He is the newest director to join the 100 Crore Club. He did make a good beginning with Mere Brother Ki Dulhan(Rs. 57.4 crore), a clean hit. This was followed by Gunday, which saw one of the best openings for Yash Raj Films and went on to be a good Box Office earner (Rs.78 crore). Now with Sultan, he has smashed it out of the park, what with the film hitting the 100 crore mark in three days flat. While a lot more is expected to come in for the Salman Khan starrer which is now poised to cross the 250 crore, director Ali Abbas Zafar has now stepped into the big league. Over to the young filmmaker who hails from Dehradun.
There was great anticipation amongst one and all for Sultan before release. Now the film is doing great guns as well.
Yes, such kind of buzz and response is always confidence inspiring when a film generates that kind of anticipation and response with the audience. It is actually overwhelming and unnerving. Salman Khan is one of the most powerful actors in the country. Every film that he does generates such kind of anticipation amongst the audience. With Sultan, there was an added advantage since for the first time ever, he is playing an athlete. Since the film is set in Haryana, the language part is unique for Salman fans as well.
No wonder, the film has gone beyond the action image that Salman gained from the days ofDabangg.
See, people associate him with a lot with action. In case of Sultan, it is sports action which is anyways thrilling. Also, wrestling has never been showcased at this level in any Indian film. While writing the film, I had to think that why would Salman Khan work with me? What would excite him? There had to be enough material in the film’s text so that Salman could react and relate to it. I had to put in a lot of hard work.
It must have been a challenge as well as a sense of surety while writing the film with Salman Khan in mind, isn’t it?
Actually, Sultan is the very first film of mine which I wrote with a star in mind. In my earlier films (Mere Brother Ki Dulhan, Gunday), I first wrote the film and then reached out to the actors. In case of Sultan, it was the other way around as I wrote the story and bounced it to Salman. He loved it and wanted to do it. While the story was exciting in those 10-12 pages, he asked me to write the complete script and revert. See, sometimes a story may be exciting on paper but when you have to write a script for 2.5-3 hour long film, then it may not hold well.
So you had a challenge after all to make it perfect in its detailing first?
I had to write a film which had enough depth and gravity for Salman to identify with the character. Moreover, it had to have all the things that his fans expect from him, and still do it differently. I had to write a character which resonated with Salman’s persona and yet was different. Now that you have seen the film, you can say that it is THE Salman film and yet there is this new Salman out there. He is known for his fitness and yet, he is completely out of shape in a crucial scene when he looks in the mirror. When a character goes through physical and mental transformation as per the story, it widens the audience.
Even Anushka Sharma has looked and spoken quite differently in the film.
She actually trained for 2-2.5 months to get into the part. To begin with, though she was a little apprehensive as she felt that since she was playing a wrestler, she had to put on weight and all. I told her that she didn’t have to worry since a wrestler fights in different weight categories. She did well to showcase the fact that there can be girls in real life who are petite and still look good at wrestling. It all boils down to getting the mind and body together; there is certain technique involved. She beautifully transformed herself to get into the part.
Out of curiosity, had Salman seen Gunday, which was about bromance between Ranveer Singh and Arjun Kapoor?
Yes, he had, and also liked the way in which I treated it. He liked the flamboyance angle. This is the reason why when I narrated Sultan, he knew that in terms of presenting him on screen, there would be certain scale and heroism in there. Moreover, with Salman in there, the same scene and setting gets multiplied by 1000 times. The sheer presence of one star changes the scale. Still, all those things are secondary as what matters most is the story. Whether it is a small or a big film, it would find an audience if there is a combination of star power and good story. When a mainstream film is good, it can scale any boundaries.