Deven Bhojani made his television debut as an actor in 1987 with the famous television show Malgudi Days. Over the last three decades, he has gained immense popularity as a comic actor in films and on television. While he appeared in films like Jo Jeeta Wahi Sikandar (1992), Andaz (1994) and Agneepath (2012), his roles in television shows like Dekh Bhai Dekh (1993), Shriman Shrimati (1994), Baa Bahoo Aur Baby (2005), etc., are still fondly remembered.
His 2004 television show Sarabhai Vs Sarabhai, as a director, that redefined comedy, still remains one of the most popular shows in the history of Indian television. Deven is now all set to make his film directorial debut with Bollywood action movie Commando 2, which is slated to release on March 3, 2017. In an exclusive interview with Nation Next, Deven Bhojani speaks about the upcoming film Commando 2, his rapport with the Commando 2’s producer Vipul Amrutlal Shah and also reveals the path ahead for Sarabhai Vs Sarabhai.
Your first film as a director – Commando 2 – is going to be released soon. How excited are you?
I can’t express how excited I’m! This is definitely a new step in my life. I started my career as an actor. I have been into direction (on television) for more than 15 years. Despite having worked in various genres on TV, I am still recognised more as a comic actor than a director. This is my first feature film as a director, so I’m pretty excited. Also, this genre (action) is out of my comfort zone.
Given the fact that Commando (2013) did well at the Box Office and its sequel Commando 2 is your first film as a director, was there any pressure on you while directing the movie? Is there any pressure on you now before the release of the film?
I did not feel pressurised comparing Commando 2 with its prequel. Having said that, whenever I work on any project, I feel pressurised. This is definitely a feature film, which matters to me big time as crores of rupees are involved. Apart from money, many other things are at stake. Since this is my first film as a director, my career could be at stake as well. So, there’s always that pressure. But, the moment I get involved in the creative process, I forget everything and get fully involved in it. I’m the kind of a person who’s known more for the passion and perfection in my work. So, since the time I gave thumbs up for this film, I got completely involved in it. I did a lot of research, worked on the script with the writer for more than a year, and forgot the pressure completely. But then again, once the film is made, you feel the pressure again. The response to the trailer has been overwhelming and that makes it all the more pressurising.
You share an extremely strong bond with Vipul Amrutlal Shah who’s the producer of Commando 2. You have worked with him before as well for television. How was it working with him as the producer of this film?
It was superb! Vipul and I are like brothers and we share a great comfort zone since we know each other really well. I would really like to thank Vipul for trusting me. I think he’s aware of my capabilities more than I am. As a producer, he has quite a few action movies with different directors and so he’s experienced. This enables him to give good suggestions to me. Of course, there were ‘creative differences’ between the two of us, which were very healthy. But then, eventually, either I convinced him or he convinced me. If I didn’t get convinced, he respected me as a director and allowed me to take the final call. He does that because he’s a righteous person. He chose me as the captain of his ship. So, he respects my vision. Vipul is someone who gives you a lot of liberty, something, which I really love about him. As a producer, he has given me everything. With Commando 2, I wanted to set a new benchmark for Indian action movies and make a movie on a large scale. We have shot most of the film in Thailand and Malaysia and there’s also a lot of glamour in the movie. These are the things I wanted. So, even though Commando 2 initially began with a low budget, it ended up with a heavy budget. So, that’s the liberty Vipul gave me. He stood by my vision.
You tend to work repeatedly with people. Be it actors like Sumit Raghavan or producers like Vipul Shah, JD Majethia or Aatish Kapadia. Is it because you prefer comfort over experimentation?
Yes, of course! I work more with my own group of people because we have known each other for long now. So, that comfort level is there. But primarily, it’s the project and the creativity that lures me. For instance, I have worked in television with different people – be it Raman Kumar, Asit Modi, etc. Recently, I directed a TV show – Sumit Samabhal Lega – with the creative unit DJ. So, I have to like the project and the script first and I should able to contribute enough to the project. I should feel inspired and should love the project that I’m a part of. Fortunately, I have always loved the projects JD and Vipul came up with.
In the movie Commando 2, the protagonist is on a mission to eradicate black money. Against the backdrop of the recently announced demonetisation by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, do you think the movie will now appeal more to the moviegoers?
To be honest, we started working on the script more than a year back. But, it is a great co-incidence that demonetisation took place and has become a national issue. We were brainstorming on various subjects for Commando 2 and one of the subjects, which appealed to us, was black money. The PM had promised to eradicate black money and it became a big issue during the 2014 elections. So, while discussing, we happened to remember that and we thought of trying to work in the same direction. We decided to include the issue of black money in the story line and asked the writer to develop the story further. He developed it and we improvised on it. Commando 2 has nothing to do with demonetisation though. It is basically about black money lying in foreign banks.
You have been mostly associated with projects of comedy genre. So, there must have been a lot of research that went in for Commando 2 from your side…
As an actor, people recognise me as a comic actor. But, as a director, I have worked in various genres. Along with comedy, I have also been involved in family soaps, love stories and action drama as well. Two years back, I directed Pukaar starring Rannvijay Singh, which was an action drama (mini series). So, it’s not like action was a new genre to me. I’m a very passionate person and a typical Virgo. My friends sometimes even tease me by saying, “Are tujhe bahut perfection chahiye hota hain, bas abhi bas, chhod, correct hain abhi!” I don’t okay takes very easily as I get too involved as an actor or as a director. For Commando 2 as well, I got involved at various levels, be it be scripting, discussing or brainstorming.
Comedy is more about timing and action is more about technique. Which genre do you find difficult to implement?
That way I would say that everything is difficult. Comedy is not easy and so is not action! In Commando 2, Vidyut Jammwal has performed some breathtaking and life threatening stunts. With action, life is sometimes at risk and a lot of practice goes into it. For Commando 2, we roped in an action director from South Africa. He along with his team would work some things out and then would send it across to us through phone. Then, our team would zero in on what can work out and what can’t and the variations, which can be brought in. Vidyut’s contribution was immense in this. And of course, the action director and Vipul too would give valuable suggestions. So, that’s how the entire action part worked out. Vidyut was very good to work with. He’s extremely down to earth and hardworking. He’s super passionate and I like such people who try to attain perfection. People would also be surprised to know that Vidyut can dance well too!
You last acted in Agneepath in 2012 wherein you played the role of an autistic man Azhar Lala. Your performance was widely appreciated. When will we see you acting in some movie again?
That I don’t know. I never plan my life and I just go with the flow. When this role (Azhar Lala) was offered to me, I was extremely tied up. So, I was avoiding acting in films then. But then, the makers were keen to cast me for this role. Even I liked the role. The makers were even ready to adjust according to my dates! So, then I thought that I hadn’t done a film since long and I should give it a shot. It was a small but a good role and I had good people to work with. If something very substantive comes up, I might take up the role.
It was reported that the popular Indian television series – Sarabhai Vs Sarabhai – which you directed would be back online. When can the fans expect it?
I’m really thankful to the audience who have loved Sarabhai Vs Sarabhai for so many years and who are dying to see it again. So yes, something is in the pipeline now. The show would be online. The talks are on with the producers and other concerned parties.
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