here to do their part and each person is different from one another. If you get bothered about what the other person is doing you lose a sense of direction. You have to go with what your gut tells you, follow your heart and things will work out, things will fall in place,” he signs off.
Seema Sinha is a Mumbai-based mainstream entertainment journalist who has been covering Bollywood and television industry for over two decades. Her forte is candid tell-all interviews, news reporting and newsbreaks, investigative journalism and more. She believes in dismissing what is gossipy, casual, frivolous and fluff.
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