Ali Abbas Zafar on Bharat: You can’t write a romantic scene with Salman and Katrina

With Bharat all geared up for release on June 5, 2019, director Ali Abbas Zafar in an exclusive chat with talks about Katrina Kaif, Salman Khan, and his magnum opus, Bharat

Ali Abbas Zafar is pumped about the release of his next, Bharat, with Salman Khan and Katrina Kaif. The director feels that the film has shaped up well, and will definitely strike a chord with the audience. In an exclusive tete-e-tete with, Zafar gets candid about working with Salman, Katrina and his journey so far.

Excerpts from the interview:

How did Bharat happen?Bharat happened right after Sultan when I was prepping for Tiger Zinda Hai. Salman asked me to watch the South Korean film, Ode to my Father because when Atul Agnihotri (film’s producer) saw it at the Berlin Film Festival, he loved it. When I saw the film, something about it stayed in me. I told Salman if we do this film, we have to bring complete newness to it.

Can you describe Bharat in your words?

At heart, Bharat is a very emotional story. It’s a story about a boy, who makes a promise to his father and that’s the core essence of the film. You can’t just say that it’s a patriotic film or just a romantic one. It has a mixture of a lot of things. There is patriotism, there’s an idea about what this nation stands for in very simple words. It is called Bharat because somewhere or the other, Salman’s character resonates what Bharat stands for, and even in the trailer there is a line where Jackie Shroff says, ‘Desh logon se banta hai aur logon ki pehchaan unke parivaar se hoti hai.’ It’s very simple the way the film tells you the narrative.

As a director, do you think Salman Khan’s characters get repetitive in terms of acting?

It hasn’t got repetitive with me. Whenever I write a script, I always feel that I can write some new shades for Salman Khan. Even in Bharat, I think the way he’s performed and pulled six different Salman Khans in the span of his life, that’s been a challenge. When I see the film’s edit, I am very happy with it. His performance is extremely consistent. The most challenging thing while making Bharat was that it has six stories, which are spread over six decades. It was like you are doing six Salman Khan films while you were doing one film. His character goes through ups and downs. Also, geographically, the film changes. All these were big challenging things, but at heart, the film is driven by our soul and emotions. I think the film has come out pretty well.

This is your third film with Salman Khan and you also share a great equation with Katrina Kaif. As a director, in what aspects do knowing the stars personally help to execute their characters onscreen?

When you know people well, at times they get very comfortable with you. There are days when you want the actors to stand by your side. There are certain scenes where you want the director to only be the director and not an actor’s friend. Then there are days when you want them to be your friend and help you out in every possible way. Also, there’s a lot of unsaid things between them and they know each other for almost 14 years and kind of understand each other really well. My problem is that whenever I am writing a film, I can’t write a romantic scene with them because they could just be standing and talking about normal things. As an audience, you would say they have such mad chemistry going. You don’t need to write the obvious and that has been a very good learning experience for me. So, now, I just write simple, normal, day-to-day things and they convert it into love scenes.

Did you have to invest a lot in Katrina Kaif to prepare for this character?

Yes, a lot. When Priyanka (Chopra) couldn’t do this film because she was getting married, I sent the script to Katrina. She read and called me to say, ‘Oh my God! I want to do this film, don’t do it with anyone else. I am coming and meeting you tomorrow.’ I could see from her excitement that she is really waiting to do that character. I haven’t changed a single thing from when Priyanka was doing the film to when Katrina came on board. She got such a strong reaction in the trailer, and I said, ‘Oh my God! Look at her, she is a new Katrina Kaif wearing a simple, unglamorous saree and speaking in such straight-forward Hindi.’ And, for that, she has worked extremely hard. We went through a full session of the workshop where we specifically worked on her language, the dialect, her body language, what she would wear, from hair to makeup… everything. Today, the audience sees all of that.

Is Salman Khan a difficult actor?

Not at all. I think that’s the persona that has been built around him. He is a very committed actor. Obviously, like everyone, he too has a good day and a bad day. The thing is that he has been around for 30 years now, and one has to give up to the thing that every day when you wake up and come to the sets, you have to feel the same energy as if it’s your first day on the set. And, that requires a lot of zeal. Every time I work with him, I am very happy. He gives me full liberty of whatever I want to do. Whether it was Sultan, Tiger or now in Bharat, I don’t see any other actor who could have pulled this thing.

What happens when Salman Khan is not in a good mood and works on the sets?

He is always in a good mood. The point is that you have to see whether it’s a good mood for you or not. He is always in his comfort zone, sitting outside his van. When you talk to him, the first thing he’ll do is offer you food. He will want you to sit down and eat and he will talk about everything that is happening in the world. He is always happy and good. If there’s something personal that is affecting him then that is a different thing altogether.The crew is also very happy around him. At times, where the challenge comes is that he is in a funny mood and you have to do a very complicated emotional scene or if it’s vice versa… so, those are the things. As soon as he comes in front of the camera, after a few readings, it all flies.

Your pairing with Salman Khan has proved to be a fruitful one?

Yes. Inshallah (hopefully), it will be in future too.

In the past two films and now Bharat, how has your equation been with Salman? Has it changed?

It’s not changed at all. He is still the same. We’ve just become a little bit more comfortable with each other. We still argue about things, we still laugh on silly jokes. My equation with him has always been like a younger brother. A lot of maturity that comes in my work is from his experience, and I really hold him in high regards.

From Mere Brother Ki Dulhan (2011) to Bharat (2019), are you satisfied with the way your journey has shaped up?

I think I have been fortunate and I thank God for it; I’m grateful to the people who have watched my films. This is my third film with Salman and there’s a lot of responsibility that comes along to be in a position that I am at. Bharat can only be a step forward for me.

Do you think you’ve found your niche and comfort zone in the film industry?

I think that depends upon film to film. I feel somewhere or the other, the experience in the last six-seven years has made me evolve in my craft.

What after Bharat?

Nothing, which is fine right now. I have kind of cracked the story with Tiger, and I am very excited about that. Let’s see, if all works well, you might see me as a director in that.

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