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Interview Hindi

Riteish Deshmukh is gobsmacked to learn that Total Dhamaal features an international superstar

The actor says he missed having Aashish Chaudhary and Sanjay Dutt in the third Dhamaal film but feels stalwarts like Anil Kapoor and Madhuri Dixit bring their own flavour.

Photo: Shutterbugs Images

Mayur Lookhar

He wears his hair long and the facial hair, too, is impressive. You sense that Riteish Deshmukh is getting into the groove for his dream production, Chhatrapati Shivaji, a biopic of the 17th century Maratha king.

The actor-producer does have an update on the film, but first the group conversation is about Total Dhamaal (2019), the third film in the Dhamaal franchise which is set to be released on Friday.

Two of the principal cast in the first two films are missing, but Total Dhamaal gets a fresh dose in the form of stalwarts like Anil Kapoor, Madhuri Dixit, Ajay Devgn, Johnny Lever and Boman Irani.

Deshmukh does miss Sanjay Dutt and Aashish Chaudhary but is also thrilled about what the likes of Kapoor and Dixit bring to the table.

The actor sportingly answered a few critical questions, most notably on his failure to deliver a solo hit, something that does not worry him.

Nor is he scared, for that matter, about Milan Luthria’s Marjaavaan (2019) meeting the same fate as Shah Rukh Khan’s Zero (2019). Like Khan in Zero, Deshmukh plays a dwarf in the film.

Following are excerpts from the conversation:

How difficult it is to establish oneself in an ensemble cast?

First of all, if we don't think what we need to do in comparison with the others then... (pauses) I have done a lot of multi-starrer films — the Masti, Housefull, Dhamaal franchises. You know the strength of your role at the script level. Once you have said yes, it should end there. When you come to the sets, you should only come with one goal — people should like your film.

That benefits all. A particular film may turn into a franchise, and you get more work. It is always a collective effort when it is an ensemble.

Once you think the other has a better role, how do I do better than him, then the scene suffers. If the scene suffers, then people, too, don’t enjoy it. So, eventually, just by trying to outdo one person, you have ruined the entire film and harmed yourself.

When we talk of a successful franchise, people identify with the principal characters. In Dhamaal, these were Arshad Warsi, Jaaved Jaaferi, Sanjay Dutt, Aashish Chaudhary, and you. Now Sanjay Dutt and Aashish Chaudhary are not part of Total Dhamaal. When two key characters are missing, what is the pull for the audience?

Let me start by saying I have missed Aashish Chaudhary and Sanjay Dutt. However, I knew this when I read the film. Because [the prime focus] is a husband-and-wife track [involving Anil Kapoor and Madhuri Dixit] who are constantly squabbling, who are set to divorce each other. Oh, did I give out too much?

Now for that cast, who better than Anil Kapoor and Madhuri Dixit, who are synonymous with romance, a perfect jodi [pair]? Now they are fighting with each other to get a divorce. They have the funniest track.

There is one scene where a man is dead. Manav (Jaaved Jaaferi) asks Aditya (Warsi), “Why is this man left like this? We should cover him." Aditya shouts at him, asking where does he think they will find a cover in that place. Manav takes out a folded handkerchief and proceeds to open it. It turns out to be as big as a bedsheet! He places it on the dead man's body. I think then Madhuri Dixit tells Anil Kapoor that if there is space, why don't you go and lie down with the dead man.

Once you write a film, you also figure out what is the most ideal situation that needs to be here. While I missed them on the sets, at the same time, the film is layered with such jokes.

Does the film industry tend to underestimate actors who mostly do comedies and not give them other types of roles?

I think things are changing. People are experimenting. Some, like Rajkummar Rao, who has been doing serious work, suddenly you give him Bareilly Ki Barfi (2017), Stree (2018). So is [the case with] Ayushmann Khurrana. A good actor is a good actor, and he will ace it. The guys have got opportunities to play various characters within the first few films they have done.

But how has it been with you?

At the start of my career, it was only comedies. At least in the last four-five years I have got an opportunity to do an Ek Villain (2014), Lai Bhaari (2014). I also did Bangistan (2015), Banjo (2016).

Look, what matters most is the success of the genre. Had a Bangistan, Banjo or Bank Chor (2017) worked at the box office, then I probably would have got more of those [kind of] films. But I am glad that now I am doing a film like Marjaavaan (2019), which is a more serious role, very different from what I have done till date.

You spoke about a certain film not doing well, where you played the solo lead. The criticism then would be that this guy is only good in ensembles. You have probably heard this criticism yourself. How do you react?

Ah! Look, not every person here wants to achieve the same goal. I didn’t want to be an actor. I got the opportunity, but I thought my first film would also be my last. Then I got another film, and then Masti (2004), It has been 15 years now. In between, I opened my production house.

There have been times when I have never asked who the other hero is. I am not into that zone where one needs to be in a solo film, or a two-hero, or a three-hero film. I am not saying it wouldn’t have been helpful if a solo film had worked. It would have been helpful irrespective of whether it was a solo or a two-hero film. [It is not as if] I would have preferred it if a Banjo had worked over Bangistan, which was a two-hero film. I would have liked for both to have worked, In fact, I would have loved if Humshakals (2014) had worked too.

So, do you still have the fear that this film could be your last?

With films, you cannot second-guess the audience. You make a film that comes after one year. Actually a year in scripting, and another year and a half by the time it comes out. So, basically, you have started writing two years ago. You have to think two years ahead of the audience. To stay relevant in terms of your choices and performances is very important.

Which is your favourite franchise?

Dhamaal. I believe Dhamaal (2007) was genuinely the funniest film that I was part of. Genuine because no one was trying too hard. The humour wasn’t forced. The actors were enjoying their space.

None of the actors knew it was going to come across the way it did. I have a similar feeling with Total Dhamaal. Individually, we are confident about our tracks. I know my track is funny. I have individual tracks of others, but I haven’t seen them. I have not seen the frame, but whenever we met, everyone said their track was too funny. After a long time I am really enjoying doing a film where there are a lot of surprises in store for me on the screen.

You play a dwarf in Marjaavaan. Shah Rukh Khan played one in Zero (2018) but the film flopped. Any fears about Marjaavaan?

No. First, I don't think one should compare the fate of a film [with another]. Some work, some don’t. I haven’t seen the entire film, but I have seen portions of Zero while it was being shot. Shah Rukh Khan was gracious enough to show me. I thought I had never seen such magnificent VFX and the kind of effort that was put into it. It was truly a well-produced sequence which I saw.

I have not seen the entire film. So it will be ill of me to judge it. But we are doing our best.

Any update on Shivaji?

I have a narration tomorrow. Hopefully, I will lock the screenplay by the end of the month. (This interview was conducted on 8 February.)

Last heard, there was talk that the film needs an investment of Rs250 crore.

I never said that. The last thing I heard was that [the government] is going to build a Rs3,500 crore statute [of Shivaji].

Okay, apart from the marquee stars, Total Dhamaal also has an ‘international superstar’, that is [Crystal] the monkey from The Hangover franchise.

Crystal the monkey in The Hangover II (2011)

(Stunned silence. Deshmukh gives a serious but quirky look.)

Oh, you have no scenes with the monkey?

Antar-rashtriya superstar hai woh [Is it an international superstar]?

Well, that was how the press release put it.

Oh, is it bigger than Ajay Devgn? Look, a lot of the scenes with animals were shot abroad. We had such intricate shooting where we had to imagine the animal is here. Unfortunately, I didn't have those scenes, but I have seen them. It involves VFX. But yes, ‘international superstar', wow! The Hangover is my favourite film.