Rohit Shetty's film Simmba is a commercial success, slowly inching its way to the 200-crore mark. The Ranveer Singh, Sara Ali Khan starrer, however, has attracted criticism for its treatment of women, use of rape as a plot device and tacit approval of encounter killings. He spoke about why he believes a "tough stand" is the only way to counter rape, whether the women in his films have enough agency and if he's open to directing a female-oriented film some day:
Anupama Chopra: Here's my theory about you, Rohit and tell me how correct I am. My theory is that, as a storyteller and as a filmmaker, you're really turned on – and I don't mean sexually of course – but you're really excited and invested in a sort of hyper-masculinity. You love strong men. All your low angles and all the slow-motion walking. It's like the way Yashji used to shoot women, remember?
Rohit Shetty: The white sari.
AC: The white sari and Switzerland. That was then sort of our highest bar for beauty and for sensuousness. That was a Yash Chopra heroine. I think there's a Rohit Shetty hero. Is this a correct assumption?
RS: Many young guys have called me like, "Now you shoot us like that." I make action films and for an action film, you have to have that. Youngsters used to follow an Akshay Kumar or a Sunny Deol or for that matter, Shah Rukh Khan because they had that style. Now that style is going thinking that it's cool. It's not like that. Whom a young boy or a 16-year-old boy will follow now, that guy needs to have that style. Who will he look up to ki I need to wear clothes like these or have a body like this or I need to walk like this. I maintain that. I still feel that it works for my films, not for every film, but my hero has to be a bit larger than life. Where a young guy sitting or an ordinary man sitting should think haan this is me or I want to be like him. That is always there in my mind.
AC: Which is why Simmba has that much swag and talks like that and is very funny – the whole "Tell me something I don't know" and all those taglines and all those things we go home with. Of course the flipside of this great love for men is, I think, that you're not very interested in women, in the women characters. Hear me out, hear me out. I think this is why I feel like the whole rape angle in the film, your intentions were great, I have no issues with the intentions. I just feel like the way it came across was that all of it was finally only to serve the men. The women were all in relationship to Simmba. The one who is the judge is somebody who's almost emotionally blackmailed into taking a decision in that very emotional scene in the courtroom and in the end you have a female – the judge – blaming another female – the mother – for something a man did, the rapist son. It just came across as something that was more a lip service rather than really felt. Because inherently, your world is about men. it's not really about women.
RS: It's not like that. If a policeman wants to shoot someone, he's the hero. My point of view is that this will only end when you take a tough stand. It's not going to end. We will come out with candle march and do all these things and then we will forget about it. That's the harsh reality. Today, everybody is scared to drink and drive. Everybody wears a seatbelt. People are not scared to rape. I come from that point of view. It's because today the laws of drinking and driving are so strict that if you're caught, you're in jail. People are scared. People keep drivers or they don't drink and drive. This New Year, if you see, was the rarest and the least people caught drinking and driving. But the numbers of rapes are not getting cut down. So my thing, my whole point of view came from there. In 92, 93, mid 2000, I'll tell you my perspective when I started this film. In 2000, every underworld guy was calling every film personality, every builder.
AC: I've experienced it firsthand.
RS: You buy a car and you get a call. The whole of Mumbai city got clean when they started killing them, when the encounters started happening, when there was a fear. So here I'm talking about the fear and if you see, the judge doesn't say, "Har maa…" she says, "Har maa aur baap…"
AC: Woh last dialogue hai. Uske pehle ko maa ko hi blame kar rahi thi.
RS: Kyunki Durga ka baap hai hi nahi. Swarg mein jaake usko blame karna padega. She has to die for that. And if you see, people blame (me) and say that the heroine is only there for dancing and romance and all that, but what about the other characters? What about the other women? They also have that importance. I might sound a little arrogant, but today I don't need an issue like rape to make a film a hit. I've a proven 13 films. Eight are 100 crores, two are 200 crores, this one is going for 200 crores. Before that, All The Best, Golmaal and Golmaal Returns are also there. So I'm sitting with 10 blockbusters. I don't need such a pathetic thing to do.
AC: That you'll just use it?
RS: No. That's not right.
AC: But do you see where the criticism is coming from? Are you able to see that?
RS: I must say that you're one who is saying this. Two-three have written about this. Other than that…if this was the case, there are so many women calling, there are so many women writing on Twitter that this is what should be done. They are not feeling it like that. Because I feel they are not analyzing it, they are just getting entertained and they are saying, "Okay, this is his point of view." If you start analyzing films, then every film has that thing. In Pink, why is Amitabh Bachchan coming as a lawyer? Why not a lady lawyer? So it's not like that. If Simmba was a girl, she would've killed. But if she was an officer. I'm talking about the police point of view. That this is what should be done. This is my point of view, I know there will be controversies with this point of view also.
AC: Yeah I was going to come to that.
RS: This is my point of view. And I'm not worried about the Twitter world. This is my point of view. A Nirbhaya thing happens, you have to shoot them, you have to create that fear. That is my point of view.
AC: You don't think it's dangerous when your films – I mean you're so successful – and the messaging you're putting out there is that encounter killings are okay. Is that not problematic?
RS: For me, no.
RS. No. No.
AC: You're clear about this?
RS: I'm clear about this. If tomorrow, God forbid, it happens with my sister or my mother, I want to kill that person and I'm clear about it.
RS: I'm clear about it. It's very easy to talk about some victim and give your point of view and go out with candles, but what's happening with her and her family, only they know.
AC: Of course.
RS: So I'm talking from that point of view, that the fear needs to be there. You need to create that fear. The whole agenda of Simmba is to create that fear in those ruthless people.
AC: Which Singham has also done.
RS: I believe in that and that's my point of view. I don't care what Twitter will write, what a few pseudo-intellectuals will write. But the girl who's going through that, only she knows. It's very easy to stand with a candle and write big writeups and blogs and articles but what she's gone through, what her family's gone through, God forbid if it happens with my family, someone in my family, I will go and kill that person. Straight and clear. And that was my point of view to make a film and that's why I'm angry with a few of the journalists who've said that I used that as rape. Today, sitting with 10 blockbusters, I don't need to do that.
AC: No, of course not. But Rohit, just to play Devil's advocate, the criticism might be that the women don't have enough agency. Finally, the rape serves a man's evolution.
RS: It's not that. And again, we're not talking about a commoner picking up a gun and shooting. We're talking about a cop. And Simmba is a cop. And he's a man. He could've been a woman, if I'm making a woman-oriented film.
AC: Will you, someday?
RS: I want to.
AC: Let's do Ocean's 8.
RS: No no.
RS: Oh god. Eight heroines and 10 staff. Like 80 staff. Oh god, no. I can't deal with that.
AC: But seriously, would you have a really strong woman character?
RS: For me, Chennai Express was not a Shah Rukh film. People forget that. For me, Golmaal 3 was not an Ajay Devgn film. It was a Kareena Kapoor and Ratna Pathak and Mithun Chakraborty film. That's how you write. Because it's a commercial film, people don't go for that theory. Golmaal 3, I never thought that it was an Ajay Devgn solo film. It was a Kareena Kapoor, Ratna Pathak and Mithun Chakraborty's film. Same way, Chennai Express was Deepika Padukone's film. And she got the maximum credit also. So it's not like my heroines are only there for song and dance, it's never like that. Till today, except for my first film Zameen, I never had an item song in my films.