Suniel Shetty on his comeback, working with Kichcha Sudeep in Pehlwaan, and son Ahan's entry into Bollywood
Suniel Shetty opens up on why he is not regretful of his choice of films in the '90s and why there has been a decline in multistarrers in Bollywood.
After a four-year hiatus, Suniel Shetty has bounced back. In his present innings, his choice is not restricted to just Hindi films as he is all set to revive his career by making a foray into the South film industry.
Pehlwaan, the multilingual drama alongside Kichcha Sudeep (one of the biggest stars of the Kannada film industry), will mark his return to movies, wherein Sudeep will play a wrestler and Suniel will feature as his mentor. “I got to know Kichcha during the Celebrity Cricket League matches. He has been after me to do a Kannada film and finally things have worked out. So somewhere my janmabhoomi has come into play (laughs) and I am glad that this is my debut in Kannada with the kind of respect and stature my character ‘Sarkar’ portays,” says Suniel in an exclusive chat with Firstpost.
Suniel has also been roped in for two films that are touted to be the biggest releases down south in 2020. One of them is the Rajinikanth-starrer Darbar, a Tamil action thriller in which Suniel will be playing an antagonist, and the second is the Mohanlal-starrer Marakkar: Arabikadalinte Simham, where he will be seen in the role of a warrior. The former is helmed by director AR Murugadoss while the latter will see Priyadarshan in the director’s chair. Then there is Sanjay Gupta's gangster drama, Mumbai Saga. “There is a lot of work happening in my life after a long gap which is different and also very satisfying. I am doing a lot of regional and Hindi films because the market is one now and there is cross combination of talent. I am glad that I am getting back into the swing of things at the right time,” he says from his office in the western suburbs of Mumbai.
“The canvas of these films is also as big because there is nobody bigger than Kichcha, or Mohanlal Sir, or Rajini Sir in their respective industries. I am blessed to be doing films with Murugadoss, Krishna (Director, Pehlwaan) and Priyan Sir. It is an interesting phase of my career because of interesting roles and I am playing my age, I am not competing with anybody. God has been kind; media hasn’t forgotten me; they have kept me alive; otherwise four years when you disappear, you are out of the game completely,” says Suniel, adding hastily, “I did A Gentleman two years ago but that was less than a cameo and more of a request from Mukesh Chhabra (casting director) and hence I did it. I wasn’t happy the way it was showcased. I felt they did not use it right but the directors know best.”
For someone who has been giving fitness goals to people, including youngsters for the longest time, 58-year-old Suniel is also happy that he is getting to do action in his upcoming films, which he considers to be his USP. “I mentor Kichcha in Pehlwaan but I have also got the chance to do few moves which happened naturally otherwise how does one justify the presence of Suniel Shetty,” he laughs, and when asked how he has maintained himself over the years, he says, “With yoga, fitness training and the right diet. It is a part of my DNA now. It is in my genes because of my mom and dad. I am very conscious about my fitness. I knew my sabbatical won't last forever, and as they say: 'Once an actor always an actor.'"
Suniel was launched as an action hero in Balwaan in 1992. A Black Belt in kick boxing, he kept the decade packed with more muscle power in outings like Waqt Hamara Hai, Mohra, Anth, Suraksha, Shastra, Rakshak, Krishna, Aakrosh, Dus and Kaante to name a few but today Suniel is far more curious to know the reactions of the audience towards his new action avatar. “First of all sports movies have become a huge draw hence I am positive about Pehlwaan. But most importantly, I am wondering whether my body language has remained intact as an action hero. It is something that is going to be on display, so I am looking forward to the reaction of people that whether at this age can Suniel Shetty still fight. That is the question lot of people are asking me and I tell them that once I come to know, I will call them back,” he laughs heartily.
He continues, “When I am asked that how does an actor stay relevant, somewhere down the line my fitness has kept me alive. Television shows like India’s Asli Champion and campaigns like Mission Fit India has inspired many. I am still connected with the youth not as much because of my movies but because of my fitness. Every time I see them and they say, ‘Sir, Respect respect’. This generation has started looking at me as an icon for wellness and fitness. What is better than to be a role model to the youth?”
However, when it came to his movies and performances, it hasn’t been easy for Suniel because he was quite often slammed and even written off by the critics — something that he was probably inured to but the fact remains that the actor has survived for over 25 years having done about 120 films and has been part of superhits like Dilwale, Mohra, Border, Main Hoon Na, Hera Pheri and more. “I do take critics seriously if it is critical appreciation but if a critic has something against you…But it doesn’t matter anymore because there are so many of them now on social media, so nobody listens to anybody really. But I don’t appreciate critical bashing of cinema,” he says.
“I am happy in that space (action) and I have always been content. Even when my films became blockbusters, I never went screaming from the rooftops and I also took failures in my stride. I am not answerable to anybody, these choices are solely mine and if I didn’t work for four years, it was because I was not in a proper frame of mind. My father was going through the worst phase of his life and films were the last thing on my mind. Family will always come first for me,” says Suniel, who has always enjoyed a lot of goodwill in the industry. “Not that we party together but Sanju (Sanjay Dutt), Akshay (Kumar), Salman (Khan), Akshaye Khanna, Abhishek (Bachchan)...they are all very close to me. I am happy for Akshay and Ajay’s (Devgn) success; they inspire you. I feel very good that they are still ruling the roost,” he says.
That brings us to his partnership with Akshay and Ajay in films (Mohra and Dilwale), some of which went on to become huge blockbusters. When asked why multistarrers, or two-hero projects have become such a rarity today, he says, “It is the economics. Actors these days charge a lot, they are getting their due. When economics don’t work, you naturally don’t want to go in for it. Those days when I did films with other big heroes, numbers were different, time was completely different. Also, at that time, we had print and television; today it is social media and you have the power of media in your own hands. If somebody writes something incorrect about me, I have the right to put my version out. That time I couldn’t, I had to beg and run after everybody. So times have changed and definitely for the better if it is used right, or else it is for the worse.”
And though Suniel has often said in the past that his career dropped because of his wrong choices, today he has a different perspective. When asked if he would have done something differently, he says, “I don’t want to change anything. I would still want to be Suniel Shetty, still want to be an actor who got this opportunity and I should be blessed and thankful. I did every genre of cinema whether it was action, patriotic, comedy or romantic. No complaints,” says Suniel, who however will now be more careful in picking projects. “It will eventually depend upon the kind of roles that will come to me but it doesn’t matter if it is a 10-day role as long as it projects you in the right manner and the audience when coming out of the screens feel: ‘Accha kaam kiya yaar’. I will not go for films where there’s lot of work but it is all rubbish and crap. I am not going to be associated with that kind of cinema in my life again,” he says.
Lastly, one wants to know what’s his advice to his son Ahan who will be soon making his debut in a film bankrolled by Sajid Nadiadwala and helmed by Milan Luthria and adapted from Telugu hit RX 100. “Nothing at all, just that not to fear that Friday and to always remember that with success comes failure and handling failure is more important. The background that Ahan comes from, success is something he will handle beautifully. He is a level-headed, simple boy. You watch and learn from your surroundings and he has watched his grandfather and learnt more from him than by watching his father,” he concludes.
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