While ‘Sultan’ continues to be remembered as one of the best films from last year, director Ali Abbas Zafar teams up with Salman Khan yet again. This time he helms the sequel to ‘Ek Tha Tiger’. We catch up with the film-maker at Yash Raj Films to chat about ‘Tiger Zinda Hai’ amidst more…

When you make a sequel to a blockbuster with a recall value like ‘Ek Tha Tiger’, what’s the starting point?
I had no idea that I’m going to make a sequel to Tiger, because it was a big hit. This was an individual story which happened in 2014, and I wanted to do a film around that chapter and in that chapter, there was always an Indian agent and a Pakistani agent and when ‘Sultan’ happened, I told Adi that I could adapt that script which was called 360 hours into the ‘Tiger’ franchise. Because we have these two characters loved by people and what if these two characters come together for a mission to rescue these Indian nurses. Then I took some two weeks to work on the script, merged those characters with the script and I thought the script became better because it gave the audience two characters in a newer story and space. It’s important to get into a story with certain characters and when you already know the characters and this film is 8 years later, from the one which ended in 2012. So, what would be the state of these characters, where they are in their personal life, so all those things coming together with the mission and journey – is exciting. One of the reasons why Salman and Katrina came on board is because they thought the story was as big as their characters.

How did you manage to make this one a new film altogether, despite keeping the essence of the earlier one intact?
The story is very new and it’s set in a different part from ‘Ek Tha Tiger’. Also, how we’ve shot the film and the new characters brought in, all those things have been taken in consideration so when you see the film, you will feel that you know these characters. There are other several new characters apart from the old ones, so that essence is the same, but the earlier one was a romantic film, this is more of a mission film. You see Tiger’s new side, his intelligence as an agent, Zoya’s intelligence as an agent, what they can do. So, there are a lot of things and a lot of research went into that, which is new in the sequel.

Did it help to do a film after a ‘Sultan’, and also that, you must have grown in the process of these films ever since you started out?
In every profession, experience definitely brings maturity in your work and writing. From when I started with ‘Mere Brother Ki Dulhan’ to now, the kind of experience, whether it’s cinematic, or the writing, it has evolved because you start getting to know a little better. I feel I will get better even in the work that I do from here on. All those things somewhere or the other, help you in your craft. In the first film, you are really finding yourself, in the second film you feel that you can kind of do better, so it’s an on-going process which any creative person goes through. This film, since it’s a different genre than what I’ve done before. This will also test me, as a film-maker.

While a film like ‘Sultan’ or this one is made for the masses, even a film like ‘Mere Brother Ki Dulhan’ has its niche audience which still likes it. So, how important is it to think about your target audience while you’re making the film?
Cinema is a form of mass communication so until and unless, your work is not communicating with the audience, there is no point doing it. And I have not gone to a film school, I’ve learnt everything on the job. All my knowledge of film-making comes from watching films in Dehradun when I was studying or when I was in college in Delhi. So, somewhere or the other, when I write a film or watch it, I try and keep the audience inside me alive. At times, as a director, you can get too self-indulgent with your own work. You can find that everything you are doing is right and that’s an ongoing process which happens with everyone and it happens with me. Then I continuously keep this side alive inside me that if I come and watch this film in the theatre, will every scene on screen hold my attention or am I more indulging in that scene. Somewhere or the other, that has kind of worked with me. Also, reading about what’s happening around us to find newer stories is important. Whenever there’s a new story, be it ‘Toilet Ek Prem Katha’, ‘Hindi Medium’, ‘Newton’, comes out, the audience always loves that film in its own capacity. I have always maintained that the most difficult genre to handle is a mainstream commercial film, because you’re opening yourself to a really wide range of audience and you have to cater to the last man standing on the ticket window. There are people who only watch one film a year and that’s a Salman Khan, Shah Rukh Khan, Aamir Khan film. So, the genre could be anything but he needs to find the worth of his money. If that can happen over a period of time, then the path for you as a film-maker is clear.

Somewhere do you think we are losing the entertainment factor in the process of being meaningful?
That’s where I think your craft as a film-maker comes in. You can’t make a documentary, you make an entertaining film. And that entertaining film needs to have content and entertainment going together. ‘Bajrangi Bhaijaan’ was an example of that. They are mainstream films but at the same time, they try to raise a question which is very contemporary. That’s what we’ve even tried to do with ‘Tiger’. The film is about an evacuation mission but there are many things which the film questions – the values of what our country stands out and things happening with the local people. You have to bring in certain values with a lot of entertainment so that when people see it, they understand the reason why you made the film.

Somewhere did you have any apprehension, or did you think it was a huge responsibility to come on board as a director for a film like this?
It’s my creation at the end of it, from start to finish. Obviously the characters come from the first part. I was confident that this is what I want to do with this story. The contribution of all the people to the film has been phenomenal – from my technical crew to my actors and we’re quite happy with how the film has turned out. The expectations have been high and I think that’s a good game. Whenever there is pressure, it pushes you to work harder and do something you believe in.

Also that, every director brings his own individuality to a film…
Yes, it’s quite evident from the trailer itself. The way it unfolds, it’s more like my kind of story-telling, rather than the film made before this by Kabir. Obviously, the characters are the same so the characteristics will not see a difference, but way we shoot the film, the acting in the film, all that is different.

How has your actor-director relationship evolved with Salman Khan, with this one, post ‘Sultan’?
I think my relationship with him is more like a younger brother. He is so experienced, his body of work is phenomenal and we get along really well. In the first film, we were figuring how it will work and by the end of it, we found a ground as to the kind of films we want to make. Our sensibilities are quite close. We both believe that mainstream cinema needs to be made with a lot of dignity. It has to be a family film. You shouldn’t feel uncomfortable if you’ve come to the theatre and are watching the film with kids and elders. At the same time, if a film can raise questions or say something while entertaining, it’s even better. So, I think this process was good.

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