Neha Maheshwri (BOMBAY TIMES; March 2, 2017)

They may have been friends for decades, but on the set of their upcoming film Commando 2: The Black Money Trail, producer Vipul Amrutlal Shah and Deven Bhojani, who is making his directorial debut in Bollywood with this film, were true blue professionals. The camaraderie, they say, would start only when the camera stopped rolling. Recounting those moments in an informal chat with Bombay Times, the duo throws light on their collaboration...

Deven, as someone synonymous with comedy, what was your reaction on being offered an action film?
Deven: While it's natural for people to associate me with my comic roles on TV, not many know that I've been directing shows for the past 15 years and have explored various genres. I had earlier directed a mini action-drama series, Pukaar, for Vipul. But still, when he offered me the film, I was taken offered me the film, I was taken aback and told him that I needed time to think it over. Vipul knows my capabilities as we've been friends for a long time now. Also, I realised that there couldn't be a better beginning than Commando 2 to help me break the mould.

Did you watch action films to draw inspiration?
Deven: Many directors speak about their inspirations, but I don't relate to it. I'd rather go with the flow than emulate somebody else's work. Firstly, I don't watch many films and to add to it, I have a poor memory. Also, I don't conform to generalisations - in my case, the perception is that one who does comedy can't direct an action film.

Considering the fact that the original, Commando: A One Man Army, was received well, did you feel any pressure while directing the second installment?
Deven: I did. After all, I have to take the franchise to the next level. Besides, I am also directing Vidyut (Jammwal), one of the best action heroes today. A lot of money has gone into making this film. I didn't worry about the box-office figures when I was shooting, the pressure builds up after that. Having said that, I am not too ambitious. I want to contribute to cinema in my own little way. I don't aspire to bag an Oscar or a National Award. If I bag one, it would be nice, but that's not my goal. I just wanted to become a film director and I am glad to be one today.

Vipul, was your friendship with Deven instrumental in getting him on board as the director?
Vipul: I keep my personal and professional life separate. For example, I haven't cast my wife (Shefali Shah) in most of my films. I won't go to her unless the role demands it; the same rule applies to Deven as well. We have known each other since our college days; he is like a brother, but you can't work on the basis of friendship. If I had offered him something he wasn't comfortable with, he would have made a bad film, which would have been detrimental for the entire project. Since he has a certain screen image, the decision to have him as the director might seem misplaced, but I am against stereotyping people. Alfred Hitchcock was not aggressive, but he made the best horror films of all times.
Deven: Nobody is doing anybody a favour. Friendship helped only because Vipul knows my capabilities better than outsiders. Dosti mein birthday gift dega koi - maybe an expensive watch or a diamond set, but not a film.

Vipul, why did it take three years for the sequel?
Vipul: I have to redefine action if I am making a series of action films. It's challenging because you don't want to repeat the stunts. Unfortunately, people write off this genre as maar-dhaad films. Comedy is tough in terms of getting the timing right, but action is tough on the whole team.

Isn't making a film without any big name a huge risk?
Vipul: If you have a strong script and a good actor, I don't see why a film with a newcomer cannot work. Also, I wouldn't have reached so far if Amitji (Amitabh Bachchan) or Akshay Kumar hadn't agreed to do Aankhein when I was new. Every newcomer should get a fair chance, the industry is unfair to outsiders. People called the first installment of Commando a C-grade film as it featured a new guy. It's offensive to judge a film, just because the actor doesn't belong to an illustrious film family. Newcomers risk their career by entrusting you with it and it's a big responsibility, because if something goes wrong, they suffer more than anybody else. It's immensely satisfying when the risk pays off. I find casting only stars limiting, as it feels like a safety net. Am I not capable of making a successful film on my own?

Unlike Hollywood, Bollywood doesn't take the action genre seriously...
Vipul: Action is the biggest genre in Hollywood, but here, it is dismissed as mindless cinema. The amount invested in an action film is huge. Our mindset is the problem. It's changing, but it needs to change faster. A Hollywood film is reviewed better than a Hindi film unless it has big stars. What Keanu Reeves does in John Wick is considered A-class, but it's substandard if Vidyut does the same. I am not calling John Wick a bad film, but the same perspective won't be applied to a film like Commando. Somebody has mastered the art after 20 years of hard work and is putting his life at risk. Don't rubbish it just like that.