Bharat director Ali Abbas Zafar says he really wants to work with Aamir, SRK, Ranbir and Varun, but ‘Bhai is not leaving me'
Firstpost caught up with Ali Abbas Zafar for a chat about making Salman work harder and adapting a Korean film to an Indian context for Bharat
Salman Khan’s Bharat — one of the biggest and most anticipated films this year, is Ali Abbas Zafar’s third collaboration with the superstar after Sultan and Tiger Zinda Hai. Firstpost caught up with the director for a free-wheeling chat about (among other things) making Salman work harder with each film, adapting a Korean film to an Indian context, his last minute casting of Katrina Kaif and how ‘Bhai’ isn’t ready to leave him. Excerpts:
Salman Khan, is otherwise known to be a casual actor, but for you he seems to go that extra mile when it comes to prepping up for the role. Earlier it was Sultan, then Tiger Zinda Hai and now Bharat. How come?
(Laughs) Actually he is a very hard working actor and every time I take a script to him there is something very challenging for him to do. Even for me, I feel that if you do simple stuff you can get very complacent. With SK (Salman Khan) when I go and tell him, ‘Sir, this time we will have to work even harder as compared to what we did last time', he enjoys it. He has his good days and bad days, he is moody. But he enjoys the process.
How challenging was it adapting from a Korean film?
After Sultan, Salman gave me this DVD and said, 'Why don't you watch this? It's a very simple story about a displaced family and a promise that a son makes to his father. The germ of the film is very Indian. But I had to completely rewrite the film to fit it into the Indian context, and that too, in a mainstream Hindi film. The film is history and more than that it is an evolution of a full character.
Salman’s character starts when he is eight-nine years old and he goes till he is 72 years old, so he has to play the same person in different age groups and yet has to be very consistent with the story-line. At heart, it is a very simple emotional story of a displaced family in partition but the impact of the story is very high because not only do you see him, but you also see the nation change. People around him change and how these changes keep impacting his life. So it is a very challenging film as an actor which he understood on the script level. He has done an outstanding job.
The film is also quite challenging for me. It was like making six Salman Khan films because he is there in six different looks. And because we’re capturing six or seven decades of his life, every decade became a film within itself, every chapter has a beginning, middle and end. So when you watch the film, it’s like you’re watching six films within one film.
Also, every chapter of his life is like a short film. Every chapter has some new character which comes and goes. It was like a nightmare…and then to keep the emotional continuity going throughout the film was very challenging. But we have also kept it light and entertaining with lot of humor in it because humor works with Salman, and you also feel for the drama. The film is set in the middle classes of India which is a very colourful social strata with lot of people around him.
What was Salman’s reaction after watching the film?
When Salman doesn’t say anything after watching his film it means you are on good grounds (Laughs). It's the same with Salim (Khan) uncle. Both didn’t say anything so I am happy.
Was Salman patient enough with the look and weight gain and loss?
Yes, he was. He is still very unpredictable like he was from his very first film with me, but now he has become little patient and he understands that whatever preparation was happening was happening for the right cause and for the necessary impact from the film. His oldest look is the coolest one and he has portrayed it in the coolest way. But he would say all the time that what I was making him do. He would tell me that first you do this make-up, first you wear this beard and moustache and show me that old look. During Sultan he would tell me to wear the chaddi and come into the mud (laughs).
Did he have lot of questions for you?
He has good days and bad days. Some days he will not ask you anything, whereas some days he would want to sit an extra hour and ask lot of questions while having his coffee, and then again he would get up and say, ‘Okay, now it is done’.
How has Salman evolved as an actor over the years?
He is a very versatile actor. He is someone who can do films like Bajrangi Bhaijaan, Sultan and also do a film like Bharat and at the same time also do a Chulbul Pandey. But people don't look at him that way because he doesn’t talk very seriously about his acting skills. If he starts using those heavy duty words that I got into the character and I didn’t sleep for two days, people would take him seriously. He is a phenomenal actor and that is why he has this huge mass connect.
Many new records are being set with Avengers, Baahubali…and then Salman himself breaks his own record. Is there a pressure?
Yes, there will always be pressure with a big film. It is also a landmark film. But somewhere or the other we are all very clear that if the film is good, records will follow automatically. So the idea while making the film should only be about putting your best foot forward to make the best film on that day and that is what we work towards. And we have always seen that if the film is good it might just start slow but eventually it does lot of business. That is the approach we usually take.
Though your Tiger Zinda Hai was a huge success, there is also Salman’s Race 3 and Tubelight that didn’t meet the expectations. Does that worry you?
I am okay, I don’t think that would affect anything. Salman is still a huge star, the kind of buzz that Bharat has created with the trailer and the songs, is phenomenal. We have been getting messages from trade people that the vibe of the film is looking very good. Now it all boils down to the content and story. When the audience finds that this film is bringing something new, they will go for it.
You clearly didn’t want Katrina Kaif as she and Salman had just done TZH. Now that the film is ready for release what are your thoughts?
Getting Katrina on board was a very conscious decision. When Priyanka couldn’t do the film for X reason, I told Katrina, "You read the script but you have to understand one thing that I am not going to change anything in the film because there is a certain edge to Kumud Raina’s (played by Katrina) character." So when Katrina read the script she understood why I don’t want to change anything and then she worked backwards to get into the character for which she did lot of acting and language workshops and further she was styled for the part. We started from the scratch and I think her performance in Bharat will be nicely appreciated because it is very new for her and the audience.
You have said that the romantic scenes between Salman and Katrina comes very naturally...
They really look good together, so the problem is that you have to write scenes which are not love scenes because if you write love scenes then those will look very clichéd on both of them. So I try and write real scenes which are about real things and real conversations and automatically just with the way they look at each other it becomes a love scene.
You are already working on the third franchise of Tiger.
Yes, I have kind of narrowed down a story for the third instalment of Tiger franchise but we haven’t made any announcement yet. I have shared that story with Salman and Adi (producer Aditya Chopra) and both are quite excited. So once Bharat gets out of my system, we will start working towards it.
As a director what is your take on the industry, how is it evolving? The monumental success of Raazi, Stree, Andhadhun, Badhaai Ho — the midsize films that defied the box office rules.
Content driven films have always worked. Deewar, Lagaan...these were all content driven films. Good film has only worked because it has a story, so let’s not start calling story content. Every time a director makes a film which is new for its times, is always going to work.
Who is your target audience for Bharat?
This is a pan India film, there is no target audience. From a seven-eight-year-old to a 100-plus, it has everyone in the film.
You may be wanting to work with other actors as well?
I really want to work with Aamir, Shah Rukh, Akshay, Ajay Devgn, Ranbir, Varun, Arjun — they are all very good actors. You just have to find the right story to do with them and then it all clicks, but right now ‘Bhai’ (Salman) is not leaving me (laughs).
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