Shashank Khaitan was born in Kolkata and raised in Nashik.
Despite hailing from a business background with interest in sports, he decided to pursue his passion for entertainment at a young age.
Khaitan joined Subhash Ghai’s Whistling Woods International Institute, which provided his education and grassroots experience of filmmaking.
Post assisting on the sets of films like Yuvvraaj and Black and White, he sent the first draft of Humpty Sharma Ki Dulhania to Dharma Productions.
After a few improvements and adjustments, Karan Johar decided to let Khaitan direct the film.
Since then, Shashank has gone on to direct other hit films like Badrinath Ki Dulhania and Dhadak, eventually cementing his position as an established filmmaker in Bollywood.
In a special conversation with Filme Shilmy, Shashank Khaitan talks about returning to the judge’s seat on Colors’ Dance Deewane 2 – alongside Madhuri Dixit and choreographer Tushar Kalia.
Plus, he further reflects on his directorial vision.
You’re back as a judge on Dance Deewane. How do you hope Season 2 will surpass the success of the first season?
I think the success of the first season had to do a lot with the fact that it was a very new format.
We had a segment called ‘Generation 3’ which gave hopes and aspirations to a lot of people who had missed opportunities when they were younger.
We are trying to ensure that we do good things again.
A lot of things in season 1, be it the stories of the contestants or the camaraderie of us judges, we will focus to do those things well again.
As the dancing keeps evolving and improving, so do our comments as judges. There is no deliberate attempt to do something differently.
We all were impromptu in the first season and I think we have the same approach now to just be ourselves.
Luckily, we have the freedom to explore ourselves the way we like to. But I think the key success to any dance show is that the dancers and contestants need to be good.
So far, we have been fortunate to have a good bunch/mix of people – the youngest being aged 5 and oldest being 61.
You seem to have an empathetic and humane approach to underprivileged contestants. What brings this positive attitude within you?
It’s got to do a lot with the way I was brought up.
I am from a small town in India and was extremely fortunate to have great parents who supported me to pursue a career in the film industry.
In the process of learning my craft as a filmmaker and writer, I’ve really experienced a lot of the country as I’ve travelled extensively in the country.
I used to be a national level tennis player and play cricket so it gives me the opportunity to move around the country and to understand how privileged some of us really are… Not always in terms of money, but sometimes due to the opportunities we get.
That is the kind of approach I always have towards the movies I write as well.
My objective is to always tell a human story, showcase the human side of a conflict and by default I’ve realised that it has been a challenge for them to just reach the show.
So my attempt is to be one of them because just a few years back, I was on the other side… Trying to make a career before I was blessed with opportunities.
I naturally empathise with them and my entire idea is to just forget your struggles and work hard to create opportunities for yourself.
Your movies always have a rural-Indian touch to them. How does your personal life impact the backdrops/settings for your films?
Because I’ve grown up in Nashik and pretty much all the smaller towns in India have one unifying factor that the metros are slightly different in the way relationships operate.
That’s true for everywhere in the world. Like in the UK, London operates differently to all other counties nearby similarly New York in comparison to other States in America.
Due to the fact that I’ve had the experience of growing up in a smaller town and then trying to work in Mumbai, I understand the difference between the paces of life.
I use the advantage of my education and wherever I set the film’s backdrop, I reflect back on the values and relationships that I witnessed in Nashik.
So I try to adapt that experience and try to find the balance between those languages, relationships and characters.
Ultimately, my attempt is to always try and tell a story which the whole country can relate to.
I do not try too hard to make it effective, I just try my best to reflect back on my experiences.
There is always a tyrannical/strict father in your movies. What drives you to include such characters?
I’ve had no such experiences in my family where women are tremendously respected. In fact, they are the most balanced.
I’ve actually grown up in a household where women call the shots.
But when I was growing up, whether it was the relationships or travelling, I realised that the patriarchal system exists in India in a very big way.
It is not just a rural phenomenon and exists in the metros as well. It was very fascinated as I had not been brought up in a home like that.
My father is the kindest, gentle soul ever. So it was intriguing for me to explore that side of human emotions because I would see my friends react differently to their fathers.
DDLJ was the reason why I wanted to join the movies. I watched it as a young boy in Nashik and it made me realise how cinema can be magical.
Though I did try to change the approach of Ashutosh Rana in Humpty Sharma in comparison to an Amrish Puri in DDLJ.
I thought Ashutosh was still a modern father as he tries to balance his ideologies by giving his children equal rights and opportunities.
Your movies also seem to highlight social issues through ‘Masala’ entertainment. As a director, how do you strike that perfect balance?
I don’t know if it’s something which I do purposely but I always feel that anyone who is going to be relevant must speak about a topic that is relevant in our society.
One does not really need to hit a point home because I feel anyone who is pointed a finger at, their reaction is not usually positive.
If I bring highlight a social issue, I need to do it subtly and be able to present some humour with it – so the audience can feel comfortable and understand my perspective.
After Badrinath Ki Dulhania, many people came up to me and said: “This film speaks more about women empowerment than some of the other films which are made for that purpose.”
In our country, there is a wave of feminism, which is very important to happen.
But at the same time, it is leading to debates which are one-sided and it’s happening on either side… People defending masculinity are giving examples that don’t make sense.
Even the feminists are driving the point home, but I feel it’s getting a bit extreme.
I feel that it is important to get a sense of balance whereby people try and understand.
Though I understand what both sides are doing, I’m just trying to explain my story and my perspective on an issue.
I have grown up with the 90s cinema so that is an integral part of my filmmaking, especially when it comes to the song and dance aspect.
Listen to our podcast interview with Shashank Khaitan here:
Congratulations on becoming a producer. In what ways have your responsibilities changed?
I’ve been a producer from a very different perspective when it comes to Bhoot: Part One.
My experience as a filmmaker has really helped but I’ve tried to pass it on to the talent I am working with.
Bhanupratap Singh, who is making Bhoot, was also my assistant when working on Humpty Sharma together. We were also batch-mates in film school.
I’ve tried to just keep speaking about the importance of budgets being planned, how effectively we can make the film and give as much creative feedback as possible right from the scripting stage.
So yes, the responsibilities have changed and it’s interesting to see someone else put the film together, whereby he has creative freedom, but at the same time it’s not something you want to interfere with.
I’m trying to use all the ethics I’ve learnt about business and creativity to draw the fine line between being a director and producer.
Fans have been eagerly anticipating your next film with Varun Dhawan. When can we next expect this?
Oh absolutely. I’m in the process of writing it and hopefully, we can soon make an announcement.
Hosted by Arjun Bijlani, Dance Deewane 2 is telecasted on Colors TV every Saturday and Sunday at 9 pm.
Here’s wishing Shashank all the very best for his second innings as a judge and of course, his career as a filmmaker.