Sis­ters Pooja Shetty- De­ora and Aarti Shetty have just re­turned from a much- de­served break. Af­ter spend­ing four years de­vel­op­ing the en­ter­tain­ment theme park, Ad­labs Imag­ica, which opened in April this year, the sis­ters took off for a va­ca­tion. Aarti, 32, joined her sis­ter in New York af­ter spend­ing time in Ibiza and Barcelona with her buddy Ayan Muk­erji, who was un­wind­ing af­ter the suc­cess of his film Yeh Jawaani Hai Dee­wani. Mean­while, Pooja, 35, took a three- day break in be­tween the trip to visit her hus­band Milind De­ora, the Congress politi­cian and Mem­ber of Par­lia­ment from South Mum­bai, in Ice­land. The sis­ters shared some high­lights from their trip such as catch­ing a Bey­once con­cert, watch­ing Woody Allen’s lat­est film Blue Jas­mine and vis­it­ing Six Flags amuse­ment park in New Jersey, where Aarti Shetty sat on Kingda Ka, a 452- feet- high roller coaster, the world’s tallest and sec­ond fastest, twice. As the younger sis­ter beams about her lat­est ad­ven­ture, the el­der one says, “It was the worst day in my month- long hol­i­day”.

Daugh­ters of Man­mo­han Shetty, founder of Ad­labs Films Ltd, Pooja and Aarti didn’t grow up with the ca­ma­raderie that they now share to­day. They stud­ied at dif­fer­ent schools in Juhu: Pooja at Ma­neckji Cooper and Aarti at Jamnabai Narsee. Pooja ad­mits she was “ner­vous, shy and nerdy” as a kid. “Stu­dious,” adds Aarti. “By the time I’d re­turn from school, she’d al­ready be do­ing her home­work.” De­ora- Shetty replies, “Aarti was a con­stant dis­trac­tion. She’d re­turn from school singing ran­domly.” A chunk of their child­hood was spent in at­tend­ing many classes, bharatanatyam and ten­nis to name a few, watch­ing films and see­ing their fa­ther’s friends, film­mak­ers such as Govind Ni­ha­lani, Basu Bhat­tacharya and Prakash Jha visit their house. “We were quite in­dif­fer­ent but it’s not like we hated each other,” says Shet­tyDe­ora. “It’s only when I left for univer­sity ( Pur­due in the United States) that we started un­der­stand­ing and trust­ing one an­other.”

To­day, the sis­ters com­plete each other’s sen­tences and crack up at child­hood mem­o­ries. Seated at their par­ents’ house in Juhu, where Aarti also lives, they are cur­rently putting fi­nal touches to a ho­tel and wa­ter park, which will emerge in the vicin­ity of Imag­ica. An ini­tia­tive of Man­mo­han Shetty, Imag­ica is the first time that Aarti has worked with her fa­ther. While Pooja al­ways knew she wanted to join her fa­ther’s busi­ness, which she did in 2000 af­ter com­plet­ing a course in science in man­age­ment in US, Aarti wanted

to do some­thing in­volved with films but wasn’t sure how to go about it. “Films were the only thing we were ex­posed to,” she says re­call­ing a time she used to get VHS tapes and later box sets of clas­sic movies as gifts from her fa­ther. “Lab work and school books were not for me.”

Even as Pooja helped her fa­ther ex­pand the Ad­labs brand with IMAX, mul­ti­plexes and dis­tri­bu­tion ( it was ul­ti­mately sold to Anil Am­bani in 2007), Aarti as­sisted Ram Gopal Varma on Bhoot ( 2003), Shimit Amin on Ab Tak Ch­hap­pan ( 2004), did a six- month course in film­mak­ing from New York Univer­sity and worked with Karan Jo­har on Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna ( 2006). “Aarti and Ayan owe their life to me be­cause both of them got that job [ with Karan] be­cause of me,” says Shetty- De­ora, who’s known the film­maker for ten years now. “Karan thought I was com­pletely use­less at that point,” says Aarti. “He had a lot of film kids, who are quite bratty and spoilt, as as­sis­tants. And he viewed me as one of them. [ But] I didn’t want to work on any film that my fa­ther was fund­ing. I could have eas­ily done so. I was very clear be­cause you don’t learn that way.”

At Imag­ica, the sis­ters have di­vided re­spon­si­bil­i­ties equally. Pooja, the joint man­ag­ing di­rec­tor of Ad­labs En­ter­tain­ment, is the more busi­ness­minded and mar­ket­ing- savvy of the two, and looks af­ter the brand, mer­chan­dise, the park’s restau­rants and pro­mo­tions among other things while Aarti, the creative di­rec­tor, con­cerns her­self with as­pects such as de­cid­ing which rides to in­clude in the park, de­vel­op­ing con­cepts and se­lect­ing the right tech­nol­ogy for them.

“I am for­tu­nate that I have worked with my fa­ther on a new pro­ject,” says Aarti. “When you start some­thing new, you can start on the same foot. [ As op­posed to] when you en­ter a set busi­ness, it is harder to get into the sys­tem.”

Work­ing to­wards mak­ing Imag­ica a re­al­ity came most nat­u­rally to Aarti, the fam­ily’s dare­devil and vet­eran of many for­mi­da­ble rides. “When I sit on the coaster, as a rule, I never shut my eyes,” she says proudly. No won­der the younger Shetty’s ex­pe­ri­ences came in handy when it was time to de­velop one of the most daunt­ing rides at Imag­ica— Scream Ma­chine. “It looks scarier than it is,” says Aarti. “It is a feel­ing of air. None of the rides that I have se­lected [ for the park] are jerky. But her fa­ther wasn't con­vinced about Scream Rider. He felt it was too high as it swings at a 125 de­gree an­gle leav­ing rid­ers fac­ing the ground and wouldn’t find any tak­ers. Aarti agreed to lower the height if she was un­able to con­vince Pooja to sit, and more im­por­tantly sur­vive the ride. “I phys­i­cally pushed her onto the Scream Ma­chine,” laughs Aarti. Pooja Shetty- De­ora adds, “I came out shak­ing but Aarti got her way.”

There may be oc­ca­sional dis­agree­ments with their fa­ther, but both sis­ters ap­pear in awe of him, es­pe­cially his work ethic. “He never takes a hol­i­day,” says Aarti. “When he fin­ished sell­ing [ Ad­labs], we were like, ‘ Let’s take you on a hol­i­day.’ He said, “Let’s go to Amer­ica, I want to do re­search for my next pro­ject. I am plan­ning a theme park.” Man­mo­han Shetty was 60 then. Dur­ing the 10- day hol­i­day with Aarti, he saw a few amuse­ment parks and de­cided that on his re­turn he would be­gin work­ing on es­tab­lish­ing a park on the lines of Dis­ney­land and Univer­sal Stu­dios. He didn’t want to bring in a fran­chise but wanted it to be dis­tinctly In­dian. Even though the pro­ject hit many road­blocks and got lit­tle sup­port from the govern­ment, Shetty re­mained calm. “He is a cool guy, he doesn’t get worked up about any­thing,” says Shetty- De­ora. “He was very ex­cited with the idea that In­dia had not seen

any­thing like this theme park be­fore.”

The sis­ters have also fol­lowed their fa­ther’s foot­steps and ven­tured into film pro­duc­tion. In the past Man­mo­han Shetty has sup­ported in­de­pen­dent films like Ardh Satya, Chakra, Aaghat and Holi. His pro­duc­tion com­pany, En­ter­tain­ment One, also backed films like Gan­gaa­jal, Main Mad­huri Dixit Banna Chahti Hoon and Munnab­hai MBBS. The sis­ters es­tab­lished Walkwater Me­dia with the same vi­sion in 2007. Their first film Tere Bin Laden, a po­lit­i­cal satire di­rected by Abhishek Sharma, re­leased in 2010. The film’s se­quel, also star­ring Ali Zafar, with the sis­ters in a cameo, should hit screens in 2014. The pro­duc­tion house has also ac­quired rights to Anuja Chauhan’s pop­u­lar chick- lit ti­tle The Zoya Fac­tor and plans to de­velop a biopic of the leg­endary hockey player, Dhyan Chand. Also in the works is Shar­maji Ka Atom Bomb, a quirky com­edy, which al­ready has Anil Kapoor on board. “At this stage we do not want to im­press any­body,” says Pooja. “There is no pres­sure. We have four re­ally good sto­ries, which need to be made prop­erly.” Aarti hopes to turn di­rec­tor for the home ban­ner once she can re­lin­quish some of her re­spon­si­bil­i­ties at the theme park.

Even as their pro­fes­sional lives keep them busy, they have found hap­pi­ness in their per­sonal lives as well. De­spite be­ing the wife of a busy politi­cian Pooja in­sists noth­ing much has changed “We both have very de­mand­ing ca­reers,” she says, but “have man­aged to keep our work sep­a­rate from our pri­vate life. In­ter­est­ingly, Pooja first met Milind De­ora on a photo shoot for In­dia To­day mag­a­zine, in which both were fea­tured as lead­ing youth fig­ures. They mar­ried in 2008. “Milind spends half his time in Delhi and half in Mum­bai but we man­age to spend time to­gether. I don’t think the out­side world’s ex­pec­ta­tions have in­truded into our mar­riage as yet,” Pooja says ad­mit­ting she is lucky to have a hus­band who re­spects her work space. She in­dulges in Milind’s pas­sion for mu­sic— they have at­tended con­certs by Eric Clap­ton, Metallica and Kings of Leon. He, in turn, makes time to watch films the duo have pro­duced like Tere Bin Laden and Raajneeti.

Mean­while, Aarti says she has no plans to wed. “Some­times, my dad says, ‘ Why don’t you want to get mar­ried?’ and then he in­stantly changes his mind and says, ‘ Very good, you don’t want to get mar­ried’,” she laughs. “From a very young age, I used to say that I am never get­ting mar­ried and that I never will leave this house and they used to think it was a joke and that I would change my mind when I grew up.” She is con­tent look­ing af­ter the theme park, hav­ing friends over, and throw­ing par­ties for some of them such as the re­cent bash she threw for Ran­bir Kapoor on his 30th birth­day last year.

“I don’t have time for any­thing,” Shetty- De­ora says, when asked about her other in­ter­ests. “I live on Ped­dar Road, my par­ents live in Juhu, the of­fice is in And­heri, so half my time is spent in com­mut­ing. The park is in Khopoli, Milind is in Delhi.” Her publi­cist thinks that she spends most of her time trav­el­ling in SUVs and ac­cu­mu­lat­ing fre­quent- flyer miles.

Amidst all the talk about their fa­ther, the Shetty sis­ters ac­knowl­edge the in­stru­men­tal role their mother, Shashikala has played in their lives. “She has been the main rea­son why we both are work­ing and do­ing any­thing with our lives,” says Aarti. The sis­ters re­call their mother shut­tling them from class to class when they were chil­dren, pick­ing them up from school and ac­com­pa­ny­ing them on va­ca­tions while their fa­ther was away on work. “We can’t imag­ine how she did what she did,” says Aarti. “It is partly ridicu­lous and partly in­cred­i­ble,” adds Pooja.

With Aarti’s pug, Muddy, nap­ping and snor­ing on the couch, and Pooja’s


pug, Dumbbell, wan­der­ing about the house, the sis­ters talk about what lies ahead. There are things to do — un­veil the wa­ter park, the mid- bud­get ho­tel and Nitro, the bright or­ange roller coaster, the big­gest of the four at Imag­ica. Then there are films to make, of course. They say they are happy work­ing to­gether. In a sense, they make a good team, com­pris­ing of two dis­tinct in­di­vid­u­als who make the best use of their di­verse strengths to at­tain a com­mon goal. For in­stance, Pooja doesn’t have the pa­tience to sit through long meet­ings. While Aarti, Pooja says, “can get into a five- hour- long meet­ing, which will run for five hours with some hun­dred ideas thrown about. My job, as I see it, is to bring struc­ture to the creative process.” Aarti laughs good na­turedly at this ob­ser­va­tion, demon­strat­ing once again why their part­ner­ship works so well.

SHIVANGI KULKA­RNI/ www. in­di­a­to­day­im­ages. com

LET ME EN­TER­TAIN YOU: The sis­ters have spent four years de­vel­op­ing the en­ter­tain­ment theme park, Ad­labs Imag­ica, which opened in April this year

HAPPY TRIO: Pooja and Aarti with their fa­ther Man­mo­han Shetty; Ra­jneeti and Tere Bin Laden, two of the films the duo have fi­nanced.

FAM­ILY TIME: Pooja and Milind De­ora at home

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