It was like a reunion for filmmaker Ali Abbas Zafar when he directed Tiger Zinda Hai that stars Salman Khan and Katrina Kaif. He had previously worked with both in Sultan and Mere Brother Ki Dulhan, respectively. Calling Tiger Zinda Hai a ‘mission film’, Ali says, “Though it’s a sequel to Ek Tha Tiger, the issue we’ve dealt with in the film is different. It’s something very relevant to what’s happening today. At the same time, it’s also a high-octane action thriller.”
Ali, who didn’t helm the original 2012 blockbuster, realises the stakes are high. “When making the sequel, you have to make sure to live up to the expectations of the audience, and at the same time, you have to give them something new. So, we’ve come up with an entirely new story and plot line. The film will have the elements that were loved in the first part, but also be a completely new story and have the sort of action that fans will love.”
The film is based on the 2014 abduction of Indian nurses by ISIL. Ali believes that such real-life incidents can result in great commercial films. “With the way cinema is evolving, we’re all trying to move towards realism. So in terms of attention to detail, we try to make sure that everything is as authentic as possible, including casting, language and even the cinematography. But we also have to live up to the promise we’ve made in promoting the film that it will be something the audience has never seen before,” adds Ali.
But considering today’s scenario, isn’t it a challenge to make a film on sensitive topics such as terrorism? “Well, I think in today’s world, making a big film is a challenge on its own (laughs). Obviously when dealing with something sensitive, one has to be cautious about how it’s going to boomerang. But as a filmmaker, I only work on films that I’m 100 per cent convinced about,” says Ali.
The director heaps praises on the film’s lead Salman. “It was a good experience to work with Salman again, and to be honest, it was better than our earlier experiences. During Sultan, we were still getting to know each other. This time, we knew about our strengths and weaknesses; so it was easier to work together. He has been of great support and has put in a lot of hard work. His contribution to the film is immense.”
Ali is also working with Katrina after six years. “She’s a different girl altogether. She was a part of my first film, a goofy rom-com. Now, six years later, she has worked with big directors and done a wide range of work. I think she’s really found herself as an actor and a performer.” Ali is in awe of the effort Katrina has put in for her character. “We had people who trained her and she learned to think like a spy — how to carry out a mission, how to react when thrown into a situation, what will happen if you’re in a hand-to-hand combat... People will her body language different and I think she is as strong as Tiger in the film,” adds Ali.
Though Sultan was a sports drama, it had a high dose of emotion, I begin. Ali interrupts: “Even Tiger is strong on emotion. You’ve only seen the trailer and it’s filled with action sequences, but when you see the whole picture, you’ll know that the film itself is derived from human emotions and it’s a thread that runs through the film.” Sultan was a huge hit and Tiger Zinda Hai is also made on a huge budget. “There’s pressure, but as a director, I have to make sure that the film is highly anticipated. The good thing is that, as news about the film comes out and people start talking about it, as a director you get motivated to push your best work forward. It’s a good game and I enjoy it.”
I couldn’t help but ask him about the Malayalam film, Take Off, which was also based on the ordeal of the Indian nurses in Iraq. “I haven’t seen it yet, but I’ve heard good things. As soon as Tiger releases, it’ll be the first film I’ll be watching,” says Ali.
The trailer of Tiger Zinda Hai became the most liked film trailer on YouTube last month with one million likes, surpassing Star Wars: The Force Awakens — a record that Avengers: Infinity War later broke. Ali believes that the bridge between Bollywood and Hollywood is narrowing by the day. “When the content works, automatically, the gap shortens. The way the film’s packed with action and global issues is the strength of our trailer.”