From a simple South Indian boy with absolutely no connection to the film industry, to an actor who was part of some memorable films like Dhadkan and Hera Pheri, to an active philanthropist and a businessman, the journey doesn’t end here for Suniel Shetty. He must have not created a great lasting mark on the films front but his professional etiquette and his relationships on the personal front speak volumes of his character.
In a world where it’s very hard, almost impossible to imagine a star staying away from controversy, Suniel survived this industry with grace and charm like none other. Bollywood’s anna as he’s popularly known, spoke to us about his journey in Bollywood and his relationships with people from the industry.
How do you think Bollywood has evolved from when you began your career up until now?
It is definitely more organised, more corporate, much better cinema and bigger budgets to basically summarise the whole evolution. We have started believing in biopics, true stories and things that inspire, which was never the case in the past. It would all be about song, dance and costume and I think that has stopped now. Distribution has changed too, though we need another 5000 screens according to me (laughs) since the number of audience can tend to multiply 10 folds. Cinema is much more organised now since the kids do around 1 or 2 films in a year, giving them enough time to prepare for the film, in terms of looks, workshops and the script.
During acting you often got mixed reviews. How much did critic opinion affect you?
I guess since I was new I never really knew what to expect from the industry. I didn’t come from a filmy background and I had not been part of any acting academy, classes or workshops. My first film was very successful, but they wrote me off as an actor. My second film was also very successful but then again they wrote me off as an actor. My 10th was very successful but they wrote me off again (laughs). After trying so hard but still so many write offs I finally realised that as long as I was learning the craft and understanding what the audience really wanted to watch what critics say doesn’t really matter. How could I let them decide whether I knew how to act or not when I had a crazy fan following of my own. That is when all the film magazines and reviews went out of the window and I just continued doing what I did best, acting! From then on till date I have never been worried about critic opinion. I will keep working as long as my producers are happy and my films are successful. I am currently in a very happy mental state of mind. I have figured out that trigger point that sets me off and I have learnt control over it.
You changed the spelling of your name from Sunil to Suniel, what was the reason behind that?
That just happened. Someone said it will do you good and everyone was doing it during that time so I thought why not give it a try. I don’t know if it was a good move or not, since I see no noticeable change. So no regrets, but at the same time no difference only.
You and Akshay Kumar bought about the whole fitness obsession to the industry, how do you think that has progressed?
Oh I think that it has evolved and how! When we first started it, there were people who would say,’’ He has a good body, let’s make him a villain.’’ That would be the only roles they thought best suited us. Today when an actor approaches a producer, he is asked to go work on his physique before thinking of being a hero. So that’s like a complete 360 degree turn from the past and I am very happy about it. Every kid who wants to be part of the industry knows that fitness is a must. Many tend to get obsessive about it too, but they have the means and the time to do so and I think being obsessive about fitness is perfectly alright.
When you made your Bollywood debut, you were completely new to the industry. Today Athiya and many others Bollywood linage backing them. In reference to your own experience, do you think being from a Bollywood family is an advantage or not?
It’s a plus when it comes to getting an entry into the industry, after that it is a struggle since the world believes you have had it very easy, not realising that the producer would only work with someone who he believes in for the good of his film. No one does anything for charity, so there is a reason behind everything. In any profession, the parent will always encourage their own child and likewise, children will always want to follow their parent’s footsteps. All this hoopla about star kids is just blown out of proportion and made a big deal of because of the media.
In an environment where relationships are so brittle, you and Mana have managed to sustain a very beautiful bond. So what’s the secret behind that?
I think the bond we share itself is the secret. 26 years of marriage and 9 years of seeing each other is like a lifetime together, nearly 35 years! There’s always much more to lose than to gain when you believe you can do anything and get away with it. There’s a very thin line between what’s appropriate and what’s not, so a person needs to make a conscious effort to work on maintaining a special bond. There are beautiful people everywhere, there is attraction, but when you’re wise and when you know you have a mother at home, who is so simple, a father who would die if he read anything negative about you, you automatically develop responsibility. I always made sure that whatever I was doing, it impacted my parents and children positively. I came from a small South-Indian family, got into the business of cinema which I never imagined would happen, so I chose to keep the rest of my life simple.
Any new exciting future plans on both the personal and professional front?
I have quite a few things coming up. A lot of films, but I rather let them speak for themselves. Reloaded, a Fox film with Sidharth and Jacqueline is up next, sometime in August. I have also said yes to a few other very interesting projects. I guess you’ll have to wait to see.