With Salman, What You See is What You Get: Ali Abbas Zafar
Sultan director Ali Abbas Zafar talks about why working with Salman was a dream come true.
A lot is at stake when you are at the helm of a Salman Khan film. Ali Abbas Zafar, the director of the much awaited Sultan, talks to The Quint about how nerve wracking the wait is and a lot more.
Q: Ever since Sultan’s first look rolled out, there’s been so much excitement around the release of the Salman-Anushka starrer. Is it nerve wracking?
Ali: When there’s excitement about the film it is unnerving for the director because he is the first person who gets judged. Many times Salman jokingly tells me, “Tum dekh lo apna, main apni doosri film ke like ja haha hoon...” ( Laughs). But it’s all good when the film comes out setting high expectations. The amount of hard work Salman has put into this film is commendable. When an actor puts so much commitment into a project, I mean he buzzed his hair, got into a different body shape at the age of 50, which he shouldn’t have done because it is very taxing on the body. He also had health issues for that. In the film he’s 100 kg at one point of time. Then he drops to 92 kg for a portion, and then suddenly to 80 kg for another part. He learnt the language too.
But I know I am answerable only to two people – my producer Aditya Chopra, as he has given me all that budget to make this film, and Salman Khan, who has done each and every thing I asked him to do for the film. Many people ask me what Salman Khan is to you and I tell them, ‘He’s the most honest actor that I’ve worked with, because what you see is what you get.’ He will not promise you something and come on set to deliver something else.
Q: Shooting a sports-action flick with Salman Khan has to be a dream come true. Isn’t it?
Ali: My action team is from Los Angeles and they’ve executed a lot of Mixed Martial Art (MMA) sequences, and have worked with the biggest superstars in Hollywood. They are very professional. When they came and met Salman, he underwent two and a half months of MMA training, which was amazing to watch. They came up to me while having dinner one day and said, “He is just too good. When we read about him on the internet, we thought he would be very moody and will have a lot of tantrums”. But Salman was so good with them. They also told me that “we have worked with Sylvester Stallone, Van Damme, Matt Damon and all the big action heroes in Hollywood, and he is much better than them”.
When you’re a star of such stature, people expect you to be different. But the first thing Salman will ask anyone he meets is, ‘Khana khaya? Aajao, khatein hain’. This is how he starts his conversations with others. Even with me, our conversations would be him asking me how my parents are doing, if everything is fine? What I want to do in life etc. That’s the kind of person he is and this is what makes him special.
Q: Speaking of Aarfa, why did you take so long to freeze on Anushka Sharma?
Ali: For the longest time, we were looking for a new girl to play Aarfa. We must have auditioned 60-70 girls for the part, because I always thought that a new girl would bring freshness to the film, at the same time she will not have any date hassles. We couldn’t find one. Then I thought about Anushka. I had worked with her as an assistant on Badmash Company and has proved herself as an actor. I was always very clear that I need a very strong actor to pull off this role. I narrated the script to her and she identified with the part. I always tell her that if not an actor, you would have been a sportsperson, because you’re a very bad loser.
Q:You had Salman while penning down Sultan’s character. Do you usually write with an actor in mind?
Ali: Sultan is the first script that I’ve written with an actor in mind. Apart from that, Mere Brother Ki Dulhan and Gunday were written without any actor in mind. When I write, I don’t necessarily limit myself to thinking about a particular actor doing that part. It’s not a good practice, because if that actor turns it down, you wouldn’t be left with anything. When I write, I write with the thought that this is the character that I want to create and this is the best story I can narrate.
Q: How did the transition from making a romantic comedy to directing an intense sports drama happen?
Ali: I was playing a lot of sports while growing up and even in college in Dehradoon and Delhi. When you start making films, there is always a favourite genre that you want to make. But my first film was a romantic-comedy, as I wanted to play safe, so that it’s a hit at the box office. Post that I made a period action because I love the action of the 70s and the 90s. After that I got more confidence to do something which is close to me, and the genre we’ve grown up watching was Rocky, Raging Bull…I wanted to do a sports drama which is about an Indian sport, that’s why wrestling. The sport has been played from the time of the Mahabharata, and for many years our wrestlers have been making us proud, but are not highlighted as much because of the so called ‘cool sports’ getting all the limelight.
When you watch Sultan, you’ll realise that it is a very hopeful film, which is a parallel between sports and life. While playing a sport, you always fall but you cannot play till the time you rise up in life.
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