Our editor, Tushar Joshi, had great interactive session with man behind this year's biggest blockbuster! Read on to find out what happened in there...
For a director whose film is breaking box-office records by the day, Ali Abbas Zafar is quite removed from the madness surrounding Sultan.
When I meet him at Yashraj Studios to chat about the film, he tells me he hasn’t read any reviews nor is he following box-office numbers. Ali, who isn’t new to the game, struck gold with Sultan and also made a friend and mentor in Salman Khan. Here are excerpts of a candid chat with him...
Sultan is Salman’s best reviewed film, talk to me about getting this performance out of him. How much of Sultan is you and how much of it is Salman?
I think it’s a mix of both. I am very happy that people are enjoying his performance and loving him. Throughout the film, the only thing that scared me was that I am one of the youngest directors working with him (‘I’m 33’, he tells me). Salman has so much experience and I am only two films old. And he is putting so much effort into the film. My only aim was that I should make a film which his fans watch, people watch and they say ‘Yaar, this director didn’t let Salman down’. Because that’s a huge burden on your shoulders. I know if he is doing Kabir Khan’s film, he will feel the same burden, but at least with Kabir, he has already done two films so he has kind of adjusted to it. For me, it was the first time. I went for Ek Tha Tiger’s schedule right after Mere Brother Ki Dulhan released and I was assisting him on one big action schedule. Kabir said, ‘You have a voice. Just voice it out to him’. And Salman was very welcoming. He never questioned my voice because he knew I had written this film for him and that there would definitely be something in my head that I had put this on paper. When he heard the script, he had no problem with it at all. Not even a single scene was changed. Obviously, there were additions that happened on set and if he says, ‘Let’s convert this line to Haryanvi’ because it would work then I would do it on the set.
How did you get to know Salman?
We understand each other at a very basic level. He knows that I am the most boring guy to be around for whatever reason. At times I had nothing to say to him and he had nothing to say to me. He used to come post lunch because he was working out in the first two hours of the day to be in that body shape and I used to narrate him the scene. There were a couple of scenes where we kind of had ifs and buts on the technique of executing it, but they were smooth transitions. I am fortunate enough that Salman gave me that space to do what I wanted. I think again my relationship was all heart, he was my older brother and I was his younger brother. There was no ego.
Everyone is talking about the scene where Salman shows his pot belly. Talk to me about the execution of that scene.
That was the only scene he was scared of on paper because he is known for a certain body type. His picture can be found in almost every gym in India. He is the Bible of bodybuilding, but he understood the character and he knew that it was the most important scene in the film for him. Till the time they see that character break down and crumble the audience won’t relate to him. Audience should feel that yeh Salman Khan hai, lekin yaar mujhe abhi toh Sultan dikh raha hai. There was only one take of that scene. I have shot it on two cameras. There is no cut in that scene. It’s a two minute single shot.
His reaction when he saw it on monitor ?
He didn’t see it.
He didn’t see it till he saw the film?
Yes. I messaged him at night when I saw it saying, I love you bhai. And he didn’t respond to that message, which is typical Salman Khan (laughs).
Will there be a sequel?
The kind of love it’s got right now from the audience I would not like to tamper with it. Till the time I find a story which is more evolved than this, I won’t do anything. Because it’s a sports film what is very important is that you need to have a philosophy and you cannot just make a sports film without a philosophy. And the philosophy here was that wrestling is not a sport, it is about fighting what lies within. Till the time there is a larger context that the character can go through, it’s not going to be rewritten or made into another part.
Was the SRK dialogue Salman’s idea?
No it was always there in the script. When I was doing research all through Haryana, I found all three Khans are very popular. And Shah Rukh even when we were growing up was famous for the fact that he is a romantic super hero. I remember that when we were in school watching Kuch Kuch Hota Hai and DDLJ, every girl from class used to say, ‘yaar, his eyes have magic.’ So that is a memory I had in my head and that is how the dialogue came to be. When I narrated it to SK, he was like should we do it or not? I told him, ‘It’s beyond all of that and it’s to do with the fact that girls swoon over Shah Rukh.’
Were you worried about the clash with Raees?
I definitely was. I was like if it gets avoided it is only good for both the films. I think everyone, whether it’s Adi, Shah Rukh, Salman, they are all friends and the game was never about ego. They had their reasons to push the film. And I am being appreciative of that. And even in the future you know I think that there is a certain capacity, there is a certain volume that box office has and no matter if two big films release on the same day, they both will have to compromise.
Anushka is a tomboyish girl. Most of the girls paired with SK are very classic like Kareena or Katrina. Because the film is set in a rural backdrop, the off pairing was going to make it look more believable. And now today when everyone talks about their chemistry, it’s because of that odd pairing. Even if they are talking about very filmy things you know, it sounds like haan theek hai yeh ladka aise bol sakta hai isse and the way Anushka responds to it, it’s like a normal conversation. And she has done a phenomenal job.
When his fans come and sit in the theatre, they would like for him to play to the gallery in certain scenes, they would like to see some songs where he dances in his own beautiful mad way. Also because it’s coming at a festival, that happiness should get multiplied. It is a long film but if I can’t hold length with Salman Khan then I can’t hold length with anyone else. Also, tomorrow if people come out of the film and say, ‘yaar it was little jumpy, rushed’ then I can’t do anything about it. I would rather say that ‘yaar it is a lengthy film but it’s a good film.’ And the way I was conceiving it I thought the idea is to create a Sherlock Holmes or a Rocky that when people come out of the film they should google and say did Sultan Ali Khan really represent India in Commonwealth? Did he really go to the Asian Games, did he represent India in the Olympics. That is why everything is very documented. Haryana State Championship looks real and I wanted a real crowd for the fights. I had to fight with Adi and production. He said so much crowd? Per day crowd cost is one crore, I said you know it’s a wrestling match and till the time that crowd chants Sultan he is not going to feel it.
How did you convince him to wear a langot and come out in front of 5,000 people
A real ambience is a real ambience. All the wrestlers he is fighting are real wrestlers, the coaches are real, when everything is real why should we just make it plastic. He then said yaar tumne itne log kyu bulaliye, inhe cancel karo. I said bhai I am not cancelling them, they will be here, we have spent money on them and they will be here for good eight days. And then I convinced him and finally he walked in a bath robe and he said agar ek aadmi Salman Salman chillaya toh main vapas chala jaunga. So I spoke to the coordinators, they explained it to everyone, he took off his bath robe, no one shouted, he was more comfortable. Then the second day anyway it was hot, so it was all fine.
Do you think it was unfortunate that attention from the film moved to other issues particularly Salman’s remark that became a controversy?
I feel it is unfortunate that it happened. I feel that because he is such a big star, you know he himself says that whatever he says kind of gets multiplied so much. Out of context and all of that. No one can explain because people have already made up their mind and it gets worse when you try to counter it. I had no idea because I was busy finishing the film and I woke up one morning with a message saying that this is trending and I switched on the TV and I was like it is there on every news channel. Obviously it kind of gives you a setback. You are at that point of time trying to make a film which is about women empowerment. You are trying to raise a question which is serious. There is an actor who has really put a lot of effort into the film. And when such a thing happens and people are questioning you and people are writing about it, you just feel like it’s okay, it’s just a learning experience I think because it has never happened before so for me also it was a first time learning experience.
Who are the actors apart from Salman that are on your wish list?
Honestly, I think anyone who is doing good here definitely has something to get excited about whether it is Ranveer, whether it’s Aamir, whether it’s Shah Rukh. You know for Aamir, Salman and Shah Rukh they are a dream to work with for any director.
From the younger lot who are you most excited for?
I love both my boys (Arjun and Ranveer).
You are partial now.
But I think Varun is very exciting and Tiger is great. Hrithik would again be very exciting to work with.
Will there be comparison between Dangal and Sultan?
Logically, I feel there shouldn’t be any comparison because they are two very different films. Dangal is a father-daughter film. Mine was a relationship between a girl and a boy.
Obviously, the common thing is sport. But then Raging Bull and Rocky both are about boxing but both have a different impact and both are done by top stars.
How do you plan on celebrating the film’s success?
The plan is that I am going to sleep for at least a week which I haven’t done in months.
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