Ali Abbas Zafar assisted Kabir Khan in 2012’s “Ek Tha Tiger” (There Once Was a Tiger), a blockbuster film about an Indian and Pakistani spy who fall in love. What he didn’t know then was that he would be directing the second part of what is turning out to be an action franchise. “Tiger Zinda Hai” (The Tiger is Alive) brings back Salman Khan and Katrina Kaif in lead roles, who combine forces to rescue Indian nurses held hostage in Iraq.
Billed as the festival release Bollywood needs to end the year on a high, Zafar says the film is not political in nature. He tells Reuters why nationalism and patriotism work in movies and what Indian audiences expect from an action film.
Q: How easy or difficult is it to adapt and take forward a story that you were not a part of initially?
A: When I started writing “Tiger Zinda Hai”, it was not supposed to be a sequel. It was an individual script, and because it had an Indian and a Pakistani spy, and we already had a film on the YRF banner with an Indian and Pakistani spy, we pulled those two characters into our script. It worked its magic because these were two characters which we already knew and when they come into a story which is topical and true to what is happening around us. The global phenomenon of extremism is rising around the world. It is not a political film at all – it talks about peace and brotherhood through the situation of these trapped nurses. So when I bounced this idea off people, including Kabir, they got excited about it. That gave me confidence that we were in the right direction.
Q: Does a change of director make a noticeable difference to the way a film is told, even if the characters remain the same?
A: I think the difference will be clearly visible. I have different style of story-telling and shooting a film from Kabir’s. Also, the core story decides the tone of the film. The first one was a romantic thriller, while this is more of a mission film and a docu-drama in the way it’s been put together. Since it is a Salman Khan film, it will have some hero moments, but the way we have done it, it is very relatable. He is not a superman in the film – he is more of an agent, who when he gets hurt, feels the pain.
Q: Do you see this expanding beyond these two films?
A: All that depends on the love it gets from audiences at the box office. The first one was a big blockbuster, which is why we took a leap of faith with the second one. Inshallah, if this becomes successful then maybe someone else can find a good story and make a third film.
Q: How viable do you think franchises are in Bollywood?
A: It is quite viable. This year, a couple of the biggest films have been franchise films. Again, even if it’s a franchise, it needs a new story. So if you can do that and play on the strength of the franchise, then it can work.
Q: You said “Tiger Zinda Hai” isn’t a political film, but like so many films we see these days, it has an element of patriotism or nationalism. Why do you think that is necessary?
A: The story is patriotic and nationalistic, but both these words are very positive words. The problem is when it becomes jingoistic. The film is not jingoistic. It talks about what India is equipped to do today in terms of intelligence and defence. We are at par with the best in the world and we should be proud. The strength of our country is that it is a secular state and the whole idea from our Vedas to our folklore and our religious texts teach us that peace, brotherhood and humanity is the biggest thing and we can do it while co-existing. That is what the film signifies.
Q: Why do you think the nationalism and patriotism thread is working with audiences?
A: We need to be proud of who we are. When you sit inside a theatre and see a film which deals with human emotions and with that, when you make sure there is an extra thread which makes you feel proud of what our country and value systems stand for, it automatically raises the bar. And I think anyone, for that matter, even in the West, when they fight aliens, they still have the American flag flying high. To be patriotic and nationalistic is a good thing. It brings people together, till the time they are not getting biased and till their vision isn’t getting clouded. I am a proud Indian and I would like to see my country up there, to set a bar that we are no less in terms of the technology and intelligence that we have.
Q: Do you think Indian audiences are now more demanding of what they want from action films?
A: We are seeing so much international stuff, and we have technology, expertise and vision to match those standards. This is good because it puts pressure on filmmakers to deliver quality action. If every other industry is going international, the film industry will also do this. Our stories will cross over more and we will work with technicians from there.
Editing by David Lalmalsawma