Filmmaker Ali Abbas Zafar: Everything I am today, I owe it to Kirori Mal College

Director of blockbusters such as Sultan (2016) and Tiger Zinda Hai (2017), Ali Abbas Zafar says his foundation was laid in Delhi University, where he was exposed to different people and cultures.

bollywood Updated: Apr 26, 2018 13:00 IST
Etti Bali
Etti Bali
Hindustan Times
Ali Abbas Zafar,Tiger Zinda Hai,Sultan
Ali Abbas Zafar posing for Hindustan Times at an event in Delhi.(Manoj Verma/HT)

It is a hot and quiet evening in Delhi, as we catch up with filmmaker Ali Abbas Zafar at an awards ceremony that recognises the best of management talent. But Zafar is not new to the heat or the hustle synonymous with the Capital. Dressed in a chic half jacket with rolled-up shirt sleeves and tan moccasins, he is as comfortable rubbing shoulders with management mavericks, as he is with Bollywood superstars.

“It’s always good when you get an award which is not a film award,” he says about the honour that he has received for his film Tiger Zinda Hai (2017). “It makes you feel that your work has been recognised and you’re contributing something to the nation. It is a special award in that respect,” he says.

Message to the CWG 2018 Indian wrestling contingent

The filmmaker, who was quite hands-on with wrestlers during the making of his Sultan (2016), has always been a fan of the sport. “It has always been a great sport — I have always been a fan of wrestling. It has its roots in India in terms of our history and mythology,” he says. Gladdened no end by the impressive showing of the 12-member Indian wrestling contingent at the recent Commonwealth Games 2018, with a medal for each of its members, Zafar says, “They’re the real heroes of the country. For them to perform so well internationally is uplifting for wrestlers in the country, and other sports.”

DU Days: The beginning

Zafar, who is from Delhi University, holds college as his driving force so far. “Everything I am today, I owe it to Kirori Mal College (KMC) and The Players (the college’s dramatics society),” he says. “They are your formative years; where all your vision, your belief system kicks in,” he says, adding that the diversity of campus space, and the multicultural nature of the university contributed to his worldview. “It’s also a very cosmopolitan university, so you get students from everywhere. It is a place that balances you out in terms of who you are. You come to a neutral ground where you understand ki yaar aap jahaan se aate hain sirf wahi Hindustan nahin hai; it is a big country and [DU] makes you understand people really well,” shares Zafar.

Abbas Ali Zafar’s Sultan (2016) dealt with wrestling, a sport that is close to the filmmaker’s heart.

Hangout hotspots

His face lights up when he takes this trip down memory lane. “There used to be a Chacha ke Chole Bhature in Kamla Nagar Market. We hung out a lot in D-school canteen (Delhi School of Economics). They used to have great south Indian food there, and jellies,” he says.

Mumbai Calling

After having been bitten and smitten by the filmy bug, Zafar’s next pitstop was Mumbai. But nothing is rosy in the world that views everything in technicolour. “It has been a very tough time. Like anyone else who doesn’t have any so-called plugs or strings in any industry, will go through those times. But I think, as an individual, you have to be persistent. You have to feel that what you believe in can actually happen for you,” he says. He came to Mumbai in 2005, and recalling his days of struggle, he says, “The first five-six years were tough, and I faced a lot of setbacks. But that’s life, everyone goes through that. You need to take it in your stride. There are so many examples in real life— sportspersons, ministers, bureaucrats — all have gone through tough times.”

Zafar’s last film, Tiger Zinda Hai (2017), grossed close to ₹500 crore at the box office.

Big guns and greater expectations

His debut film, Mere Brother Ki Dulhan (2011) was a hit, but with Gunday (2014), he cemented his reputation as a commercial film specialist, which was then affirmed by the raging success of Sultan. How does Zafar handle success? I understood one thing very early on that the most temporary thing in life is success. Till the time you have it, you keep your head down, be grounded and keep working hard. I think that’s the only thing that works for you. We all work hard to achieve something that we want to, but at times there are a lot of factors that play in, like destiny and time. I feel that you are not the sole hero of your life,” he says.

#Bharat#A journey of a man and Nation together @beingsalmankhan

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Bharat, Bhai and Desi Girl

With Sultan and Tiger Zinda Hai, Zafar has delivered two back-to-back blockbusters, films that made close to ₹500 crore at the box office. What’s he working on, next? “Next up, is Bharat, with Salman Khan. It’s going to come out next year on Eid. It is a very special film, as the title itself suggests. My responsibility just increases with that one,” he says. Bharat also stars Priyanka Chopra.

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First Published: Apr 26, 2018 12:59 IST