Ali Abbas Zafar on turning producer with Khaali Peeli: It's the kind of film I like to watch or direct
Ali Abbas Zafar talks about the digital release of Khaali Peeli, the controversy surrounding his trilogy Mr. India, and when he plans to shoot the superhero film with Katrina Kaif.
Ali Abbas Zafar, director of Salman Khan-starrer blockbusters like Sultan and Tiger Zinda Hai, who has turned producer with Ishaan Khatter and Ananya Panday-starrer Khaali Peeli, is a nervous man.
“That is because the release is happening in the middle of this whole chaos of corona. Secondly, you are concerned about what kind of audience the film will get on an OTT platform. Thirdly, there is always a sense of nervousness when your content is about to come out, whether you produce or direct it. But at heart, I am very happy with the film because it comes across as a very audience-friendly film that you would want to watch in a theatre. It’s made with that mainstream stroke. It is a full on entertainer,” says Zafar. Khaali Peeli was initially scheduled for a big-screen release but has now launched on the ZeePlex on 2 October.
Zafar, who is currently in Dubai scouting locations for a superhero film with Katrina Kaif, says, “When I heard the narration (of Khaali Peeli), I instantly felt that it was very close to the films I make, or the films that I like to watch. It’s that quintessential Hindi film with drama, dialogue, action, emotion, and a very clean family entertainer. It’s nicely written, cuts back and forth, present time, and back in time. It has a very nice narrative to it. It is like an old wine in a new bottle, and when Ishaan and Ananya came on board, it even became better because it’s a fresh pairing.”
Maqbool Khan, who will make his Bollywood debut with the film, says he is happy that the film has shaped up in the way he has seen Mumbai in his growing-up years. Khaali Peeli features Ananya as a young woman on the run, who ends up in Ishaan’s taxi. "We have tried to show the underbelly of Mumbai in the film. In fact, the title is typical Mumbai slang, and all characters of the film have a certain Mumbaiya tone and mannerism. The film has the '90s vibe of Mumbai yet we have tried to present it in a contemporary set-up. It is a mad ride with two young, good looking actors," says Khan.
Talking about the casting, Khan says, “It’s felt that Ishaan has this image of a young boy, so how do we make him look like a taxi driver who is street smart, hitting and punching people? But I had the conviction that he would pull it off. When I met him, I liked his body language. He has a certain kind of swag. How to portray his character was my responsibility. That was my vision, and it was carried forward by Ishaan. He asked me for some time to think and prepare, and he worked hard on his physicality. I remembered Ananya from Student Of The Year 2 pulling off those humorous one liners, and that stayed with me. I had a strong image of her. She has a good comic timing that is required in this film.”
While there is no clarity on the third instalment of the Tiger franchise, Zafar is eagerly waiting for his digital debut Tandav, a political drama with Saif Ali Khan in the lead role, which is due to come out soon. “An official announcement will be made soon. Apart from that, I am scripting Mr India, and that is where most of my energy is going. Then I am working on this superhero film with Katrina, which we will start shooting once we have some clarity on the pandemic situation because it is an elaborate shoot, and is supposed to be shot in many locations like Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Georgia, and Poland. We are figuring out permissions and locations because post-corona, lot of things have changed for every country. There are still a lot of restrictions,” says Zafar.
This brings us to the controversy surrounding his trilogy Mr India. Shekhar Kapur, director of the original 1987 cult classic, questioned the ownership of the material Zafar has created. There were also reports of Mr. India producer Boney Kapoor and lead actor Anil Kapoor being equally disturbed. Reacting to this, Zafar says,
“I never got into that controversy because I felt there is nothing that I could say. Everyone has their own opinion. I was signed on by a studio to do the film, and my responsibility lies only towards the studio, and between us, things are very clear.”
Considering that Zafar has made some of the biggest films which have been for the theatre-going audience, how did it feel now that his first film as a producer is not releasing on the big screen? “It’s with a heavy heart we are going ahead because I believe in the big screen even as today, there are parallel mediums of watching content. We were supposed to release Khaali Peeli in June, and we kept delaying the film for three to four months. But then we realised that eventually, it has to come in front of the audience. There is cost involved, and money that has been invested has to roll back. We decided to release it in the best possible way that it can reach maximum people. Though we had designed it for the big screen, the circumstances we are in today, we don’t know the future,” he says.
However, Zafar, calling the new medium an evolution, feels that going forward, filmmakers will have an advantage in making their choices between the big screen and the digital platforms. “It’s a good thing that now we have a choice where our work can be showcased, and that is how entertainment would be. This is a situation that has never come in front of us but now we can see how IPL (Indian Premier League) and EPL (English Premier League) have adapted to matches happening without the audience in the stadium. The world will adapt itself according to this virus. So for us, what has come out of it, definitely from here onwards, there will be two mediums of consuming content. Big-screen films will always be there, whether it is the West or India. We will always love to watch films in the theatre but there will be content that will be consumed on OTT platforms. It is an evolution of watching content but theatre has always been the father figure of entertainment. There is a reason why it is called the silver screen. It is an event, and that will remain as it is,” says Zafar.
Khaali Peeli is available for viewing on ZeePlex.
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