The virus is not the problem, hunger is, says Suniel Shetty

Actor, producer and entrepreneur, Suniel Shetty, who is also co-founder of Ferit Cricket Bash, India’s first league for amateur cricketers and is captain of the Mumbai Heroes team in the Celebrity Cricket League, speaks to The Daily Guardian on life in the time of lockdown, among other things.

Q: How has the lockdown been treating you? Novel situation for everybody.

A: Tough for everybody. Keeping each one’s hope alive. Staying home, staying safe. Trying to spread that message. Somewhere reassuring ourselves and the rest of the people connected with us to stay positive. All of us are going through this. We lost one of the finest actors in the industry. Condolences to the family. Irrfan Bhai cannot be replaced. May he rest in peace. The only thing I’d like to talk about, it is tough time for the family.

Q: It’s extremely sad and morbid. He leaves a rich legacy behind in Bollywood and Hollywood. We’ll talk about the current situation world is dealing with. Maharashtra has been most impacted being the epicentre of Covid-19. How do you think Mumbai has tackled it?

A:  Our Chief Minister and Deputy Chief Minister have been extremely active. The Thackerays have done good work. A lot of slums…the numbers are huge. It’s been handled beautifully. Tried to explain to slum people. The virus is not the problem, hunger is. we need to support each other.

Q: What does this virus mean for us? Will life be different after this pandemic is over?

A: It is about to change. Personally, we have realised we have been greedy—amassing wealth, property. Realised how environment has been affected. Treated my staff well and gave their salaries on time. The rich have got the disease and the poor are suffering. We are comfortably sitting at home. The pay scale needs to improve. The politicians need to stop being greedy. They need to stop the spread of slums. Cannot allow slums to mushroom. The underworld-politician nexus keeps the poor suffering. We need to give the poor what they deserve. Convert slums into gardens. Provide homes to people. Can’t control it. That’s why Mumbai has been hit. The way pandemic has hit other countries makes them look like third world. We are far better than the West. A lot of things I realised about our country and our people. Need to make a lot of changes to my life now.

Q: Bollywood has come to a stop. OTT platforms will have a larger bearing in entertainment. What’s the future we are looking at in terms of entertainment?

A: It’s going to remain impacted for six months. Masses will continue going to big screen. But things will be produced digitally more. There is a controlled supply of entertainment right now. A few platforms are consuming this content.

Q: There’s an opportunity to think out of the box. What is FTC Talent?

A: It started year and a half ago. When the Me To movement started. We wanted to remove the stigma, so if anyone had the talent they can pursue it from home. Job seekers will come. We have given a break to 1,000 kids through this platform. Aspirants are financially harassed, then mentally and then physically (in the industry). The scars we have left on people as an industry will be carried. We need to change the way auditions and casting were looked at. We have over 50 brands involved. Empowering people at home. Stay at home and use your talent. This is user generated content. The ideas these kids have are unbelievable.

Q: What is your message to actors and artistes going through the lockdown gloom?

A: We are all part of the same storm. Stay positive. Nature will benefit from this. We will benefit from our nature’s benefit. We’ll talk about quality time, meditation. Hundred such platforms will come forward. People will get a lot of jobs. I will put up any jobs for the kids willing to do it. The power of digital platforms is helping kids with what they like. More and more kids are getting opportunities. Podcasting is going to be huge. We have thousands of kids who have vocal talents. We can give them jobs.

Q: Spanish flu happened a hundred years ago and world population was lost as a result of this pandemic. We are better off today, perhaps because of technology. How dependent are we going to become on technology after this ends? Is it a good thing or no according to you?

A: No option. Because of social distancing we need to do it. It is a positive change. Giving kids in Kashmir, Dhulia, Jammu work. I want to give an opportunity to their energy and ideas. Have asked my producers to change my pending shoot locations from abroad to India. I can give India all the business there is. Right now the world is looking at us. We have financial brains, IT, industry, farming, we have everything. Kids will use technology in farming. Want the last mile consumer to benefit from this. Whenever there is a pandemic, people in the last link of chain gain and hoard a lot and make profit. We need money and food as essentials to stay home and stay safe.

Q: How is a sports buff like you coping with quarantine? What about cricket fans?

A: Go back and look at the games you like. For me Sunil Gavaskar was my God. We’ve been watching clips of old matches. This time, fortunately, I’ve been involved with Save the Children India, an NGO. We have been running for over 30-32 years, we have the data, people we have reached out to. We have seen the impact. We have supported these people. Trying to make that difference. I am happy that I get to see very little, don’t get time to watch much. Trying to learn how much ayurveda and yoga mean so much to us. If I look better, my food habits have changed. Overlooking my chefs, finding healthier substitutes for food. We need to stay fit. As head of the family I took responsibility to promote health in the family.

Q: And suggestions for fitness, tips for those who are dreading to the weighing scale?

A: People are now eating healthier home food. Need to balance diet. Doing surya namaskar itself will make immense differences to your body, thereby we’ll also be saluting nature. Skipping, walking, brisk walking, as long as you keep your heart rate monitored and do it seriously. Wear your sports gear to be mentally prepared.

Q: Any new skills you’ve picked up during the quarantine?

A: I thought cooking was something I was excelling in. But my wife and daughter put an end to it but it was taking me eight hours to cook a meal. But my recipes are good.

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