Suneel Darshan is back to direction again after a seven year break with his son Shiv again (had produced Shiv’s Karle Pyar Karle in 2014), Upen Patel and newbie Natasha Fernandes, with a musical thriller titled Ek Haseena Thi Ek Diwana Tha which releases this week.
In the 1990s, after Akshay Kumar’s supporting role in the Yash Chopra’s Dil Toh Pagal Hai, his other releases, including Lahu Ke Do Rang, Insaaf, Daava, Tarazu, Angaaray, Barood and Zulm turned out to be duds at the box-office. Few were willing to sign him till Suneel Darshan approached him for Jaanwar. Directed and produced by Suneel, the action drama co-starred Karisma Kapoor and Shilpa Shetty and the film became an instant hit and marked the actor’s comeback. From then on Akshay and Suneel went on to give more hits including Ek Rishta, Andaaz, Barsaat, and Dosti: Friends Forever, which was one of the year’s biggest hits overseas. The next year Suneel’s younger brother Dharmesh gave the khiladi another big hit in Dhadkan. Suneel and Akshay’s last film together was Mere Jeevan Saathi which didn’t do well at the BO and after that both stopped working together.
In an interview, Suneel tells us why he stopped working with Akshay, his love and respect for Ajay Devgn and why he is directing Ek Haseena Thi Ek Diwana Tha after a decade…
You have given so many hits with big actors Akshay Kumar and Sunny Deol. Did you also take a break because you were disappointed with them?
I did not work with big actors. Correct yourself. I worked with Akshay Kumar in Jaanwar. At that time he was not happening. He had 14 flops behind him. There was another actor who was sailing in the same boat as him and he had said if things didn’t work for him, it was time to retire. Also I clearly remember telling Akshay that it was okay if he wanted to give his career another shot but if things didn’t happen, it was still okay. Somewhere I saw a big potential in him but which didn’t get realized as he didn’t have the right opportunity. He wasn’t backed by the right filmmakers and those who had backed him at that point and made films with him didn’t hold him in high respect and esteem. Those elements are very important. A filmmaker needs to have faith in his actors and support their self-confidence. You have to do a lot to create these actors, make them into stars, and deliver better performances. Better performances create better films and better films create bigger stars. We did seven films in as many years. It was a process of re-building which is always more difficult than building actually. Thanks to all the efforts, support and blessings of his wife, mother, family and secretary, things went right for him and I am very happy with what Akshay has achieved today.
How did you give Akshay your film Jaanwar when nobody had faith in him?
He was taking a backseat because the other two-three movies he was acting in had all taken a pause. Some were not getting completed and some stalled… Jaanwar was written keeping Sunny Deol in mind but there was a fall-out with Sunny before that. I was ready to start with another big star of that time who expressed his desire to work in the film and I had almost signed him on. But just before I could sign him on I got a call from Akshay Kumar who was very keen to meet me immediately and when I met him, I saw this boy who appeared very sincere, honest and had all the time in the world to focus on my movie. I thought that was a great opportunity. Maybe I won’t make money or I am risking it all on this boy but at least I would have the opportunity to make a good film. That was too tempting for a filmmaker. I said forget everything and let’s go with Akshay.
Who was the big star who you didn’t take in Jaanwar?
That’s an actor for whom I have so much respect and admiration. All the films that I produced were distributed by his company. At that time there was only one actor who was into distribution and that actor was Ajay Devgn. I explained to Ajay that I was signing Akshay and he was extremely supportive about it. Even after that the films that I have produced have been distributed by his office in Mumbai which was helmed by Mr Kumar Mangat. We still share a mutual relationship of great respect. At one point they wanted to make a movie with me and I was always available to him. For me gratitude is an important thing that I offer people. If people don’t reciprocate that’s okay. I kept working with my actors again and again till it was time for them to move ahead. I didn’t.
Yes, I am coming back into filmmaking after 10 years. I last directed Shakalaka Boom Boom in 2007. For me it’s been such a long wait. Life and destiny plans the pause for you and that’s what happened to me. I had everything going but I saw the changing scenario in the film industry so I took a pause and the sabbatical got stretched. Cinema wasn’t changing but the corporatization of cinema was coming in so there was a new culture coming in too. I wasn’t conversant with it and thought it wouldn’t last. My fears were not unfounded as most of the big corporates who were on the scene, today have died down and disappeared.
Tell us about your next release Ek Haseena Thi… and what made you decide to direct again after a decade?
After his debut film didn’t do well, Shiv lay low for a while. I watched him go through that process. The whole attempt was to drop the past and start afresh. I had a story which I had written and narrated it to him and we decided to do make the film. Shiv is a boy who has strong, visual appeal and certain intensity to him as an actor. As a human being he’s a good one and you need such people in cinema. In the film Shiv doesn’t play your run-of-the-mill, boy-next-door, nice guy. It’s a very different and difficult character that he has portrayed as right from the first shot when you see him, you will want to discover what he’s all about. There’s an enigmatic quality to his character which Shiv has portrayed very effectively.
There was another male character in the movie of significant importance which is played by Upen Patel. Right now his career may not be doing well but one right movie can just change everything for him. I cannot say whether he is playing a negative role but he is definitely playing a very interesting role in the movie. He will be quite a surprise as Upen will be showcased in just the way he deserves to be. When the movie gets over, you will carry his role back with you. Upen is very focused on his work and knew that this was his vehicle so he delivered perfectly. Ek Haseena Thi… is a romantic triangle but there’s more to it than that. I have always depended on content rather than just a good star cast. That’s the reason I would also work with newcomers, take on actors who were not happening and whose films were not happening at the BO and still achieved success with them.Did you approach any top actors to help you in this film – to introduce Shiv or talk about your film?
I didn’t approach anybody because they all belong to that era where one has worked with them but time has lapsed since then. But it was very sweet of Juhi Chawla who sent me a message from Africa saying she loved the songs of Ek Haseena Thi… and wished me. Then Karisma Kapoor and Celina Jaitley have sent me their best wishes. It’s very sweet and kind of them. I am not really the kind who connects with people to promote my film. I feel that if they appreciate me and are available, it’s very good and if I am forgotten, then no problem.