Cover Story - Rohit Shetty: The Master Of Masalaverse
Rohit Shetty Talks About ‘Golmaal 5’, Ranveer Singh & What Makes His Masala Films So Successful

While many film-makers might be chasing content-driven films, Rohit Shetty is sitting back and enjoying the success of his out-and-out commercial entertainers. He was the
man who had got the audience back to the theatres post pandemic with Sooryavanshi, and is now set to replicate his success on OTT

On a sunny Mumbai day, Rohit Shetty arrives to shoot with us. The filmmaker quickly exchanges a few greetings as he hops out, and rushes back into his vanity to get dressed. A couple of minutes later, he is already on the floor, letting the photographer direct him, shot after shot. He is truly a man of less words, more action.


Shetty is three decades old in the industry. Born into a family where he’s grown up seeing his father, MB Shetty, doing crazy stunts and action sequences, it was a natural progression. At a very young age of 17, Shetty found himself on the sets of Ajay Devgn’s debut film Phool Aur Kaante (1991). He was working as an assistant director, but not for long. In 2003, he decided to direct films. Surprisingly, his first hit was not an action film. Golmaal became a cult classic, a film that has added four chapters since and is one of the most successful franchises in Bollywood.



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But the name Rohit Shetty is today synonymous with flying cars, highly-stylized action sequences, and storylines that are as masala as they can get. Shetty unintentionally began his cop universe in 2011. The audience was introduced to Ajay Devgn’s Singham for the first time, only to get excited every time he appeared in other films later. Shetty then gave us Simmba (2018) and Sooryavanshi (2021) — attempting something that no one in Bollywood had done before. And now, his cop universe is expanding with a new entry. An OTT debut for Shetty as well, Indian Police Force is an upcoming Amazon Prime Video web series, which will see Sidharth Malhotra in the titular role.


Interestingly, this was not the only first for the director in the last two years. His Sooryavanshi was the first film that released after the pandemic-imposed lockdown. The action-packed Akshay Kumar-Ranveer Singh-Ajay Devgn starrer got the audiences back to the theatres. The film minted 26.29 crores on its opening day in a world still fighting Covid. The numbers solidified the fact that Bollywood masala films are here to stay.


The director is also returning to the comedy genre. His upcoming movie, Cirkus, with Ranveer Singh is already the talk of the town. Attempting to give a twist to the Shakespeare classic, The Comedy Of Errors, the director is trying to revive the Golmaal magic with this film. And he still has more tricks up his sleeves. Shetty has long been associated with Khatron Ke Khiladi, eight seasons to be precise, and his stint as a host has made the show the highest-rated reality show on television. The reason for success remains common for all his work — the high-octane action scenes the audience gets to witness. We can all admit that one anxiously waits for Ajay Devgn to get out of a moving car every time he enters the scene (the mind goes back to remembering him standing on a bike and making a grand entry in Golmaal). Shetty sure knows how to make even the most insane scenes full of adrenaline.



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His secret ingredient is quite simple. The director knows his audience and knows what they want. Be it a macho man like Singham or a distressed common man like Shah Rukh Khan in Chennai Express, the characters etch a special place in the audience’s heart. He packages these memorable characters with stories that are high on the entertainment quotient. His films are a mix of comedy and action, with a very successful formula applied to each film — the good guy fights the bad men and wins. Add a pinch of drama, romance, peppy songs, and emotions — things that Bollywood is loved for, and you get a successful, enjoyable Rohit Shetty film that you can rewatch at any point in time.


We catch up with the master of masala to talk shop.


You rarely talk about your life outside of films. What is Rohit Shetty like when not behind the camera? 


My routine or my life is always revolving around cinema and nothing else. I’ve been working for almost 30 years, and I have rarely taken a break. I have not even made new friends. I still hang out with the few friends that I made during my childhood. I have a few friends from the industry and even when we meet, we just talk about films.


When not working on a film, how do you like to spend your time?  


Sitting quiet, I like watching a good movie or reading. That’s it, nothing else.



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Do you ever feel like revisiting your early days when you were anonymous in the city, just to see how far you have come?


Success comes with a price. There are times when I feel I should travel in and around Mumbai. I might do that someday. But yes, I do miss it. However, at the same time, this is what I wanted in life and there are very few people who are lucky enough to achieve it.


Do you try the crazy stunts done on the sets of Khatron Ke Khiladi?


No, we do a few of them. I’m not afraid of anything because I have been working with them. I just don’t do any stunt where I have to go shower and change again. That is a headache.


After three decades and so many hit films, you have not forgotten your humility. Does that come from growing up in a rather humble background?


There’s always one thing that I keep in my mind — there is someone else who is better than you. That’s what keeps you humble. If you’re a student throughout your life, if you are just always learning and don’t have the baggage of basking in your success, then every day is a new day. Every new film brings a new challenge for us. For me, I try to learn because so much has changed in these past few years. It’s like I have to reinvent. In the last 10-15 years, I would say this nation has become a young nation. The youngsters have become the driving force now. Being in this field, you have to be humble and keep learning, because my profession is to cater to the audience and what they want.


Was the journey to enter Bollywood easy for you since you were learning from some very good mentors like your father?


No. I knew people around, but it wasn’t easy at all. It’s just that it was never that I had to sit and think about what I am supposed to do in my life. I always wanted to be a director. Since my father was already a part of the industry, I was never in a situation where I had to study something else, and then later realise I wanted to work in films. That helped me set my future vision. A few of my ADs who are working with me now must have struggled more than what I had to go through to enter this industry, but that was just at the beginning. Once you start working properly, then you’re equal, and then the struggle is the same for them and for us.



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You have also worked as a stuntman. How has that experience shaped your vision for action sequences?


It has, because you get groomed for that. I have my own team and don’t need an action director. I think I was born to do that because I am very comfortable with it. I think that’s what made it so successful as well. It’s important that you understand the craft and you love your work. It could also be because of my father. When I was growing up, I knew this is what I was supposed to do, and it’s also quite an adventurous job.


You started with an Ajay Devgn film and have given so many hits since. How does the director-actor partnership impact a project?


Before becoming a director, I spent 15-odd years of my life working with him. But what becomes important is that in any relationship, I would say, it’s to not be taken for granted. He’s a star; he’s like my elder brother, and it’s my duty to see that I don’t take it for granted. At the same time, he works as hard as when he was doing his first film, Phool Aur Kaante. The same goes for me. Also, always being on our toes to prove ourselves again has made this team so successful.


Did you envision the cop universe from the very beginning when you started working on Singham?


No, making Singham was accidental. It was just an experiment because we were doing very well in comedy. I always wanted to make an action film because I felt like I was cheating the audience by making films in my comfort zone. I wanted to get out of that comfort zone. We always had a genre to fall back on if the film had not worked, but surprisingly, it was a hit. Then I was willing to take a risk again by making it into a universe. The Marvel universe had become huge when I was making Simmba, so I thought why not. It worked, and every person is now doing that.


The Golmaal franchise is one of the most talked about films. What’s happening with the fifth part?


Golmaal will happen definitely. I have a story idea also. But because of the pandemic, plans changed drastically. Sooryavanshi was already waiting to release, then we had Cirkus, which is on the same lines as Golmaal. Then we have Singham, and after that, maybe we’ll start work on Golmaal 5. Golmaal and Singham are two household brands. It doesn’t belong to me; it belongs to the world. So, Golmaal will definitely come, but I think it will take at least two years now.



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What goes into creating a hit franchise and making a hit film?


I think my theory was very different than the books. The film had to be a hit on satellite. It had to have that repeat value. The audience should love the characters, and then you make a franchise with it. With Golmaal, it happened that way. It was a blockbuster not only in theatres but was the most viewed film on satellite as well. Till today, it is. The same thing happened with Singham. I will never make a franchise for a film that did well in theatres but was forgotten later. We made Golmaal in 2010, but the visuals are still used as memes. With Singham and Golmaal, it’s been like that, and that’s why we’ve been making an extended version of it, or extending the family.


What made you wait for so long to debut on OTT? Do you think your kind of cinema would work on OTT?


I think it will, because the team at Amazon was really patient with me. They came to me when I was making Golmaal Again (2017), and then it took time to finalize the script and arrive at a point where we wanted to make a project for OTT. Being a mass director, I know my audience, and I know that we have not tapped everyone yet. I think India is the biggest market because of the population and the reach, and we need to penetrate that. The scale of this series is similar to that of Sooryavanshi, and I want to reach a similar audience base. I think it’s the costliest action series ever made in the country, and people would want to watch it.


Cirkus is said to be an adaptation of The Comedy of Errors. What, according to you, makes
Shakespeare’s plays still so popular as adaptations?


I think the story doesn’t get old, ever. Great stories can be made again, and there’s nothing wrong in it. When we were doing our research, we found out that there is a Bengali play from 1869 based on this, then a Bengali movie [Bhranti Bilas,1963] was made, then came Do Dooni Chaar in 1968, then Angoor happened. It is the formula of twins, of mistaken identities that always work. Whether it’s in humor or whether it’s in a thriller, I believe the formula works more than anything.


As you mentioned, the play had been adapted in the Indian context multiple times. How is
your script different?


More than reference, the genre works. Case in point, Golmaal. The original Kishore Kumar film may have inspired me more. I really loved that film because I watch a lot of cinema. Angoor was also a good film but when we started writing from the play, we changed everything. Cirkus is a completely different world altogether.



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Old Indian films, as well as world cinema, have now become accessible like never before. Do you think remakes and adaptations would eventually lose their audience?


Now it’s difficult. What has happened now with OTT is that people are getting trained or they have gotten into a habit where it doesn’t matter if the film is in Tamil or Malayalam or Telugu, they just want to enjoy the content. Earlier, it was easier because we didn’t have access to old films.


Which role do you enjoy more: being behind the camera as a director or being in front of it as a host?


I think behind the camera. In front of the camera, you don’t come with the stress of what is going to happen and how it’s going to happen, so you’re relaxed. Behind the camera, you’re the producer, director, you’re the assistant director — there’s a lot of stress but I enjoy that more.


You have been through three decades of change in the industry. How do you see that change
vis-à-vis the change Bollywood has seen in the past five years?


I think things have become faster and easier. It is a good time to learn for everyone. Social media has become important. You can either learn from it or let it ruin you. The last five years were a period where people also became a lot more judgemental. One should not get trapped in the web of validation. It might mess you up. The entire day we are posting, checking the comments, and counting the ‘likes’. The insecurity and fear have grown a lot, and it’s not necessary at all. All we need to do is work, and not wait for validation.


How have you changed your vision toward mass entertainers in the past few years?


The vision always has to be bigger. The hard work increases, and the budget increases. If you see the scale of Sooryavanshi and then you go back to 2011 and see Singham or if you see the scale of 2006 Golmaal and the scale of Golmaal Again, it is all always getting bigger. That’s how you grow. Now if we make Singham again, it will be much bigger than Sooryavanshi. It has to be; otherwise, the audience won’t come to watch the film.


With OTT’s increasing reach, do you think indie cinema would mostly be on OTT while mass entertainers would work better in the theatres?


That’s going to happen. That has already started. I believe in one thing whatever happens in the West, ten years down the line it happens here. There was a time when we were watching all kinds of American films, but now it’s just about Marvel, DC, Fast & Furious, etc. The same is happening in our country as well. The audience now has that talent for segregating things. If they like the first glimpse, they can decide whether they want to watch it in theatres or on OTT.




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In recent times, many ace directors have panned superhero Marvel/DC movies claiming that those are not cinema. What is your take on this, since your kind of cinema also has similar elements?


I think the whole discussion ends on one thing: if the audience have loved something, then it should work for everyone. You can have your opinion, but that doesn’t make you right or wrong. So, whether it is a Marvel, DC, or a Rohit Shetty film, if it’s working, it’s working. It means that a set of audience love it, and want to enjoy it. So, like we have different kinds of food and flavors, we can have a different kind of cinema as well. You cannot stick to one thing.


Bollywood is shying away from big-budget masala entertainers, while the South is minting money using the same formula. Do you think Bollywood is underestimating the mass audience/commercial cinema?


It has always been doing that. That is why our success ratio has been so less. We are running an industry with a success ratio of only 10 percent. We make around 200-260 films but at the end of the year, it’s roughly only 10 films that do well. You will be shocked that we are a country of 140 crore people and the number of people who come to the theatre for an average movie is one crore. That’s not even one percent. Simmba was watched by 1 crore and 55 lakh people, so it was a hit blockbuster. We are definitely underestimating the masses, and people have realized it now. But I think it’s too late because we have to get trained, and give time to make that kind of cinema right.


What do you see as the future of mass Bollywood cinema, and how can Bollywood reclaim its glory from the South?


I’ll tell you honestly, with the South, they were the first ones to go on strike because their films were not doing well. And it was a time when our (Hindi) films were also not doing well. A story that has some drama always works. The narrative that ‘Bollywood is getting over’ worked really well for the media, but it is not the case. Brahmastra could’ve been released earlier, Bhool Bhulaiyaa 2 could’ve been released earlier but it’s just that because of the pandemic it was stuck. We did go through a phase where three or four good films or films that we had high hopes for, didn’t do well. That doesn’t mean the scenario will change.
But yes, I feel that the younger generation of directors and actors can do the type of cinema they love, but at the same time, they need to cater to the masses as well.




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Personal Style


One fragrance you can wear for life? 
Tom Ford 
Define your style in three words 
Comfortable, not overdone, simple  
What is our off-duty outfit? 
Shorts and T-shirt 
Choose one: sliders or sneakers? 
Three essentials you don’t step out without? 
Right shoes, sunglasses, handkerchief 
One thing one would always find on your nightstand? 
A bottle of water




All About Rohit Shetty


One travel destination on your bucket list? 
Cappadocia, Turkey 
A food item you cannot say no to? 
Any Indian sweet dish 
A car that you’d want to purchase? 
I have all of them 
An actor you wish to work with next? 
Amitabh Bachchan  
A Hollywood series you wish you had directed? 
The Bad Boys 
An action film that you can always watch? 
Any Jackie Chan movie 
A fictional character you’d take out for dinner? 
Iron Man

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