Suniel Shetty is one of the self-made actors we have in Bollywood. The ace actor has entertained his audience in his career spanning over 25 years. Now that his kids Athiya and Ahan Shetty are ready to take his legacy forward, they have found themselves in the middle of the raging nepotism debate in Bollywood. In an exclusive interview with ETimes, Suniel Shetty opened up about his journey in Bollywood, the debate on nepotism, his attempts at helping the newcomers in Bollywood, and more. Excerpts…
You have had a glorious career in Bollywood so far. How do you see your journey in the industry?
Life does not go through without any problems. For me, they are a part of growing up. I started my career in 1989. My first film was released in 1992. I did a film called ‘Aarzoo’. The film was completed 100 percent but the film got shelved because the director and producer had a problem. I was launched in a film called, ‘Ek Aur Faulaad’ which never took off. But I had the grandest muhurat. I started with ‘Waqt Hamara Hai’ and ‘Balwaan’, and in 1992, my first film was released. Three years my film was complete but didn’t release. I come from a non-filmy background but still, God was kind enough. I had my first hit but I was still written off as wooden. One of the critics had called me wooden at that time and asked me to go back to the restaurant line. That could have broken me but it didn’t. I understood what the critic said was true. I always believed that I know how to act, I never learnt it. So I worked on my acting and action until I created a niche for myself. I believe it is how you take it. Somebody’s criticism became my fodder to get better and that is how I look at it.
How do you see the whole nepotism debate that is raging in Bollywood right now?
This whole talk about nepotism hurts. It is something that is there in every field. Is my son or daughter not allowed to dream of becoming an actor just because their father is an actor? Does that mean the dream of that child needs to be squashed? An industrialist’s son dreams of taking over the business after his father. Is that dream wrong? A kid sees all the love their parents received from their fans. Is it wrong for them to want the same for themselves? People run to the best school and try all their influences to get their child admission. Is that wrong too? I don’t know where this is coming from.
I run an online hunt for talent. There are two lakh seventy thousand kids on that platform for who I am trying to get work. I ask everybody to please give them an opportunity. If two of my kids are trying to get work, there are two lakh people for whom I am trying to get work. It is very unfair that only the industry is looked at like that. People are being called names and are being abused while the industry has been giving so much back. We are always there for everything to support. All I can say is that I request people to look at it differently. Look at each kid as an individual. Yes, groupism exists in Bollywood but that is there everywhere. One has to learn to live with it. I believe it is not fair.
How do your children Athiya and Ahan feel about this? Have they ever spoken to you about it?
For them, nepotism itself means that they are a part of it. They ask me if it means that they cannot dream of becoming an actor. They know I didn’t come from a film family. I never got a break from a big banner. Even my kids – Athiya and Ahan got their breaks from somewhere else. It is not that I have forced them into it. It is because people have seen something in them that they have been given an opportunity. Their struggle will continue if they don’t deliver. They might have that advantage of being a star kid in their first film but after that, it is the audience, the subject of their films, their co-actors who finally make or break their career.
Your initiative to promote new talent in India also won you an award from the Government of India recently. Tell us something about it.
From an entertainment perspective, more than 50 bureaucrats went through the rounds but I was not part of even one round because I didn’t want anyone to believe Suniel Shetty was trying to lead his clout over anything. It was organic and we were praised like nobody’s business. We were the only app for casting and opportunity. It shouts out loud and clear that it is not about nepotism but talent. I won the award for it. It is being covered everywhere and promoted big time so I feel we are blessed to do a job of delivering something extraordinary. We have been working tirelessly day in and day out to achieve success. People keep talking about nepotism; I am on the platform to give jobs. Give more jobs to kids and that is how they will get the opportunity. I have given opportunity to as many kids as possible. People also need to come forward to provide work. My dream is to make my entertainment agency one of the independent market places of talent. I will continue to do my work and the award that I got for this proves that we can do it.