Ali Abbas Zafar on Bharat: ‘Salman Khan told me to watch Ode To My Father right after Sultan, I said I can’t remake it’
Ali Abbas Zafar says Salman Khan insisted that he should watch Korean movie Ode To My Father right after they finished Sultan. When he watched it, he realised he could not remake it.Updated: May 10, 2019, 19:28 IST
Director Ali Abbas Zafar’s third film with Salman Khan is markedly different from the first two. In Bharat, a remake of the 2014 Korean film Ode To My Father, Zafar attempts to tell the story of one man against the backdrop of modern India and its major socio-political changes.
Zafar spoke to Reuters about Bharat and what it takes to make a hit Salman Khan film, and why the 52-year-old film star remains relatable to younger moviegoers.
How tough was this film to make?
I would say that on paper, this is my toughest film. Because I am not dealing with just one time frame – I had to go through the 40’s, 50’s 60’s, 70’s – all these periods in time – it was like making six films.
It is set in chapters and talks of each decade as a story, so each of those time frames has a middle, beginning and an end. To re-create it and make it look authentic was a different ballgame altogether. Today, with the quality of films going up so drastically, you cannot do a sub-standard job and get away with it. When you make something, it must look real and on par with any international project. We took a year to get the research right, the costumes referenced and for the sets to be raised.
Your film is based on the Korean film Ode to my Father, but the two countries haven’t had very similar histories in terms of how they progressed after independence. How did you find similarities?
When Salman asked me to watch the film, right after Sultan, I told him that I would not be able to do a remake. He said ‘just watch it.” I did, and found that there was something magical about the subject. I went back to him after two weeks and told him that if I make this film, it’ll have to go into a complete rewrite and it won’t remain Ode to my Father. Because our socio-cultural scenarios, our politics, history, is all very different from theirs. And if Salman is starring in the film, then I would have to write a character which would suit him.
So it went into a severe rewrite, and now when you look at it, they are two very different films. The basic story is still the same, which is a family being displaced because of political chaos. The film’s driving force is the emotion – a promise to his father and how he keeps it all his life.
This is your third straight Salman Khan film. What is the trick to making a hit film with him?
Whenever I take a script to him, I feel that I have to write a character that is larger than his on-screen and off-screen persona. Something that, when he steps into it, looks bigger than he does.
When I wrote Sultan, the character was customised for him, but it has its own weight. Same with Tiger Zinda Hai-it is Salman Khan, but he is not just fighting for love anymore – he is saving 59 nurses.
That is my ground rule, that when he sees the script, he should feel, “yes, my audience will like it and I will have to push myself a little extra since my last film.”
Why do you think there is a marked difference in the kind of choices he has made in the last six or seven years? It is no longer about him taking his shirt off at the end of the film.
According to me, there is a very evolved actor in him, which people don’t see because of his persona. Many times, there is a perception about him that he is moody or scary, but that is not true at all. This is a man who has sustained himself for 30 years in this industry because he is a good actor and enjoys the craft.
The changes have happened because those stories have come to him, and the people he is working with have seen that side of him. He also must have been bored with taking off his shirt in all his films. Actors are like kids and scripts are like toys. Every time they get something that gives them something new, but is still in their comfort zone, and they trust the person who makes them do it, they jump at the chance.
Salman Khan is 52 years old. What makes him so relatable to younger audiences?
What makes him relatable is his don’t-care attitude. He can go on a talk show and say what he wants, without caring about what people will think. People relate to his off-screen persona a lot. Audiences go in and they like the film. If you like it, irrespective of your age, you relate to him. You have to hit that taste.
How do you ‘hit that taste’?
You have to be educated about what is happening around you, with the reality of the country you are living in, and your craft has to match international standards. So that when an 18-year-old who has just watched Avengers comes and watches your film, he says the VFX, the action, it is all on par with the best in the world. And at heart, he has to find a story that is about him and his land.
Films are like food – we all need it. If you make good dal-chawal (lentils and rice), you will always find takers. Because that is soul food for our audiences.
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