The one thing 43-year-old Sohail Khan hears the most often is that Jai Ho will definitely get an initial and make lots of money. “I find that attitude just irresponsible; then I am just riding on Bhai’s popularity. But I want to add to his persona,” he says.
Sohail maintains that Jai Ho will do exactly that. A remake of the 2006 Telugu blockbuster, Stalin, that starred Chiranjeevi, the film, Sohail says, has the “right balance of a message and entertainment befitting the stature of its leading man”. “When a megastar like Chiranjeevi or Salman is cast, you are promising the audience a certain level of entertainment. The film needs to have a balance. What attracted me to remaking the film was the nobleness of the character.”
It was Salman who chanced upon the film and suggested that Sohail watch it. “We were on the lookout for subjects after Sher Khan was put on the backburner. The pre-production for Sher Khan was just taking too long. Bhai saw the film on TV, I think. He called and said, ‘this film has a lovely thought’. I also really liked it. I started working on ‘adapting’ the script. After about three weeks, we had locked in on the subject.”
Directing elder brother and megastar Salman comes with it’s own set of pressure points. “When you sign Salman Khan, the film has to justify his image. Let me give you an example. Ek Tha Tiger was a really intelligent Salman film. Today, there is no one who can tell Salman not to love someone, so Kabir made it an India-Pakistan issue. In a film, even the issues and situations that plague Salman’s characters have to be larger-than-life. See, Salman has proved himself over the last 25 years, so it’s upto the director and screen-writer to take him one step forward. But I don’t look at this as a pressure point but as a responsibility of any director who worked with stars like Salman, Shah Rukh, Aamir or even Hrithik.”
With Jai Ho, Sohail says, he is giving exactly what a Salman Khan fans wants to see. “The audience wants to go watch a larger-than-life, no-brainer Salman Khan film. So, it’s a demand from the audience and we are just supplying what they want.” On the list of directors he admires, Sohail puts Imtiaz Ali and Raju Hirani right at the top. “They have been able to balance films that are thought-provoking and entertaining. This is a very tough balance to strike. It’s very easy to go wrong while trying to thread the fine line between these two genres. So, when you find a subject like Jai Ho, you grab hold with both hands and don’t let go,” he says with a laugh.
Coming from a family so deeply entrenched in Bollywood means that Sohail has the luxury of drawing on the experiences of his illustrious father Salim Khan and his brothers Arbaaz and Salman. “It’s not just with work but also in our regular life where all of us are constantly sharing advice and ideas. But the ultimate decision lies with the individual. So, even when work is concerned, dad would give his inputs as would Arbaaz. There is no hard and fast rule about sharing scripts. There are times you do a joint narration with everyone but if dad’s busy, I’d sit with him separately. We are all very open to suggestions. We believe that if someone you love has an input, it should be given a fair hearing because that person only has your good interests in mind. As a family, we don’t think of this as interference but as a fresh perspective.”
It’s been 12 years since Sohail last directed, but it didn’t take him long to get in the groove while making Jai Ho. “I believe that every director creates a particular world in a film. If you see that work clearly, it doesn’t matter if it’s your first film or a film after 20 years. Also, while a director walks off with a lot of credit for a film, people don’t realise that his work is made so much easier if he has great technicians around him. I only had to concentrate on creating strong characters. Luckily, I managed to cast the actors who I had visualised while I was writing the screenplay.”
Actor, director, producer—Sohail has worn many hats since he started his Bollywood career almost 17 year ago, but now he insists acting will take a backseat. “If something really exciting comes my way I’ll think about it, but I am excited about making the films that I want to make. I am going to continue focusing on direction and producing.”