Director Kabir Khan is a fantastic storyteller, and we say this without even watching his forthcoming Eid attraction, Ek Tha Tiger. As a documentary filmmaker early in his career, he has picked up many of his personal experiences and has a huge bank of stories that he is waiting to tell. He is not particularly happy about the hype that his film has generated. In a candid conversation, he spoke about his penchant for making realistic films, the falsely reported ‘issues’ that he had with Salman Khan and how comfortable he is at Yash Raj Films.
Are you happy about the hype that Ek Tha Tiger has generated?
I am not really a numbers’ guy, but it feels good that the film is one of the most awaited films of the year. I am very happy the way the film has shaped up, and I have to say that it has gone beyond me now. It has become a beast of its own. What worries me is that even if the film makes Rs 180cr, I will get condolence messages saying that it fell short by Rs 20cr to make Rs 200cr. (Laughs) Salman can get me a great opening at the box office no doubt, but after that it is just me and the film that I have made. I have a feeling that the film will have a long run at the theatres.
Were Salman Khan and Katrina Kaif your first choices, as the leading pair?
Yes, me and Salman go back a long way. I had met him once via a common friend, to narrate the script of Kabul Express. Not that I wanted to cast him in it. It was a general conversation over coffee and he seemed to like my narration. After that meeting I hardly met him, perhaps once after Kabul Express released. I wanted to cast Katrina Kaif in my next film, New York. She was skeptical about doing the film, as it was her first outing with Yash Raj Films and it wasn’t the typical films that they made.
She had consulted Salman about signing the film. Salman asked her, who was directing it? She said, “Kabir Khan,” and he said, “If he is directing it, you can sign the film without a second thought.” So there was certain warmth that I shared with Salman, even before approaching him for Ek Tha Tiger. Also, if you call any other guy in Bollywood a ‘tiger’, it sounds very cheesy. But with Salman, you can be sure that woh sab ka baap hai (he is bigger than anybody else).
With Salman on board, I didn’t have to spend much time establishing that he is a tiger. Just five minutes into the film, and you will realize that woh sab ka baap hai (he is bigger than anybody else). A film like ETT needed a legendary star like Salman to do justice to the spy that the film is loosely based upon. He would have been overcast for a film like Kabul Express, but Ek Tha Tiger needed Salman.
It was reported that you had ‘issues’ with Salman’s interference?
I think that if there are no issues in any creative outing, there is something wrong with the project. Either the actors are doing the film for the wrong reasons, or the film is really bad. If the actor doesn’t have any inputs to give during the shooting, you are in trouble. We had our share of issues, but that was during the first fifteen days of the shoot. Salman had his own vision and I had mine, and it took us time to be on the same page. When I told him to do a scene in a certain way, he would ask why not this way? Gradually we did understand each other’s vision of the film.
Nobody can be a cult superstar like Salman without having a grip on what works for his fans. He has been around for about 25 years and he knows what his fans expect from him. I am a collaborative filmmaker and I take suggestions from everyone. Not just from Salman, I am open to feedback from all my assistants too! Because I had written the film and stayed with it for the longest time, it is difficult to be objective about it. What makes perfect sense to me might go right over the heads of others. There are many gems in the film that have been contributed by Salman.
What about the pain that Salman had in his jaw which was reported during the shooting of your film?
I must say that Salman can really endure pain. There are people with similar problem who commit suicide because they can’t tolerate the pain caused because of the nerve disorder. When we were shooting one of the earliest sequences, in the film he was supposed to be back from a gruelling mission and we had to show that he was all beaten up. At that time, it worked for us and we got some real expressions of him being in pain. But post that he went for the surgery after which he didnt’t experience any pain.
The action sequences of Ek Tha Tiger look very real…
My brief to the action director was that there shouldn’t be any cables involved in the fight scenes. Usually there are ‘item action scenes’ in films where the hero is beating up the baddies for about five minutes. It doesn’t really take the story forward. In ETT, even the fight sequences are a part of the narrative. The cables haven’t been used to show Salman and the stuntmen doing a ballet mid air. The cables have only been used to protect them from falling down and injuring themselves. In the trailer you will see Salman jumping off the roof of a house and landing on the ground. He has done it himself, like he usually prefers doing. It is very taxing on the body and we went easy on the action bit after a while. But yes, the action scenes in ETT are something that have not been seen before in our films.
We heard that the film will not be released in Pakistan…
That is something I do not have any say over. There are a few theatres in Pakistan that are waiting to open with Ek Tha Tiger. Salman is a mega star in Pakistan, and the owners of those theatres are really counting on the film, so that they do a good opening business. Even if ETT doesn’t release there, people will eventually watch it on pirated DVDs that would be of a very bad quality. There is still some time before the film releases there and I hope that the censors will see that I am not defaming their country.
Is Ek Tha Tiger in the league of the other Salman films that released recently?
A lot of research has gone into the making of ETT, but on the surface it is an entertaining love/thriller story. If the audience can see through the layers and see the message, well and good. But, even if they don’t they will go back happy. With Ek Tha Tiger, we have tried to attract the section of the audience that is not really a loyal Salman Khan fan. It would be too pompous of me to say that I have even a fraction of following that Salman has, but the attempt has been to bring into the theatres even those people who are fence-sitters; the kind who wait to watch the trailers or reviews before they decide to pay to watch a film.
Will you be open to directing films for other production houses as well?
Yash Raj Films is like home for me now. Aditya Chopra trusted me when nobody else did. I had gone to almost every production house with my script of Kabul Express. They read the script and said that they liked it, but nobody was willing to invest their money in it. A few people told me there is no point in even going to YRF with my film. But Adi read the script and told me that he loved it.
He has backed me all the way, and has let me make my films the way I wanted to. At YRF I feel like I am cocooned, it has become my comfort zone. Now that I am through with my contract here, I might do a film for some other producer. After which I might make another one with YRF. As much as I like to make films with YRF, I am open to directing films for other production houses as well.
Do you think money spoils a filmmaker?
Yes, I agree that money does spoil a filmmaker. I have seen many films (Of course, I will not name any) that could have been easily shot in Mumbai, but were filmed in London for no rhyme or reason. In my opinion a film should not be overcast or overproduced. The script should demand its casting and location. Many films run into losses just because the makers tend to go overboard with their spending. I would have been more than happy to shoot Ek Tha Tiger in Mumbai, but the script demanded that it should be shot at as many locations as we did.