Kabir Khan is not your regular movie guy. He doesn’t discuss ‘projects’. He’s brimming with excitement to discuss the issues plaguing India and the world. He doesn’t pretend to be an intellectual throwing in big terms that sound important. He’s an intellectual with a treasure of experience of shooting for documentaries in dangerous war zones can be extremely objective and he just can’t suffer hyperventilating fools who are unable to differentiate between patriotism and pseudo nationalism. In a Bollywood Hungama exclusive with Faridoon Shahryar, Kabir speaks at length about his next film Tubelight, which has the backdrop of 1962 India China war but as he himself says it’s a story of humanity and why one ought to look at life’s situations with a progressive outlook flavoured by a realistic positivity. Kabir also rips apart news channels who provoked Om Puri sahab.
When you say “Yeh Jung ek roz khatam hogi, bas yakeen jalaye rakhna hoga”, you are making a statement. Your film is based in the 1960’s but this is relevant in today’s time too.
Yes, that’s a good point to make. And that’s very important for the film especially in the context of Tubelight. Though the film is set in 1962, the issues we are talking about are still relevant and contemporary. The backdrop might be the Indo-China war of 1962 but the issue that the society went through at that point of time will find a resonance even today. That for me is very important, because after sometime you forget that the film is supposed to be in 1962. After a while the film becomes contemporary to you, the characters and what they are going through becomes contemporary to you.
Do you have the under currents of the political events that were prevalent during 1960s. Pandit Nehru Ji is often blamed for China war and there are rumours that just keep on spreading!
As I said, I am not going into the details of the 1962 war; the war is the back drop to the film. But what is more important is that even though the film is set in 1962, what we are going to discuss in the film is still what we are going through today. That for me makes the film very relevant and hence the context of the film becomes very contemporary.
Do you feel that people and mankind haven’t learned anything from the past? There is nothing to be gained from the war but jingoism unleashed by social media patriots and TRP hungry news channels is unsavoury.
I think unfortunately we never learn. What’s frightening is not what we do across the border; the frightening is the war within. The border that we are drawing within our community, between people from different religions, between people from different dietary habit, between people who dress differently and think differently is what’s more important. For me it’s not important of what we are doing across the borders with Pakistan or China. For me, it’s more frightening what we are doing within the country. Why are we drawing the border within our country and our people that is the sub-text of Tubelight. In Bajrangi Bhaijaan also, too much was said about the India-Pakistan factor. People didn’t discuss the 1st half which was talking about the borders within our country.
Why are you so fascinated by war, it also gets you in trouble for your films.
What attracts me is the conflict. I feel some conflicts create reactions among human beings which are extra ordinary. These are not seen when everything is normal around them. So when we put backdrop of that conflict, we get characters that react in a certain way. Certain characteristics come forward that might not come if it’s not a conflict situation. Because of my documentary background I have travelled extensively in conflict zones, so I have understood the thinking of the people in the conflict zones. Be it Kashmir, Bosnia, Afghanistan, Iran, Palestine these are the places I have spent a lot of time in. I have spoken to people across the lines and that’s the reason I put a big conflict backdrop to my film.
Bajrangi Bhaijaan was one of the biggest hits of all times especially in terms of number of people who went to the theatres to see the movie. Now you are back with Salman Khan once again on Eid. Those huge comparisons in numbers will be done again, how do you plan to deal with them?
Seems like a rhetorical answer but I honestly don’t take the pressure of success or failure of my last film. If we do that then we take wrong decisions. If I had taken the pressure of Ek Tha Tiger’s huge success, I might have taken wrong decision and I might not have made Bajrangi Bhaijaan. I might have made another action film. Not because of pressure but just because Salman, Me (Kabir Khan) action films do well. Instead I went into a zone which was diametrically opposite, Salman wasn’t doing action and that worked really well for us. So I think you have to go with your gut feeling. This is something I have often felt about the industry that the more successful people get the safer the start playing. And the reverse should be true, because when you are successful is when people don’t ask you questions. When you are successful you should start pushing boundaries. That’s the only way we can push forward. We may fail, but at least we tried.
Since Bajrangi Bhaijaan, Salman has evolved as an actor, even in Sultan. How do you see his growth now? He is not macho in this one, he won’t fight 10 people at same time in fact he can come across as a weakling but yet adorable and endearing as well. How do you look at that aspect?
I think it has been an organic growth. I have read certain articles about how a great effort has been put by me and Salman’s marketing team to reinvent him. It’s not; it has just been a gut instinct. After Tiger I just felt I don’t want to do an action film with Salman Khan. I felt Bajrangi was the right story. I react to stories more than characters. So I said this is a great story when it came to Bajrangi. Similarly when I saw “Little Boy” I though this is a great story and it can be adapted to our conditions. The story and plot points can easily be adapted to our historical contexts. It was a great story to be told so then I re-worked the character for Salman. So for me no great intellectual analysis has gone in and it has only been a gut instinct. If the story works and the character work people will appreciate it. Even Salman was finding himself doing repetitive stuff. He was doing same action and he wanted to push boundaries. So post Bajrangi, he also realised people are going to accept him with open arms because Bajrangi did become his biggest hit by miles when you take into consideration his action films. That’s the reason he stepped into Tubelight which was radically more different then Bajrangi Bhaijaan. He has gone five steps ahead in terms of the character that he has attempted. It’s the most difficult character that he has ever attempted in life and the film really rests on that character. If you identify with that character the film will work, if you don’t the film won’t work.
One important aspect is that the film is inspired from The Little Boy, the boy’s name is Matin from what we know.
The characters are different. You won’t relate Matin to the little boy, so what we have done is that we have taken the story idea and introduced our own characters and our own historical settings and our own struggles. The little boy is actually a Bible film; it’s about faith and religion. Tubelight has nothing to do with religion. That was set in World War 2 about a little boy and his father, so we have only taken the seed of the idea and story plot points from them and we told them that we will be adapting it to our conditions, which they readily agreed. So you won’t be able to draw parallel between any characters.
I believe Zhu-Zhu has learnt Hindi as well and there is a romantic angle between her and Salman.
I won’t be able to say all that as that is something that you will discover in the film and but I can tell you that she put in great effort to learn Hindi, to be able to speak Hindi. Imagine someone telling you to go to China and you are given ten days to mouth ten pages of Chinese dialogue! I mean, I would jump off a building, Right? But Zhu-Zhu had the spirit, she had the enthusiasm and she really sat down and worked on it. It’s really amazing what she has pulled off because she’s playing a Chinese character that lived in India. In 1962, not many of us know but there were thousands of Chinese people who lived in India, trader families who had come to India in 1850s, 1860s and had been like fourth generation, fifth generation, born in India and spoke Hindi. Unfortunately, certain things happened which led to the 1962 war which led to the exodus of these people from India because they were made to feel that they were not “Indian” enough. That’s a sad, tragic chapter that happened in the History of India which most of us don’t know about.
The big question is that Dangal did so well in China; do we see you guys releasing the movie in China?
With China, you can’t really say before you release because their system is very clear, they have a quota system. After you release the film, you send it to them and they consider it for various criteria like if it’s suitable for their audiences or not. They don’t take political films; unfortunately, most of my films are political. So, with them you can’t really predict till you release the film. Of course, we would love to have this film shown in China because it’s got a Chinese overlap in terms of our history; there are characters who are Chinese. At the end of the day, it’s a human relationship story which everyone will identify with but whether we release or not depends on the authorities there.
Do you believe that there can be a roadblock in terms of Chinese people being a bit cagey about how they have been portrayed in the movie?
No, firstly, in Tubelight there is no negative portrayal of any community or Nationality. But considering they have a quota system and they cannot have every film releasing, only 32 films can release from outside of China, ultimately, it’s at their discretion.
Om Puri Sahab is an important part of your film. He wasn’t well he was still provoked by the media when he was trying to be a voice of reason. Do you feel sad that that a man of such stature was ridiculed like that? He was recognised by Oscars and that’s when many people realised that how respected he was. But here he was trolled even after he had passed away which was extremely sad. He was misinterpreted and was provoked by the media; do you feel sad about that?
Of course I do, we have come in an age where news channels want to do this. They provoked him and wanted to take things out of context and then just try and pin point things at you. Suddenly debate had become anti-national and they were screaming and shouting for nothing. The news anchors have become caricature, honestly for me they are a bunch of buffoons. They are after cheap TRP’s and there is nothing left on our news channels. They are low cost reality TV channels with background music thrown in and all kind of commentary thrown in. There is nothing which can resemble news any more. On top of that they were disrespectful to one of the icons of our country in the context of what they did and the way they did. It shows their upbringing and their value system. So of course I felt sad about it. I feel disgusted of what has become of the news channels
Om Puri Ji deserves much more. He was the voice of reason in many other ways as well; he brought so many laurels for the country.
Forget he was the icon; forget all the awards he has got for the country but there is a certain level at which a debate is conducted. You don’t go below the belt, you don’t become disrespectful. The man could be saying something that you don’t agree with, but there is a certain level at which you debate and discuss. You should not become screaming buffoons if somebody is not agreeing with your point. There is a certain civility and there are certain rules to engagement about everything. And these people have thrown everything out of the way. They will do anything for TRPs; if tomorrow somebody tells them strip your coat and dance on table for TRPs they will probably do that. Nothing is going to hold them back.
You always concentrate a lot on locations and camera work and Tubelight is looking outstanding, would you want to talk more about that?
Locations have always been very important for me to the point that people tell me “aaj kal green screen ke zamane mein tu kyun pahado mein ghumta hai.” But for me it’s the romance of the film and it’s the adventure of film making. For me locations are like characters of the film. I genuinely feel certain stories you cannot tell without those characters of the stories. I cannot tell story of Kabul express at any other place other than Afghanistan. You cannot get the emotion of the scene if the location is not correct. I am not a great fan of sets; in fact I often say my creative juices dry up when I am on a set. So I need to be on location, I need to feel the wind and the sun and I react a lot to location. I could be planning a lot of things before I reach the location, but once I reach the location and I see the sun I completely change it around. And thankfully My DOP Aseen Mishra who has been with for years also thinks the same; we are both documentary film makers and have travelled around the world. So we react instinctively to the situations on set