With the stock markets crashing, the world economy in a mess and a global recession taking place, there is one man who comes as a saviour - Suneil Shetty. In the times when money is termed sexier than sex, EMI (Easy Monthly Installments) comes with all the solutions to it. Produced by Anna, as he is fondly called, EMI is a laugh riot with a message. It would be something of an understatement to say that Suneil Shetty, Bollywood star of almost two decades now, has not had the best of years. Yet as the businessman turned actor turned producer chats with me, he talks straight and makes sense and clearly anxious to put behind him, what he calls "all that other crap" that took place in the media about him and his co-star friend Sanjay Dutt. Suniel is trying to look forward, concentrating on promoting his second film as a producer, EMI, referring to the recent above events as "just peripheral stuff that happens to people". We spoke to the busy man where he gave us a lowdown on his film, the underlying message to the readers, his intentions on becoming a director and why the Hindi Film Industry is going through its worst phase ever.
Is it right for me to say that in the world economic crisis, EMI is the only way out this year end?
(laughs) Definitely yes. But on the serious side, I'd say unfortunate because the scenario is pretty much dead the world over. From a producer and the film's point of view, there couldn't have been a better time for EMI to release.
So what made you produce EMI? The new director, the story or your close friend Sanjay Dutt?
It will always be the story of EMI which impressed me because it covered people from all walks of life. The story has a problem that I always saw rising in India. We have a tendency to follow the western culture and with the credit card companies coming in, people didn't forecast the impact of what would happen if they tried using their credit cards. It was this subject that really inspired me the most. EMI also made a great commercial sense because it had a character called Sattarbhai who works as the recovery agent for the bank which was very interesting. That's when I thought and decided that if Sanju could hear and liked it, we'd probably go ahead with the film. Sanju loved the script instantly and we started shooting ten days after he heard the script.
EMI, Easy Monthly Installments is a serious issue off screen. Do you think the film is looking at it not so seriously?
No it's not. The promos the film might look not so serious and the viewer might think there is a lot of humour to it. Sanju plays Sattarbhai who initially tries to recover the money by bashing up people but slowly understands that there is a whole lot of a serious issue to it than what it looks from the outside. When you get into the house, you realise the problems that a particular family is having and if there could be a solution offered to their problem it could help them. So more than the bank, it is Sattarbhai who understands them and comes out with an answer to it. The film has a very happy ending too.
So there is an underlying message to the film.
Absolutely yes and that's why I am producing this film. I want to say that the penultimate fifteen minutes of the film will make people appreciate EMI.
But why Sanjay Dutt for Sattarbhai?
When Saurabh Kabra, the director, narrated me the character called Sattarbhai, the only image in my head going through was that of Sanjay Dutt who is larger than life and all heart. There was nobody I could've thought of except him when it came to Sattarbhai. After Munnbhai, Sanju's soft side was loved by people. So I hope people love him in EMI too.
You've always been the most successful businessman cum actor in the industry. Does that make you the jack of all trades?
If you say so, Yes (laughs). But an actor first, then a producer and then a businessman. It's purely because of my branding as an actor that people know me, believe in me and do business with me. Fortunately for me, I did my B.Com, then my Hotel Management. So somewhere down the line, it has only helped me. That's why I also strongly believe that whatever profession you end up with, it is very crucial to educate yourself and you'll see the world open in front of you.
Then why aren't we going to see Suneil Shetty act in EMI?
I've been wanting to keep production and acting completely separate from each other. I share a very good rapport with a lot of my co-actors and I don't want them to feel that I take care of my role more and my promotion more than them if it's my own production house. It's very difficult to juggle between two roles. It's easy when I'm a producer where I can go spend more time on the sets and on the edit table and can be more creative.
With so many feathers in your cap, is direction looking likely in the years to come?
I would love to direct a film one day. But because there are so many tracks running simultaneously with me, I feel it is easier to sit with a director and work on the film rather than make one myself for the time being.
Tell a bit more about the different characters in EMI.
Ashish Chowdhary and Neha Uberoi represent the young couple who are in love and want to get married because they believe that the world is a beautiful place where both of them are making money. They now want a house on EMI, car on EMI and everything on the credit card. It gets difficult after a while and that's what they both go through. Then there is a story of a new boy, Pushkar, who wants to go to London to study and the father does not have money but also believes that if he does not do it now, his son will blame him for the rest of his life. And when he does manage to come back from the lush green outskirts of London, he wants to then become a photographer. So how will the EMI be paid? Then there is Urmila's character who has a high flying husband who thinks that he can conquer the world. But when he can't match up the pressure, he ends up killing himself and how she as a widow takes care of her daughter and the EMI. And lastly, there is Arjun Rampal and Mallaika Arora who get hooked on by the EMI. So there is a lot of diversity in this film.
Is it an intentional move on your part to release the film after Diwali, just the right time when people start paying off their EMI's after the Diwali expenses?
Yes. That's the period when people flash their credit cards and use it more. Diwali is the time of buying, spending and after it's over the people don't realise that how will they pay their monthly credit card statements. This film will also teach them the right use of the credit card and the wrong use of it.
Have you ever misused your credit card?
Not really. I've lived within my means but the thing is that you've always got a sword of EMI hanging on top of you whether it's for your tax benefits or taking money on interest. You do get stuck in situations like that but so far I've managed it. I come from a simple background and even from a company point of view; I know that there is recession world wide. I know the industry is going through a lot but somewhere down the line I know what my role is, that of the content provider. So I didn't jump the gun and played it safe.
What makes you say that the Hindi Film Industry is going through a dull phase right now?
Because majority of the films aren't doing well. There is no buying in the market and there are only three or four companies that are buying. So each one has to pull up their socks and believe that if they deliver the right script, then only will it work for them. I think the next six months is definitely going to prove what I'm saying right now. These so called figures like eighty, ninety and hundred crores won't exist. Somewhere there'll be a reality check. There will be smaller risks taken for the next two to three years till things get stable. But yes, if the share market picks up, there will be money.
After coming out of the prison, Sanjay Dutt first shot for EMI. Did his personal grievances come in play while filming?
As a matter of fact, I got to know the real Sanjay Dutt only during that period when he was going through a low phase and then when he was arrested. When the first letter that came to me from Sanju said, 'I'm sorry Anna. I wanted to start and complete the film but I don't think I have kept my word. I don't know when I'll be out. If you believe you need to take someone else, go ahead and complete the film. I don't want Popcorn to suffer." That was one of the most touching letters sent to me ever. That's why I believe that the industry calls him 'baba' only because he is all heart. He does first and then thinks, which has also got him in a lot of mess. Sanju has such a huge fan following only because of the way his well wishers feel for him and how much they love and miss him.
So what's next in the pipeline for you Anna?
After EMI, from Popcorn, I've got a film called A little Godfather which is about the Mumbai train blasts that took place and what happened to the kids who do their daily business in and out of the train selling things. It's a very emotional film. Then I've got Mumbai Chak-a-Chak which is a story about a man's obsession about cleanliness and how he wants to see his Mumbai clean. As an actor I've got this lovely film by Indra Kumar and Ashok Thakeria's next called Daddy Cool.
Any message you want to give to those who are or are not in an EMI mess after Diwali?
Watch EMI very closely because somewhere down the line each and everyone of us will relate to the eight or ten characters we have in the film. So rather than getting depressed, if we realise our mistakes through this film and get the message right, you'll enjoy the film.