Kabir Khan's tryst with camera began with a documentary for the Discovery channel, Beyond The Himalayas, in 1996. He went on to direct few more documentaries before making his Bollywood debut with Kabul Express in 2006. And that's exactly where, Kabir claims, his love for realism roots from.
In conversation with Hindustan Times, the talk-of-the-town director discusses his filmmaking, Katrina Kaif-Saif Ali Khan-starrer Phantom and more.
Kabir admits that his 2012 film Ek Tha Tiger with Salman Khan was nowhere close to reality. Phantom, he insists, is. "As opposed to Ek Tha Tiger, which was a glamourised peek into the world of intelligence agents, Phantom is more real. It does not have the usual trappings of 'spies'. This is more about the people involved. It's a little different, and that's because it is based on facts."
Katrina Kaif and Saif Ali Khan in a still from Phantom.
Reacting to the general feeling that Phantom trailer seems too jingoistic, Kabir says, "The moment you talk about 26/11, everything is jingoistic. Even a TV debate sounds jingoistic and that's because emotions on the incident run really deep. That's how people feel. But once you see the film, you'l realise Phantom is definitely not about Pakistan bashing. My body of work stands testimony to the fact that I never do that. It is certainly not possible that a whole country is responsible for something as hateful as terrorism. But there is a group of people who unfortunately live in that country. And that's a clear distinction I have made in the film. Phantom highlights the plight of common man suffering because of terrorism on both sides of the border," he says.
"What makes Phantom different from other mission based films, is the amount of emotional drama there is in this film. And not just the main characters. Even the smaller characters have an emotional journey unto themselves and that forms major part of the narative," he adds.
Phantom also marks the Bollywood debut of veteran filmmaker Shekhar Kapur's younger sister Sohaila. Kabir says that Sohaila Kapur (Shekhar's sister) plays an integral role in the film. "Her emotional arc is very important to the film. This is the first time she is coming on screen, she has done lot of theatre in Delhi. I guess, for any character to move forward, true emotion is very essential," he says.
A topic as sensitive as the 26/11 Mumbai attacks must be dealt with cautiously. And to be on the safer side, Kabir says, he relied on Hussain Zaidi, author of Mumbai Avengers, the book that forms the base of Phantom's storyline. "We could not go wrong with any facts dealing with an incident like the Mumbai attacks. But the reason I picked up the subject was Hussain Zaidi. He brings the credibility required for such sensitive topics. Hussain bringing that idea of the film to me gave me a lot of courage," Kabir says.
Talking of his insecurities as a director, Kabir says that the most challenging scenes are the ones that involve human emotions. "The action sequences are just about logistics and by now, we know how to take care of those. The challenge for any director is a scene that has the actors' performances at the core. The ones that seem to be the easier scenes are actually the most difficult. You see two people in a room, and possibly the filmmaker is recording with just one camera but the crucial part is whether the actors will get the emotion the director wants, the way he or she wants to present the whole sequence."
To a question on the kind of films he makes and the ones he loves watching, Kabir says, "I've always struggled to see films second a vacuum or with absolutely no context. Not that I hate them but I have never been able to enjoy those kind of films. Anytime there's a film with a context, I've enjoyed it. A Mani Ratnam film is something I have always cherished. I love films by Mani Ratnam and Raju Hirani. Munnabhai was one of the most political films ever made. It's not about hard politics that parties play out, but about the social implications. Guru Dutt and Raj Kapoor always had social commentaries in their movies."
"So when I got a chance to make mainstream cinema, I thought let me follow the path because every director makes films he or she wants to watch..there is no other person we know any better," he adds.
Read: Phantom has been a learning experience, says Katrina
Read: Is anti-Pakistan sentiment no longer a Bollywood gimmick?