Suniel Shetty and Athiya Shetty
Nayandeep Rakshit (DNA; June 18, 2017)

When Suniel Shetty and his daughter Athiya Shetty team up, there’s not a single dull moment. Looking at the comfort level they share, they are more like friends than parent-child. However, that does not take away from the mutual respect they have for each other. We catch up with the Shettys at their beautifully-done-up office. The photoshoot turned out to be a laugh riot, thanks to their antics. But when they sit down to talk, they give us a glimpse into their world, getting nostalgic about the years that have passed by, and talking about the things they absolutely love and hate about each other.

How different are you as a dad from your father?
Suniel: I think there was no communication between my father and me. It’s not that he didn’t love me or care for me, but that was the generation when we said things without actually saying anything at all. Here, we are friends and there’s a lot more communication. You are more vocal because that’s how your children are. They talk to you about everything. When they want to say no, they say no. We didn’t know how to say no so we never did. Children now are very clear about what they want. Automatically, that has changed in me as a father.

As a kid, what would Athiya make for you on Father’s Day?
S: Cards! She and Ahan both get it from their mom because she’s very effusive. I come from a conservative family; I don’t express emotions. Once Mana came into my life, everything had to be celebrated because she is demonstrative.
Athiya: I remember sticking post-it notes to his pillow. He’d see them after returning from work. That way, I’m more like him — not very expressive.

When was the last time you did that?
A: A long time ago... Maybe I will do it today.
S: No, I think she is constantly expressing, messaging, or talking. As a family, we are like friends. When we go out as a family, people tell us we come across as strong friends, and I believe that’s the way parents should be.

In what way are you like your dad?
A: I am just like him...
S: (Interrupts) She is all stress. About everything. That’s the way I was. Bang-on punctual, extremely concerned about what the other person might think, whether I was upsetting someone else at my cost. I guess, all that is completely like me. And, she has a quick temper.
A: (Cuts in) I don’t get angry, I distance myself. That’s like him. I can cut somebody out of my life.

How are you guys different from each other then?
A: He is too nice, which I am not. So I feel pressured. Everybody says ‘your father is so sweet, you have such goodwill to live up to.’ And I am like, ‘I can’t live up to this’. I am not as nice as him.

Are you closer to him or your mom?
A: It’s different. While growing up, it was always mom, but now that I am in the same profession, I have more discussions with dad.
S: My wife is clueless about the industry.
A: But, it’s so good that I have one parent who I can go to for anything related to the industry. And then there’s another parent who I can basically run to for everything else.

Did you have the same rules for Athiya and Ahan?
S: Absolutely.
A: What rubbish! He never let me go to sleepovers, and Ahan always got them a lot easier than I did.
S: It’s the mother
A: No, it’s the father.
S: Mother and son relationship is crazy. Moms don’t know how to say no and they influence you, too. And you don’t want stress. So you say, ‘Theek hai’.

Have you yelled at your Dad or vice versa?
A: I don’t remember Dad ever yelling at me.
S: Since the time she was three, I used to say ‘Tiya’ in this particular tone and she would just start crying, that’s all it took. So I never said anything to her.
A: He was never strict about school or grades like other parents. I loved theatre and art, so he would always encourage that. There was only one rule — play a sport and go to the gym. Every season it was a different sport — swimming, basketball, etc.

Who is more at ease with your dad?
A: Ahan is more mindful of what he says in front of Dad. But, I can talk about anything to him.
S: Especially after she became an adult. They didn’t trouble me as kids. There were no rules in the house. You just need to be cautious and conscious about the things you do. That’s all.

Did you ever have to lie to him?
A: He trusts me and never said no to anything. The only time I remember having a fight is when I was 16, and I wasn’t allowed to go clubbing.
S: It was New Year’s Eve! I said, ‘Go wherever you want. Do not go to a public place or a jam session at night. Because if they catch you, it will be breaking news that Suniel Shetty’s daughter was caught’. And that’s exactly what happened.
A: There were cops, people shoving mikes into my face and the first person I called was Dad.
S: Under 18! I always just tell them not to get into trouble with the law because we are always targetted. After that incident, she and her brother have never gone out like that.

How did he react to the episode?
A: They were at a restaurant and he had to send someone to get me because there was media and he couldn’t come. I saw him and I couldn’t say a word. I was trembling. He didn’t say anything. That silent treatment was the worst. But, after I came back from New York, I never even had a deadline to come home.

And how did he react when you told him that you wanted to become an actress?
A: I always wanted to be an actress. I think he always knew it but never showed that he did. We were looking at colleges and I was at Heathrow Airport when he suddenly asked me, “Why aren’t you happy?” That’s when I told him I wanted to be an actress. He sat me down and he told me that he knew I’d be able to handle the success but what about that Friday?
S: Kids grow up watching us, so their first dream or wish will always be what their parents are. Naturally, they will come here. As long as you know what you want to do and what kind of graph you want, in spite of failure, you are welcome. Those are the only things I have always said. Be careful, work hard. 90-95 per cent of girls mature only after three years in the industry when people start recognising them. Whereas, for the guys, the first year is the decision making. You’re there or you’re out! (Smiles) It’s an absolute reversal.

Was it a conscious decision on your part to not launch her?
S: No. I don’t care about nepotism. It doesn’t matter. You tell me, in which profession do we not see kids taking up what their parents do? Mukesh Ambani won’t give his property and let his business be run by my son, however smart he might be.
A: Every family has a family business, so this too is as natural.
S: It happens in sports too. A cricketer who’s made it in cricket will try and make his son play the under 14, the under 19 and you groom someone that way. So 50 people who are desperate, and don’t have anything to do, write about it, doesn’t mean it’s correct.
A: I agree that I have been recognised and noticed because of who my father is. But then after I’m here, it’s up to my talent whether I can sustain... I have always said this. Your first film chooses you but then you choose your second, third, fourth and on...

Are you an over-protective and possessive father?
S: I am both!
A: No, you are not possessive!
S: No, I’m both and as long as she knows, what she’s doing and she believes it’s right, it’s right for me as well. I don’t care about what the world says or anybody says about anything. I believe in her.
A: Even if I made a mistake and come back and tell him about it, he will never say, ‘I told you so.’ They will be like you learnt from your mistake and you will move forward.

How important is it for you that your father likes your boyfriend?
A: It is extremely important. But I would only want that to happen when I know I’m extremely serious about that person. I wouldn’t introduce someone to my dad if I was doubtful about it. I would want to be sure. I might tell my mom about it though.

Has it ever happened that you have not liked any of her friends and she cut herself off from him/her?
A: No. Not at all. He’s never been like’ You can’t date this or that person’.
S: See, I dated someone for nine years.
A: (Cuts in) Exactly! He can’t tell me anything. He started dating my mom when she was 17. (Laughs)
S: (Continues) I came from a South Indian family and dated a Muslim girl. That was the only reason why my parents didn’t want me to get married. Time healed everything. She was the apple of my father’s eye. And my mother’s. People change over time too. Today, you might be XYZ but you change as you grow older. I was a brat when I was growing up. I used to beat people on the streets, but I have calmed down. I was friends with all the charsis in the world. It never mattered to me, as long as I knew where I was going and what they meant to me.
A: I don’t have charsi friends but (Laughs out loud)

Does it annoy you when people keep comparing you two?
A: Yes. This goodwill that he has in the industry, I can never have. (Laughs)
S: It’s an advantage too. Even if she doesn’t get that much of respect, acting wise, she’s safe. With a wooden actor like me, she doesn’t have to compete much to prove she’s better.
A: What rubbish!

One quality of each other you wish you had...
A: I wish I had his patience. I wish I was patient.
S: I think her energy and spontaneity. Even from an acting perspective, I am a very shy person. I’m very conscious of people. She doesn’t care, when the camera starts rolling. That magic is what you need to stand out as an actor. I have lacked that, straight from martial arts to movies.

One thing you wish you changed about each other...
A: His stress and I think he will change the same thing. It’s been passed on. (Makes a face) It’s in the genes so maybe if he had changed, I would have not been like this.
S: Her stress is unnecessary. Mine isn’t. She just gets stressed for anything and everything.
A: Even you just stress and fret about everything. (Laughs) One thing I have to admire that he never let us understand his highs and lows. I bring mine home.
S: Yes, and she doesn’t realise that this rubs off on parent ten times more. Parents are only concerned about their children. I could get on the streets tomorrow, lose everything I have. Still, I will have faith in myself that I will bounce back. But when your children go through that, it breaks you. The day you become a dad and you hold that child in your hands, you know your life’s over. You have to live for them now.

Have you ever thought about her marriage and how life would be without her?
A: (Shocked) What? This interview is over. (Laughs) I don’t think he wants me to get married because then, I will leave him and go (mock cries).
S: I think, Mana and me are more interested in having grandchildren. I want them to get married tomorrow so that I can have their babies to myself.
A: Oh God! First can you find me a boy? (Laughs)
S: I’m so ready to be a grandfather. Mana, more so. And there’s no child in the world who once comes to me would want to go back.
A: Thoughts about marriage? Absolutely not on the radar at all. First, let me find a boy. Secondly, let me work and that’s what I am concentrating on right now.