The unlikely sisters

Updated: Sep 15, 2019, 08:18 IST | Aastha Atray Banan | Mumbai

They look different, they think different. But when it comes to work ethics, producers Pooja Shetty Deora and Aarrti Shetty jam like no other. Giving it our all is how they describe work on the soon-to-release The Zoya Factor

Pooja Shetty Deora and Arrti
Pooja Shetty Deora and Arrti

Pooja Shetty Deora and sister Aarrti request that we meet at Juhu's chic members-only club, Soho House. They are going to be at a song location recce prior. The two are producers on Sonam Kapoor's upcoming film, The Zoya Factor, based on Anuja Chauhan's bestseller. "Pooja is so out of place at these recces," Aarti says. "It's dirty, it's hot, it's dusty, she thinks. The choreographer told her, 'please, leave. You are too posh for these surroundings'." Pooja has a rebuttal. She thinks the younger sister is equally awkward during financial discussions. "I tell her, please stay quiet. She can't talk money to save her life!"

They are daughters carrying forward the legacy of Manmohan Shetty, the man who founded Adlabs Films Ltd., a films processing studio that at one point was handling 90 per cent of Bollywood's business. He eventually expanded to film distribution and is remembered for setting up the city first IMAX dome screen. Shetty was instrumental in kickstarting Mumbai's multiplex culture, and later went on to produce hits like Munnabhai MBBS. It's at his firm, Walkwater Media Ltd. that Pooja holds the post of managing director and Aarti heads the creative division.

As students of Maneckji Cooper and Jamnabai Narsee schools, Pooja and Aarrti would head to the lab every Saturday in a bid to spend time with their father, who kept odd hours. "He'd buy us classics like Raj Kumar's movies and The Sound of Music. So, movies were always a part of our lives," says Aarrti, who went on to assist Ram Gopal Verma, Shimit Amin and Karan Johar on their productions. "I think the movies we want to make should have some twist, offer a glimpse into a world that the audience may have never seen before. For example, with Zoya, it's the world of cricket but like never before. I don't think we can make total commercial or masala films. You need a skill for that, and we are aware of our limitations. We are still very young in the journey," Pooja admits.

The duo bagged the rights to Chauhan's 2008 novel from Shah Rukh Khan's production firm Red Chillies Entertainment, where it had been lying locked for three years. The film, scheduled to release this month, stars Dulquer Salmaan, Malayalam superstar Mammootty's son. He plays a cricketer while Kapoor is a successful advertising executive who turns into a good luck charm for India's cricket team during the World Cup.

After their first release via Walkwater, Tere Bin Laden (2010), the Shetty sisters say they realised the importance of being hands-on. They apply this philosophy to the movies and Imagica, the 130-acre theme park in Khopoli, they run. "If you are not there for every stage [of the business], the results are not [in line with] your vision. When the park was being set up, we were there all day, coming home slathered in mud. We didn't have a life, but that's how we work," says Pooja. Aarrti has learnt from the sister. "I once had a problem with a script and let it go. Later, I told myself, I will never let that happen again. Sometimes, Pooja joins me at creative meetings, and says, we have been talking about one scene for two hours. We have to, because it's not resolved."

When they are not collaborating on movies, they are Netflixing. But that's only when Pooja is not busy playing a mother. She and husband, politician-entrepreneur Milind Deora became parents last year to a daughter through surrogacy. "Sleep has reduced," she laments, "and so has socialising. I see my friends once in three months. I slot film meetings only after lunch. My mother helps out a lot. There is a room in fact, at my maternal home in Juhu, that's done up exactly like the room I have for my daughter at our Worli residence. I can't take on any more work, because I love my sleep, and don't get enough. But, I want to do both, be a parent and a professional." Aarrti calls this fiction, arguing, "But you are always sleeping! I sleep half of what she sleeps."

And Pooja isn't afraid to bring work home. Milind is around when she wishes to discuss films, and she has an opinion on his political career. "It's a crisis for sure," she says candidly about the Congress party's future following the Lok Sabha election debacle and its leader Rahul Gandhi's resignation. "It's been a hard couple of years. We often talk about what we can do next."

What next, in the immediate short term revolves around The Zoya Factor, which she calls a hatke comedy. And you know it matters to the both of them when Pooja says, "Not all movies work. But you have to put in your best, and be invested in every way possible. Otherwise, what's the point?"

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