Director Rohit Shetty says the blockbuster success of his latest film Sooryavanshi is yet to sink in as the movie's release was a tough battle of 19 months, where his team "fought" the pandemic, nationwide lockdown and naysayers who thought no one will step into a cinema hall to watch the cop action drama.
The film, headlined by superstar Akshay Kumar, released during the Diwali weekend and saw an overwhelming response at the domestic box office minting Rs 151.23 crore till Sunday.
Sooryavanshi is credited as the film which has revived the exhibition sector for Hindi cinema after the industry was severely hit due to the coronavirus pandemic. The film was originally planned to be released in March 2020, but was delayed indefinitely after cinema halls shut following the nationwide lockdown. When a new release date of March this year was announced, the makers had to push the movie again due to the second wave of the pandemic.
In an interview, Shetty said holding on to the project for 19 months was not easy and recalled how his decision to release the film in theatres was being deemed a fatal move.
"We fought for almost 19 months, where everyone told me my decision was wrong. Even till Thursday a lot of people were like, 'He has gone mad, nobody is going to come to theatres.' But there was a belief that they would come. We analysed a lot of things - the Ganesh Utsav, Navratri, how schools and malls started opening up, and how people started going back to work.
"When all of this was happening, I knew people would come to the theatres. Someone had to take the first step. I knew I had to take the risk and now I think it was worth taking. It was not just about me but the livelihood of all those connected to the theatrical business," the filmmaker said.
While he patiently held fast to the film, the director said several streaming platforms had approached him with lucrative offers to buy the project for a digital release.
Shetty, however, was certain that he wanted to see his film only on the big screen, even as people were writing off the future of cinema halls. "People said, 'Cinema halls are dead, there is no future of films theatrically' but I wasn't worried. There were offers from OTT for the film, there was a lot of discussion in my office that we should move on. But I didn't want to, I wanted to wait.
"We would have been in huge, much more profit when it would have come 19 months or 15 months ago when we started getting the offers. But I had a firm belief that it was made for cinema (halls) and it should come there," he added.
The 47-year-old director said the long, hard wait for the theatrical release of "Sooryavanshi" should help remove the tag that commercial films are only made to mint money.
If monetary gain was the aim, Shetty said, he could have made more money by selling the film to any OTT platform.
"I am a guy who waited for 19 months, if I had to earn money I would have done that earlier. I make films with absolute honesty. With this film, I was only worried that I should not go wrong with the belief that people will come to the theatres.
"I could not sleep the night before the release, I was awake till 12.30 in the afternoon. I had my sleepless nights because nobody knew what was going to happen. The one tag that will change after 'Sooryavanshi' is that commercial films are made for money," he promised.
Sooryavanshi marks Shetty's fourth film in the cop universe after the Singham franchise led by Ajay Devgn and Simmba featuring Ranveer Singh. The film follows the story of Mumbai's Anti-Terrorism Squad chief DCP Veer Sooryavanshi (Kumar), who stops a deadly terror attack on the city. It also stars Katrina Kaif and features Devgn and Singh in extended cameos.
His biggest challenge with the film, the director said, was how to make the character of Sooryavanshi stand apart from Singham and Simmba, two popular and much-loved characters from the cop universe.
"The most important thing for us was that Sooryavanshi should not look, behave or be like Singham or Simba. Even the film's attitude should be different. When you see the film, you realise that it is different.
"There is no Jaykant Shikre (antagonist of 'Singham' played by Prakash Raj), Durva Rande (antagonist of 'Simmba' essayed by Sonu Sood) or even the setting of Goa. I didn't want people to come out and say, Sooryavanshi is like Singham, or the villain is like 'Simmba'," he added.