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Tales of a true gentleman



IT IS a rainy day in London when Eastern Eye meets up with Suniel Shetty at the plush Grosvenor House hotel on Park Lane. The bad weather outside is quickly forgotten with the towering star presence of an acclaimed actor who has starred in over 100 movies.

He is immediately recognised by a group of fans who ask for photos and he happily obliges, before sitting down to talk about his 25 years in cinema. The brooding star, who looks much younger than his age, spoke with heartfelt honesty about acting, his career, inspirations and two children, who are following in his film footsteps.

First of all, you are in your fifties now and look incredible. How do you stay in such good shape?

I guess I train regularly. Yoga in the morning and regular workouts four to five days a week. Then good food habits. Breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and dinner like a pauper. Post 4pm my meals are protein heavy, not carbs.

How do you look back on your journey in cinema today?

Today is exactly 25 years since my debut release Balwaan, so I would say amazing. Of course the last three years I haven’t worked, but I have done over 130 films, 50-60 per cent of them with first-time directors. I think I have lived life on my terms and conditions. I didn’t go with success necessarily. I went with people I believed in, made mistakes, but learned. I am looking at things afresh now.

What keeps your passion for cinema strong?

I guess it’s my sincerity towards my work. That is the way I have looked at my work always. They always say love your work like your own child and you will get a response, if you don’t you won’t. It’s like if you don’t care for your children or respond to them, they won’t respond to you. Likewise I feel with work, the more you give the more you get, definitely.

Is there any one role or film that is close to your heart?

Dhadkan and Hera Pheri are definitely close to my heart because both films were genres people believed that I couldn’t be a part of. They thought I couldn’t do romance or comedy because I was an out and out action hero. But I think I proved a lot of people wrong with the success and recall value of those two films. The shelf-lives of those films speak for themselves.

Is there any one role that you would love to play, but haven’t yet?

I would like to do something like an old classic called Sharaabi, which Mr Bachchan had done. Its something I would like to do because it is a complex character. He was an alcoholic, but not an alcoholic, he loved his father, but protested against him. It was a brilliant character that rose above the film and if Sharaabi worked it was purely because of Mr Bachchan’s performance. To get an opportunity to perform in a film like that would be amazing.

Is there a real life character would you love to play?

My sporting hero was always the legendary Sunil Gavaskar. So I would love to have played a sportsman like him in a sports based film. That is difficult now because you are at an age where you can’t play a youthful character, but something like that would have been amazing.

How are you selecting films today?

Playing my age, playing character-driven films, not necessarily the lead actor. So I am very clear that I want to mix my genres. I don’t want to get back solely to action because that is too uniform for me. I don’t want to do too much of the uniform. At the same time I want to do comedies and other diverse roles. If it’s an interesting character I will do it, even if it’s not the lead.

You have played good, bad and grey characters. Which are you happiest doing?

Always the good guy. I will only play the bad guy if they have something to offer. There has to be a meaning and reason that I play bad. Born bad is something that doesn’t excite me. If there is a strong reason and one good enough I think playing a grey shade is also very exciting.

What is the secret of a good performance?

Understanding the character, giving your 100 per cent and getting completely involved in it. I learned that only after I did a film like Dhadkan with a director like Dharmesh Darshan, who I thought was outstanding. Involvement in the character is very important, the minute you feel you start reacting to any emotion.

Your daughter Athiya Shetty has had a successful start to her acting career and your son Ahan Shetty will be launched next year in a high profile film. What key pieces of advice have you given to your children?

To work hard and always be a producer’s actor, not necessarily a director’s actor because that is the man who is putting in the money, so you need to respect that. And never fear a Friday because they will come and go. You will have to continue working hard even if you have a super duper Friday. Work hard and believe in yourself.

Have you been surprised with the amazing progress your daughter Athiya has made?

I am very happy that she chooses whatever she does even if it’s an advertisement. She has signed for the third year with Maybelline New York. She has just wrapped up working with one of the top heritage jewellery designers in the country. She chooses her events very carefully and selects her films very well. She is doing some amazing films that will be announced soon. So I think patience always pays for any youngster in the industry, not only Athiya. If you are patient, if you believe you want to do good work, you will get good work.

How does your wife Mana cope with being in the house with three actors and not just one?

(Smiles) She is the mother of the house, so is in absolute control. We come from a film background, but at the same time we are very connected to family. It’s a job for us, so once the job is done we come back and are like any other family.

Are you all banned from talking shop at the dinner table?

We don’t talk shop. If it is shoptalk then it’s Athiya, Ahan and I doing so at work or in our own time. I never brought work home when I was the only actor, including my failure or success. My children never knew the emotions I went through. I kept it to myself and didn’t let it come home because I didn’t want my family being affected. When I saw failure it didn’t mess me up, depress me or send me into a tizzy. I knew I was doing other stuff and could get back on my feet. There were mistakes I made. It wasn’t that I had forgotten my craft, I definitely know my craft, but it was the wrong choice of films. The minute you do the right kind of films your audience is back. It’s thanks to media like you Asjad who have kept me alive. Otherwise, if you haven’t worked for three and a half years no one wants to write about you.

You received the best reviews despite only making a cameo in A Gentleman.

With A Gentleman, it was probably a three to four day job, but the kind of buzz that was created even without me stepping out to do any promotion was amazing. I felt that if the character had been used right it could have been a USP of the movie, but the screenplay is the director’s choice. But being accepted even for that bit character without me stepping out a day to promote it was unbelievable and overwhelming. Now all I want to do is good work. That is the kind of work I have chosen going forward. My fans, friends and people will definitely be happy that I am doing quality work.

What inspires you?

The younger generation. The way they work and amount of effort they put in. You see a Ranbir Kapoor and you can’t take your eyes off him. You see the energy Ranveer Singh has. The kind of commitment Tiger Shroff has to action and dance is insane. The understanding Varun Dhawan has for the masses and people is unreal. Also, kids like Sooraj (Pancholi) and Sidharth (Malhotra) are so professional, hardworking and good. They inspire you. Also my contemporaries inspire me.

What do you mean?

People like Salman (Khan), Akshay (Kumar), Aamir (Khan) have moved on and every single day are doing something new. Some say Akshay is up there, you must feel jealous, no not all, it’s he who inspires me. These guys inspire me too.

Why do you love cinema?

A different day, inning, character, role, film, no 9-5. I love the affection from people. Wherever you are in the world today, south Asian cinema and culture is being appreciated. People all over the world are dubbing and connecting with us and it’s the best way to spread love, joy and happiness all over.