ATUL AGNIHOTRI ALI ABBAS ZAFAR
Interview By: ANKITA R. KANABAR
Bharat is set to release this Eid, while we catch up with the makers – producer Atul Agnihotri and director Ali Abbas Zafar to chat all about this biggie. While the former produces a film with Salman Khan post ‘Bodyguard’; this is Ali’s third film in a row with the actor. Evidently, the expectations are high. Here, the duo speak about their interpretation of ‘Bharat’ and the process of making it.
People have responded really well to the trailer and songs of ‘Bharat’. What was the driving factor for you to make this film with Salman?
Atul Agnihotri: The idea is always to do something different, larger, something that’s not been done before. Bharat offered all that. We were able to attract the audience with the age groups he is playing, the story that’s being reflected in the promos and Ali has put in a beautiful synergy into the journey of the country and the journey of this man – Bharat. It’s a great journey to which a lot of people will connect to it, because the character says that, our country is a country where we need to make many sacrifices, so we believe people will relate to it.
Were you always meant to direct the film?
Ali: I think before I came in, more people were considered to do this film.
Atul: Yes, it was just a process of figuring out who should direct the film. His name came in initially, but we were not sure if he was open to the idea of doing a remake or an adaption. I think it was only after he saw the movie that he made an exception and said he will do this film.
Ali: I had reservations to do a remake but when I saw the film, it stayed with me for a couple of days and that’s when I went back to sir. I was like, there’s definitely something very special in the film but we will have to get into a serious re-write and adaptation. Even as a story, we need to seriously Indianise it. Once that process got cleared, we all jumped in it.
As a film-maker what is it that you got on the table – in terms of your interpretation and touch to the story?
Ali: My interpretation was to write a character which symbolises the nation – that’s when the title ‘Bharat’ came in. The original was titled, ‘An Ode To My Father’. If we convert it in Hindi – it would be ‘Bauji ke Naam’. But that’s not the film we were making. We were making a film about a promise and how important is a father’s word in this nation, the value-system of this country. So, I adapted the value-system of this country into the character. Then the whole narrative of this film came up. So, my idea is that, it should be a commercial film driven by a lot of content whether it’s ‘Sultan’ or ‘Tiger Zinda Hai’. If this is a Salman Khan film, the aim is that you don’t just see a superstar, but you see the story but that doesn’t mean you won’t see what his fans want to see. His fans want to see him dance, his fans want blockbuster songs, comedy and action. How do you amalgamate all those things into a story and yet, it doesn’t shout out or look like it’s out of place. That’s when you see the conviction of a film-maker. My conviction was that, I will pick up the soul of ‘An Ode To My Father’, and customise it for a Salman Khan film.
As a producer, what do you think comes as a challenge for a film like this where you have a superstar on board and yet the audience expects a film to get its basics right?
Atul: I think these are not challenges, but everything is a part of what you do. The idea is to dispatch each of these responsibilities to the best of your ability. It’s show business, so you want it all to be large and pompous, you want to have talking points, you want to work with the best in the business in whatever capacity. You always wish for the best. That journey is challenging and also the most exciting part of film-making as well.
What is it that you take as a learning from this film?
Atul: I think certain stories speak about certain values and human quality and as people all of us in the film believe in the values that the film speaks about. We’ve seen the film so many times but every time a certain scene comes, we laugh, cry and it has the same effect on us because honestly, we do believe in what we’re bringing on-screen.
Ali: I would say that somewhere or the other, it’s a very important film for the film we’re in because we are going into the root cause of the value-system that this country has. The whole idea is that the entire nation is our family – someone who keeps the family together, the nation together – that’s the core essence of the film. And the idea to say these things with a lot of entertainment is what my take-back from the film is.
As a film-maker what is it that you wanted Salman Khan to get specifically for the role – since the whole journey to play these different ages was challenging for him?
Ali: I specifically wanted him to be vulnerable in every age and state he was in, because it’s a character that’s very sensible, sensitive and yet very strong. He goes wrong at times, he goes right at times but he is doing it for a reason. For me to have that emotional core running through the film, no matter where he is. As a journey, he is going through so many ups and downs, and so many things geographically, you should feel that at heart, why is he doing that? I think, somewhere or the other he has managed it beautifully.
You think you have pretty well managed to tap into his vulnerable side? Case in point, even ‘Sultan’…
Ali: He has a very vulnerable side and even in ‘Bharat’, you will find some magical spark in his performance. Not even him, even Katrina, Sunil and every performance for that matter. I personally think you will find a very new Salman Khan and a new Katrina in the film and somewhere or the other, that’s the driving force. You will love how he is performing that character and that’s the driving force of every Salman Khan film. Half of your battle is already won then, the character is already strong, but he has this vulnerable side naturally. I think, Salman is a very good actor which nobody tries to tap into. When we both work together, I only push that side to him.
How much do you think has the scenario changed in the last few years and how’s it making a film today?
Atul: Things have not changed – what happens with every year is that the audience gets more evolved. They get entertainment through various platforms. So, how do you make your film stand-out and make them want to come and see it? Of course, the vital ingredients like combinations, star cast work well, but apart from that also when you break the communication, what is that one USP or factor that should make them look forward to the film? It’s very important to crack that correctly and send the right message across. So, we’ve worked on the marketing because at all times you have to cater to the audience. Why would they find it exciting, is what you need to communicate well. Of course, you can’t market the film well if it has nothing in it, but once you’ve got the film right, only the right projection will create a buzz and excite his fan-base.
What do you want people to take back from ‘Bharat’?
Ali: I want people to just smile through the film. The film is about relationships so I personally feel that sometimes we don’t value our relationships and this film is all about valuing our relationships. It’s a very simple beautiful film and it has everything that you want from a Salman Khan film.