ALI ABBAS ZAFAR: THERE'S ALWAYS PRESSURE WHEN WORKING WITH SALMAN KHAN
By Himesh Mankad, Mumbai Mirror | Updated: Jun 24, 2019, 06.00 AM IST
iNTERVIEW: ALI ABBAS ZAFAR, DIRECTOR
Ali Abbas Zafar on the bond between him and his leading man and why switching genres is important for a filmmaker
At 28, Ali Abbas Zafar made his directorial debut with the 2011 Katrina Kaif and Imran Khan-starrer Mere Brother Ki Dulhan. He followed it up with three films with Salman Khan, and the duo has emerged as a formidable combo. Now, Ali is looking forward to their reunion with a franchise. Excerpts from an interview:
How did your friendship with Salman take off?
I was an assistant director on Marigold (the 2007 Salman-starrer) but our first interaction happened while I was directing Gunday and he was shooting for Ek Tha Tiger. Katrina, who is close to both of us, introduced us. He heard Gunday’s story, and reacted positively to it, saying it’s a typical mainstream potboiler. He is like family to me. I treat him like an elder brother. The maturity in my work comes from his experience. When you do a film with Salman Khan, you can’t alienate a section of audience.
How do you react to fall-out reports between the two of you?
I don’t need to answer anyone because we know what our relationship stands for. I have never seen anyone write an article saying ‘oh, things are great between Salman and Ali’ but people only want to write that things are not great. They are more interested in writing wrong things about people.
How did you become a filmmaker?
I was doing a lot of theatre while studying at Kirori Mal College (in Delhi). I was involved in stagedesigning, acting, direction. Since then, I was clear that I wanted to be a director. After finishing my last project as an assistant director (Badmaash Company), Adi (Aditya Chopra), who is my soul brother and responsible for who I am today, told me, “Ali, I see a strong creative side in you, why don’t you start writing?” I had already written Mere Brother Ki Dulhan. He heard the story, and it was locked within seven days of the first meeting, while the cast was in place in another month.
From a rom-com to a sportdrama (Sultan), an actionthriller (Tiger Zinda Hai) and now, a family-drama with Bharat. You have switched genres with every film…
Exploring new stories gives you the same excitement as that of your first film. I don’t want to be termed as a filmmaker who makes a certain kind of cinema. It is important to explore new stories so that you don’t become boring with your work. Sometimes the appreciation will be universal, sometimes it will be mixed. But it’s important to keep trying.
Which one has been the most challenging?
It has to be Bharat because we tried to compress 70 years of history in two hours and in doing so, one has to be sure of what to retain and to edit out. Also, since it’s a period drama, I had to find emotion in something that I had not experienced in my life—it came from research. The film was not a copy-paste of the Korean original (An Ode To My Father). I made it a completely new film.
Did you think Bharat was riskier than the previous films as well?
Since Sultan and Tiger were big blockbusters, SK and I decided to team up on a film that’s different. We were aware that the new film’s business might not be the same as Sultan or Tiger Zinda Hai as we were on a slightly unconventional route. At the box-office, it has not done similar business as our previous films but is still a big moneyspinner for everyone associated. Not all films are meant to make Rs 300 crore at the box-office.
Since it’s Salman, a lot of people expected more action in the pirate scene, but you did not play to the gallery...
His character has been brought up with the philosophy of non-violence. The idea was to make people realise that violence is not the answer and the biggest problems can be solved by sitting across the table. We wanted to take a newer approach rather than have people say, “Ab toh Salman logon ko marega.”
You have thanked Baahubali writer, Vijayendra Prasad, in the film. Why is that so?
I think that thanks came from Atul (Agnihotri, producer) because when I was doing Sultan, Mr Vijayendra Prasad was developing the script for SK and Atul.
Is there anything you wish to change about your previous films?
With Bharat, I would want to rework the music because when we were working on it, we were sure that it would have a strong appeal, but it didn’t turn out the way it was intended. On Tiger (Tiger Zinda Hai), given the available resources, a little more time and we could have executed the action even better. In Sultan, if I had more time, I would work on the fights that SK had in the MMA section. I feel a bit more work on Gunday’s script would have made it stronger. The first film is always special and since I was learning while shooting Mere Brother Ki Dulhan, I wouldn’t want to change anything.
What’s happening with the third instalment in the Tiger franchise?
Right now, I am on a break in Dehradun, but I will be working on the script and as soon as it is ready, I will share it with SK. He is busy doing big films one after another and when we find a window, we will jump into Tiger 3.
And that would be your next directorial?
I haven’t decided on my next film as there are two stories that I am toying with right now. One of them is Tiger. Depending on which one I finish first and availability of dates, I’ll decide my next.
Is the second script also for Salman?
Well, that’s something I’d know only after completing the script.
Have you thought of a spin-off on Katrina’s character, Zoya, from Tiger franchise?
We are working on something which is a spin-off for Zoya, but let’s see. It is very important to lock the story first as only after that everything is possible.
What are the pressures of directing a big franchise like Tiger?
There is always pressure working with Salman, but when you do a franchise, it just multiplies. It is essential to write a bigger and better story every time you decide to carry forward the franchise. With my combination with SK, people put extra pressure and it gets even tougher.
Lastly, any plans to cast Salman and Shah Rukh in a film?
That is my dream project and inshallah, someday, I would write a story that brings them together in a film.
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