Salman Khan's Bharat spreads the message of humanity and equality: Ali Abbas Zafar
The Sultan director talks about his third collaboration with Salman Khan, adapting a South Korean film to an Indian setting, and the changing rules of the box-office
From assisting on films like Marigold, New York, and Badmaash Company to emerging as the most bankable director from the Yash Raj tent, Ali Abbas Zafar has charted a formidable rise. His debut film, Mere Brother Ki Dulhan, was well-received at the box-office, which he followed up with the smash hit, Gunday.
His last two films with Salman Khan, the sports drama, Sultan, and the action-entertainer, Tiger Zinda Hai, figure among the highest-grossing Indian films of all time. It is this combination that has kept fans stoked for Bharat, a big-scale adaptation of the South Korean drama, Ode to My Father.
Ahead of the film’s release on June 5, we caught up with the director for a chat.
Excerpts from the conversation:
The original film is backdropped on the Korean and Vietnam wars. How did you manage to adapt it to an Indian context?
The story of Bharat spans over 70 years. The idea was to see the evolution of India through the eyes of the protagonist. To achieve that, we picked some landmark events in the history of modern India. These events (Partition, the Middle Eastern oil boom, the economic liberalisation of India, etc) either run parallel to the journey of the character, or they criss-cross. Another aspect was to find the right transition from one period to another. But at the heart of it, this is a simple story of a promise that a son makes to his father.
There's a certain fan expectation that surrounds a Salman Khan movie. As a storyteller, does that limit you in any way?
To be honest, I don't take that pressure. When you make a film like Bharat, which is about the journey of a nation, you want it to reach a wider audience. Salman has a huge fan base that can create such an impact. However, the film is not just about him. There's Sunil Grover, Disha Patani, and Katrina Kaif. Each actor plays an important part in the six main chapters of the film. For instance, Disha plays a trapeze artist in the 60s who introduces Bharat to the life of the circus. So, for me, it was like making six small films with a variety of characters.
And how accommodating is Salman when it comes to creative choices?
He is quite accommodating. He has a great sense of story. Of course, we have discussions. Sometimes he brings in a fresh perspective, sometimes I tell him we must stick to what’s on paper. That’s the fun of working with someone as experienced and talented as Salman Khan.
Priyanka Chopra was initially slated to play the female lead. She had to step down because of her wedding last year. You had already started shooting when Katrina came on board…
This is my third film with Katrina. I told her I cannot make any changes to the character of Kumud Raina. She accepted that and adapted herself to the role. Her part is as strong and important as Salman’s. Today, women actors are doing just as well as male ones, if not more.
The teaser of Bharat opens with a message on national unity. How relevant is the film to contemporary India?
I believe what we are saying is not preachy or political. The film addresses the basic values instilled in us as Indians. Humanity and equality are the foremost qualities of our nation. There’s a line in the trailer that says, “A country is made by its people, and people are known by their families.” The germ of the film is that our country is one big family. We must keep this family together and not be divided on the lines of caste, colour, and so on.
2018 was a tricky year for big-budget Bollywood films. What are your box-office expectations from Bharat?
I’ve been fortunate that the last few films of mine have done great numbers. I feel that a filmmaker just needs to make what he or she has conceived. The numbers will follow. When I am making a movie, I don’t worry about box-office or throw in gimmicks to make it work. You need to be true to your film and make something inviting enough for the audience to come and experience in theatres. They should get their money’s worth. As for Bharat, when you see it, you will get ten times that worth. That’s the only USP.