The promo of Tiger Zinda Hai is getting an insane response. Writer Director Ali Abbas Zafar in a worldwide exclusive with Bollywood Hungama‘s Faridoon Shahryar opens up in detail about his film that has displayed an international class. Ali speaks about Salman Khan‘s star power, the hard working Katrina Kaif, the exotic locations that blazed with heat, the music of the film and how he convinced Girish Karnad sahab to act in the film.
The promo of Tiger Zinda Hai is far bigger than what the posters promised. And if this is the trailer toh film kya hone wali hai. Is it a conscious decision to take a film like this to many notches higher than Sultan?
Well I didn’t feel that was the reason I made Tiger Zinda Hai. I always feel that the scale of the film comes from the story. The most important part of Tiger Zinda Hai is that even before it became a sequel, first I wrote the story and I had no idea it will go and become Tiger Zinda Hai. I just wrote a story and it was inspired by real events and it happened in 2014. There was so much press coverage of it and there were so many political meetings about it. And I thought that those nurses getting kidnapped and captured was a very interesting chapter. It was a completely individual story than a Tiger Zinda Hai sequel. I shared the story with Aditya Chopra while we were shooting Sultan and he said what are you doing after this and I said I don’t know. So he said koi kahani hai? And I kind of shared the story with him. He said the story is very good. And when Sultan released he said ab kya karna hai? So I told him the same story as a Tiger sequel, and he started smiling and he said that’s a smart one. I think both Katrina and Salman came on board because they felt that the story was worth telling in a genre that I want to tell. It’s an action drama, it’s a spy espionage but what triggers the entire genre is the story. That is what brings scale to the film. When I wrote the entire script and took it to Adi, first thing he did was take a breath and said that we have to mount it like an international film. He told me you can’t make it look like a substandard film, get the crew from entire world, find the best crew to execute it. So when you see the trailer and the film you’ll see that we put detailed attention to how that country looks. A country that is in the middle of a war, as the film is triggered by a real story we kept the tone of the film very real. Salman’s Tiger character and Katrina Kaif’s character will give you the flamboyance of a hero and a heroine but they are still contained. They are not like Superhero and Wonder woman, they are real and emotional. There is a reason why they are on that mission, their internal chemistry and what’s going on between the two of them. Characters from the first part are there, then there are new characters, the cast is from all around the world, Iran Abu Dabi, Dubai, UK, America. It’s an ensemble cast.
A film becomes a talking point because of its topic. This film is not only about guns blazing and high octane action. You are having references to ISIS, turmoil of middle-east, trailer starts of from Iraq for that matter. You mention Pakistani agent and Katrina Kaif comes into the picture. You are talking about brotherhood across the world. How crucial was it to tie all the ends together?
I think as a story teller and a film maker, one needs to have clarity on why you are making a film! There’s a line in the film which sums up the plot which is “Aaj dunia ko ek hee cheez ki zarurat hai, aur woh hai insaaniyat”. Whenever there will be a fight between right and wrong, humanity will be at stake. Where are we taking this world to? That is the general broadline stroke of the film. We talk about emotions at a very human level. We are not talking about the political side of it. As soon as the things become political people start taking sides. What we are taking sides is that there is a story about these girls, they get kidnapped and as a human what would be my duty to get those people out of there or not. And obviously as a trained agent there is a respect to the country and duty is bigger than everything. Patriotism is important for the country. It’s a mix of a lot of emotions and at the same time the key story is about this rescue mission where these agents are going to go and get you out of there.
Salman Khan did Tubelight. It also spoke about humanity but the film didn’t do well at the Box Office. How crucial is it for Salman Khan after Tubelight to make a big comeback in terms of Box-Office?
Well obviously I have a lot of pressure on Tiger Zinda Hai. It’s a sequel of a very successful film. It has Salman Khan and Katrina Kaif in it. They are both very big stars plus I did Sultan with him which made a lot of money at the box-office. So there is a lot of pressure, but hit or flop is a part of our game. No one knows what’s going to work at the box office till the time it really comes out. As film makers we can only believe in stories which we want to see and there is a certain way of presenting those stories. I never went to film school, most of my schooling happened at the cinema where I went to theatres watching films in Dehradun. I always believed that every star that I saw in the theatre had certain strengths like Salman had certain strength, Aamir Khan had a certain strength, Mr. Bachchan had some strength and SRK’s strength is different. I like celebrating Salman as Salman and I am very honest about it. One of my favourite films while growing up was Karan Arjun; he was brilliant in that film. The way he has done Tere Naam, I was in college when it came out. Tiger, Wanted and even Dabangg for that matter. Sultan was an ode to his stardom. What I feel is that if you humanize Salman Khan, his impact is more at the box-office and even his reach. So even when his fans find out that he has a heart and even he gets hit, but when he rises it will be the biggest comeback. So we have to create stories around him where you find that the character resonates Salman Khan’s persona. There is no one who can carry a name like tiger better than Salman Khan. He is very charismatic. Like I always say if there is one guy who is Rocky and Rambo in the industry that’s Salman Khan. There is no other actor who can look like Rambo other than Salman Khan. He has his own charisma, style and swag. When he is little self-brooding you know, he speaks less but when he speaks it’s nice because he has lovely voice. There is different charisma of the way he speaks his line and that’s what people love about him. I like him like that and I always say that if I am doing a film with Salman Khan, I have to have moments like these. If I am not an audience of my own film, I don’t know how many people would be an audience of my film. My understanding of him as an actor is that you know I will write a scene and every morning I will go to his van and I will tell him to see and he will tell me 2 or 3 things and we will discuss and then we will find this ground where there is a great balance between the character and Salman Khan. He doesn’t work on the rhythm of what I write and I think that’s where both of us have now found the space where I know I have to respect the stardom that he holds and that this is character that his stardom has to fit into. That up till now is working like magic with him.
Even in Sultan, there was an element of realism when he gains that weight and those behind the scenes moments are wonderful. Now let’s talk about Katrina Kaif. There is talk in the film industry that her films aren’t doing well. She looked very hungry in the promo. She is a very hard working actress and it seems she’s out to prove everyone wrong.
There is a new avatar to her.
She is an extremely hard working person; she has a positive and clear opinion about herself. Her fans should be happy of what they see in the promo.
I think yes, first of all it’s a sequel. They definitely knew Salman and Katrina would both come back with meaty roles. What’s really important is that my first film was with her Mere Brother Ki Dulhan. She is also a very close friend. She said we need to work together and I had told her that I will work with you once I have that one role for you that can to do justice to what we did in Mere Brother Ki Dulhan. And I am not going to do it in the same space. In this film she is a very strong character. She represents a strong woman of today especially not only with what she feels about what’s happening around but also in terms of action. She has a full action oriented persona in Tiger Zinda Hai. It is padded with the beliefs of what she feels what is happening today whether it’s with woman or ground zero in Middle East. She also is very strongly triggered and padded by content that is why she looks like de-glammed. She is so beautiful anyway that we don’t need her to come to Iraq looking stunning. If you are at ground zero you need to look like a up forward soldier who’s been trained and who knows how to hold a gun. I have never worked with an actor who is as hard working as Katrina Kaif.
One other notable part of the film is the look. Colour tone is prominent and it’s a dessert colour look. Was that a conscious decision?
Ya the thing is that, when we make films that are set in certain set ups, for example a war country, we need to do enough research to portray how those countries look on camera. We were fortunate enough that we wanted to capture summer of Iraq. We shot most of our film in Morocco and a huge part in Abu Dhabi where we recreated the set. Luckily we were there in the peak of Summer. So half of the tone that you see on camera is the natural tone which was captured while shooting. So I did not have to do much in post to get that tone. Lot of times there is sweat on actors’ face that is real sweat because the temperatures were 50 degree Celsius. There are certain films which require budget for projection; Tiger Zinda Hai is amongst those films where budget has gone to make a film look a certain way. We have recreated a water on city in Abu Dabi. 3000 people were working day and night to create that set. It was the biggest set that we put outside India. There was no way we could go to Iraq. The research happened through people who I know who stay there. But majorly it was how we recreate it, how we set design it, how we costume design it and how we shoot it. Most of my crew was international and specially people who have worked in those terrains. My production designers, my costume designers everyone. My action designers are from LA. All started from the script, all read the script and the kind of the stand that the script took towards the end of the film all thought it is the kind of film they all want to be a part of. The energy just changes when you know that you are doing something worth telling.
Background score is playing an important part. It’s almost a character in the film. How many songs?
Obviously in an espionage drama theme is the most important thing and I think Ek Tha Tiger had a very strong background score. Julius and I are very close, he has done work in all my films and when we came to this one I thought we need to do a rendition of a theme. People are liking the background score because we did a very bizarre thing. We mixed the whole brass section which is like this old school James Bond style with a very electro riff. It’s an amalgamation of two schools which kind of sits on the bed of those backgrounds. It has this old school brass section which is playing the riff and it changes to new EDM distorted rough mix which kind of complements Iraq. It took a lot of time. Vishal Shekhar produced entire music for the song that’s going to come out in an album. I love the music. There are 5 songs which they have created. 2 of them are very beautiful songs and we hope that people will like them.
Considering the fact that Katrina Kaif is such a wonderful dancer. Will we see her doing a dance number? She did in Ek Tha Tiger too.
Yes! Obviously we are talking about something that is very important, but I want to say it in the most commercial way so that it reaches everyone. I don’t want to disappoint fans when they come to watch a Salman- Katrina film.
Finally something about Girish Karnad sahab. He wasn’t well but you still convinced him to be a part of the film.
Because he is the RAW chief and it’s a sequel. He is a brilliant actor and there are no two ways about it. But he is not keeping well, we wish him well. The kind of person he is, he is a fighter. He has a problem with his respiratory system and he needs a continuous flow of oxygen in his nose. When I approached him he told me I am not keeping well. I asked what has happened. He said I have to carry this oxygen pack with me even when I sleep so it has become difficult for me to travel. I said do you want to do it? He said I want to do it. I like acting. I don’t want to say no to you like that. I said we’ll make you as comfortable as possible. He said send me the script. So when he read the script he said I want to do it. I said are you sure? He told that I have taken a decision and I will make sure I’ll come and do it. He plays an important part and so it’s good to see him. An actor of that calibre and Salman Khan come from very different schools but they gel brilliantly on camera. Salman loves him and respects him a lot.