Director Kabir Khan has come a long way.
After making two films (Kabul Express and New York), the filmmaker is ready with one of the most expensive and awaited movies of 2012 -- Ek Tha Tiger -- starring Salman Khan and Katrina Kaif.
While any other director would be nervous, Khan is calm and composed and says he is aware of the fact that the lead pair might overshadow his film.
In conversation with Sonil Dedhia, Khan talks about the expectations he has from the film, his experience of directing Salman, and what this film means for his career.
Ek Tha Tiger is one the most anticipated films of the year and is all set to release on August 15. Are you nervous?
Not at all. The film has been made and I am just enjoying the hype and the expectations. I am very confident and proud of the film. I am just laying back and enjoying the moment.
Has the feeling sunk in that you have directed such a huge film?
Obviously, for any filmmaker, if his film gets a lot of attention it's nice. But the attention should be for the right reasons.
I am happy today because I do know that the attention that I am getting today, apart from the fact that it's a superstar pair, is because people have reacted positively to my first promo.
It shows that the content is also speaking and it's not just the star's name.
'I haven't seen this kind of hype for any film before this'
You must have realised that with Salman Khan and Katrina Kaif both superstars, the film would be much hyped.
Honestly, no! When we conceived this project, we never thought it would be as gigantic as this.
This is pretty unprecedented for any film, not just mine. From the day we released our first promo, the kind of attention that Ek Tha Tiger has been receiving is unprecedented.
I haven't seen this kind of hype for any film before this.
Do you think half your battle is already won since you have a superstar lead pair which would guarantee you a good opening?
Of course, financially you do become safe. That's the plus of having a superstar pair in your film.
At the same time, a film can't survive just on its opening. Everyone is talking about the Rs 100 crore clubs. If Ek Tha Tiger's collections stop at Rs 100 crore, then people will say that the film is a disaster. Nobody is going to say that the film is a hit when it collects Rs 100 crore.
I am confident that the film will make more money. I would agree that there is a lot of anticipation, but my film is beyond all these records. I just want my film to be remembered by the audience.
'Ek Tha Tiger is completely in my comfort zone'
Salman and Katrina are coming together after a long time. Did you ever feel that their presence would become bigger than the film?
Initially, yes. When I had cast them I really was not looking at the baggage of pulling off a casting coup. Katrina was on board even before the script was complete. I had her in mind while writing the character of Zoya.
Once the film was written, we felt Salman was appropriate for the role hence we approached him. Both of them gave a nod to the film independent of each other.
But, yes, after we signed them, I knew there would be a lot of unwanted attention. But once the film is out, it will go beyond that. I honestly feel nothing is bigger than the film.
A lot has been written about Salman and Katrina's relationship. Did you worry about any baggage they would bring on the sets? And did they?
It worked to my advantage that they knew each other. They are both comfortable with each other.
For any two new individuals to come together for the first time, especially when they are playing lovers onscreen, it takes time to break the ice. But we got going from day one!
You have worked with stars before but when it comes to Salman Khan, the whole scenario changes. Did you have to move out of your comfort zone to make the film?
ETT is completely in my comfort zone. There is nothing in the film that I haven't done before. It is just that it is a bigger and a larger film.
Every script and story demands its own treatment and my film had to be on a big scale.
We have travelled across five countries and nine cities because the film unfolds in a certain manner that required travel to so many destinations.
'There are too many preconceived notions about Salman in this industry'
Did you ever feel the pressure of directing a superstar like Salman Khan?
No, not at all. In fact I believe that having a superstar has its advantage. I could make the film the way I wanted -- there wasn't any pressure of budget or trying to hold back in any situation.
When you have a superstar you are assured of a bigger budget and a bigger mandate. It's been a great asset to have Salman in the film.
The character Tiger is a legend in the world of intelligence so you need a persona like Salman's, which is larger than life in real life too.
Salman is known to be a tough taskmaster who works according to his rules. Did anyone warn you about working with him?
There are too many preconceived notions about Salman in this industry.
Maybe people did have certain experiences with him but I believe people react to different people in a different way.
I had a great time working with Salman. He brought a lot to the table. He went into the background of the film, wanted to know a lot about the backdrop etc. He loved the character and the story and that's the reason why he said yes. For me, it was a win-win situation.
It is said that Salman dictates terms on the sets.
Again, these are preconceived notions. Yes, he does give suggestions. And I'd have been in trouble if he didn't give suggestions because if your main star isn't creatively and intellectually involved in your film, then either he is brain dead or least bothered.
I don't understand why people call involvement and suggestions in a film 'interference' and 'laying down terms'. I think only a director who is very insecure or very creatively arrogant would call suggestions interference or diktats.
As a filmmaker, I appreciate taking suggestions from everybody on the sets. When you are directing a script you've written, you tend to be too close to the subject to see any flaws in it. It helps to get a second or third perspective. Ultimately, it's my prerogative and privilege to decide what goes into the film.
'Salman has a tremendous capacity for pain'
Salman is known for his over-the-top antics in his films, but in Ek Tha Tiger he looks completely different. Have you tried to reintroduce a superstar at the height of his glory in a totally new space?
The character is completely different from what Salman has played in his last four or five films.
I'll agree with you that he is at the height of his glory. With our film we have tried to reintroduce a superstar by presenting him in a new avatar.
Having said that, we have kept a good balance between Salman's larger-than-life appeal and my realistic approach towards scenes.
Salman's inherent charm and his personality, for which his fans love him so, come through. I would be stupid to take him and then not use anything that's made him so endearing to the audience.
Salman has a tremendous capacity for pain. We didn't lose a single day of the shoot. At a later stage we took extra care but we didn't tone down the action.
To be honest, in the initial part I think we pushed him beyond the desired point and keeping in mind his health conditions, it wasn't good.
He is very eager to do a lot of stuff himself. The action is very realistic in this film and he realised that he needs to do much more than he normally does in his films.
'I don't think anybody but Salman could pull off the film'
In a recent interview, Salman remarked that Ek Tha Tiger is going to be the start of Kabir Khan's career.
I believe what Salman meant was that this is the most high profile film I have made. It is one of the most expensive films, shot across three continents and five countries, with the biggest stars in the industry.
When I look back at it, it is like a starting point for making big commercial mainstream cinema. I agree with him to a certain extent that this is going to be a landmark film in my life.
It is definitely a very ambitious film but at the same time Kabul Express and New York are also very special for me.
Was Salman the obvious choice for the film?
When I was writing the film, I didn't have any male lead in mind. The moment we had written the whole film and as soon as the character was given the final shape, we decided that it had to be Salman. I don't think anybody else can pull off Tiger.
We needed a very larger-than-life star to play the role of a legend in the world of intelligence, which is the character of Tiger in the film.
On a lighter note, how many actors in the industry today can you call Tiger and not feel cheesy about it? Salman is the perfect choice.
Would you have made the film without Salman Khan?
Today, when I look at the film, I find it very difficult to think of someone other than Salman Khan to play the character of Tiger.
The way the film stands today I don't think I would have made it without Salman.
'The camera just loves Salman Khan'
How would you define Salman Khan?
The first thing that anyone would notice about Salman Khan is his sheer presence. The camera just loves the man. You look at him through the viewfinder in the camera and you will realise why the audience is so crazy about him.
His craft as an actor completely surprised me. His knowledge about the types of lenses, to the frame size or even adjusting the expressions according to the camera, is just amazing.
Which, according to you, is Salman's best work?
He has a huge body of work. In the recent past the film that I really enjoyed because of the way the story was told and the character that he played -- of Chulbul Pandey -- was Dabangg. The film was able to capture Salman's charm at its best.
'I might do another film with YRF'
You have shown the film to Salman's father, Salim Khan. What was his reaction?
He loved the film and that has made me even more confident. Salim Khan is so respected in our industry. As film students, we would study his screenplays. I purposely showed him the film well in advance so that if any change was required, I would have the time to do it.
He was so happy to see the film. After the screening he came up to me and hugged me. The next day he called me and said that he had thought about the film the whole night but couldn't think of any changes that were required.
You signed a three-film deal with Yash Raj films' banner, making Ek Tha Tiger your last. Where do you go from here?
I haven't taken that decision yet. I first want Ek Tha Tiger to release. I might do another film with YRF. (Aditya Chopra) has asked me whether I would want to direct another film. I will take a call on that after Ek Tha Tiger.I may want to do a film outside the banner, or I may not. YRF is family for me. I have done three films with them and I am sure there will be many films that will follow.