'Why are we assuming that Muslim fans don't like watching a Hindu character? It is a wrong way to approach this film.'
'Salman has said on a public platform: If you are looking for negativity and hatred don't come for this film. (If) you want to watch love and unity, come for this film. That is our message to all fans who want to come and watch Bajrangi Bhaijaan.'
Kabir Khan tells Patcy N/ Rediff.com what Bajrangi Bhaijaan is all about.
Not many know that Kabir Khan, director of the soon-to-be-released Bajrangi Bhaijaan, started his career as a cinematographer for Discovery Channel, working on documentaries like Beyond the Himalayas and The Journalist and the Jihadi: The Murder of Daniel Pearl.
He later made his own documentary films -- The Forgotten Army (1999) and others -- before he made his first feature film Kabul Express in 2006 and New York in 2009.
That did not, for the director, make putting together his first mega starrer any easier, when he worked with Salman Khan and Katrina Kaif to produce Ek Tha Tiger.
It took Kabir Khan some time to get used to Salman's style; there were a lot of debates between the two. Working on Bajrangi Bhaijaan, by comparison was a "smooth ride" he says.
Kabir, who tends talk rapid fire fast, discusses the subject of the film, its shooting in Kashmir and working with Salman Khan. He also offers up his wish list of actors he would like to work with.
Why do all your films have something to do with a terrorist or terrorism? Why this fixation?
Actually, it is not terrorism.
I always try to put a strong political context, as a backdrop, in my films. In today's time and age, terrorism is something that is dominating our politics. My attempt is to put some sort of real context -- whether it is social or political -- in my story.
Audiences struggle (when they have) to watch a film which doesn't have context and is set in a vacuum. When I got the opportunity to start making films, I just decided that I would want to add strong context to my stories.
Ultimately it has to be about the human story. And (about) individuals, but if the backdrop is engaging and has an effect on the people in the foreground, then it becomes more interesting, at least for me as an audience.
Is it true that you auditioned 5,000 kids for the character of Munni in the film? What were you looking for?
The girl's character is the most important.
If we didn't get the character of Munni correct, this film won't work. I was very aware of that. I gave lots of time to Mukesh Chhabra, our casting director, to go and audition as many girls (as he could). So he ran auditions in Mumbai, Pune, Delhi, Chandigarh, Shimla and Kashmir. We even contacted people in Kabul and Tehran for child actors.
There was no checklist for what I was looking for. It wasn't like I was looking for a fair girl with brown eyes. I just wanted something special and magical in that girl. So we auditioned and shortlisted 10 girls and brought them to Mumbai and gave them a month's workshop. In that workshop we finally decided on taking on Harshaali Malhotra.
Did you get a legal notice for the title of the film? What are you doing about it?
I haven't got a legal notice. But I heard that some organisation, in some part of this country, (was) waking up and saying: "You cannot use the title of Bajrangi Bhaijaan." I totally don't understand their logic. I definitely am not going to give them any importance.
I think these are just people who want their five minutes of fame. Every time you attack a big film you get that fame. So I would rather not even talk about (them).
The only thing I would like to say is that anybody who says Bajrangi and bhaijaan cannot be used together, doesn't know (anything) about the greatness of this country. And does not understand the secular fabric that this country has had for centuries.
Don't you think a film showing Salman Khan as a Bajrangbali bhakt, on Eid, will offend his Muslim fans?
If fans are so fickle, insensitive and narrow minded, then they should be offended. But Salman's fans are not like that, because they know what Salman stands for.
In his life, he has stood for certain principles of secularism. He has celebrated every religion equally and he respects every religion. I don't think Salman is even interested in pandering to fans that are so narrow-minded. Neither am I.
Why are we assuming that Muslim fans don't like watching a Hindu character? It is a wrong way to approach this film.
Salman has said on a public platform: If you are looking for negativity and hatred don't come for this film. (If) you want to watch love and unity, come for this film. That is our message to all fans who want to come and watch Bajrangi Bhaijaan.
If you are looking for politics of hate, this film does not have it.
You shot for 40 days in Kashmir. Was there tension in the Valley when you were shooting there? What was it like to shoot there?
We had a brilliant time in Kashmir. This is what Salman and I have been saying over and over again. Our film industry needs to go back to Kashmir. Unless we go and support them, they will never come back to normal.
All these things that we read -- about incidents in the border areas -- that does not mean that the valley still has problems. We had no incident whatsoever.
We shot in Pahalgam, Sonmarg. We shot in so many small villages. We had a blast. Our entire crew had a great time. The kind of love and support we got from the people of Kashmir is what helped us make this film.
We want to say very strongly that we wish the people from our industry go more often to Kashmir and shoot.
One of the reasons why people were happy that we were shooting in Kashmir was that if a big star like Salman can shoot for 40 days, without any incidents, with no security issues, then anybody can go and shoot over there.
How was it shooting with Salman Khan? Is he fun? Moody? When you worked with him on Ek Tha Tiger how much faith did he have in you? How has it changed now with your second film?
He is not at all moody.
(During) the first film, it took us a lot of time to understand each other's style and sensibility. By the end of Tiger, we totally understood each other.
So for Bajrangi it was a very smooth process. We had become very good friends. We knew exactly the way we approached subjects, the way we looked at things. We were both in love with the story and the material we had in hand.
We started the shoot in November and finished in April. We shot non-stop in five different locations. If you see the logistics of the film, it was quite a fast start-to-end schedule. Still it was an enjoyable process.
Directors do have lucky mascots. So will you continue working with Salman?
I will only work if there is a story that excites both of us. We will definitely work together again. We keep discussing ideas and stories. The moment we agree upon some story, we will definitely work together.
Kareena Kapoor has already predicted that it will be a Rs 100 crore plus film. What are your expectations?
I am not looking at any numbers.
I think we have made a very good film. We are very happy with this film. I can see the buzz around us. It is even more that what we had for Ek Tha Tiger. So definitely, yes, it will find a big audience.
I feel audiences will really enjoy Bajrangi Bhaijaan. They will enjoy watching Salman in a very different kind of role. In the last 10 years he has not done this kind of character. That's why I have high hopes for Bajrangi. But I am not translating that into any kind of number expectation.
What will you be doing on July 17 when the film releases? How nervous are you?
I am not nervous. Because once you have made the film, you are confident of the film. You are not nervous.
Yes, you do have a certain kind of curiosity to see how people will receive our film and what they will say about our film and how it fares at the box office.
We are very happy with Bajrangi and we are confident that people will share our vision and enjoy it.
You are one of Bollywood's top directors today. How has life changed since you started out? How have you changed? How have the people around you changed?
I don't look at things like success and failure too seriously.
Fortunately, all my films have been successful. I am happy about that. But I don't take it too seriously. At some point, some film is bound to fail. It happens in everybody's life. I just approach my work with certain sense of honesty and integrity.
Yes, when you become very successful, people allow you to make the films that you want to make. Nobody questions you. That is a happy space to be in. But otherwise life is more or less exactly the same, like the way it use to be. There is no dramatic change.
(When) the films you are making are doing well, it means people are identifying with your vision. That gives a lot of happiness.
What do your kids think of Bajrangi Bhaijaan? Which of your films do they love most? Have you introduced your films to them?
They have seen bits and pieces of Bajrangi.
This is going to be their favourite movie because my daughter Shaira is exactly the age of Harshaali and they are friends now. So she is very excited about seeing her friend Harshaali on screen (more) than seeing her father's film.
Also, Bajrangi is more of a family entertainer, than most of my other films have been. So I think for the kids, definitely, this film is going to be more enjoyable.
I read an interview in which your wife Mini Mathur said you both have decided that you won't work together. Why?
We both have successful and very engaging careers of our own.
Mini is a very recognised face and a big name in the television industry. I have been making my films and been busy with them.
We are each other's biggest support and sounding board. If we need advice on each other's work, we are always there (for each other).
But we feel that we should not necessarily work together on any project. Firstly, we have never had time to work together. She has always been doing her own stuff. And me my own. We feel there is no point bringing your work home.
You can lose objectivity if you are working together. I would prefer her to be my sounding board, when I go back and want her advice. That would not be good if she is already involved in the (same) project.
Your wife is writing a script...
Yes, Mini is writing a script. Let's see how it works out. Let's see if she is happy with it or not. If she is happy, she will surely make it into film and will direct it.
If I am happy with the script, I will produce the film. If I am not, I will ask her to go to some other producer.
Why is Phantom delayed? You had started work on it before Bajrangi. Is Saif Ali Khan's low run at the box office affecting its release? Is it true you have put Phantom on hold for Bajrangi, so it won't release in August?
Yes, we started Phantom before Bajrangi.
Phantom was scheduled to release April 3. It was ready before Bajrangi. Phantom is a UTV film and UTV wanted to release Jagga Jasoos (on August 28). But they asked us to release Phantom then because it's the Rakhi week (Jagga Jasoos has been shifted once again, to November).
So we did not release it in April. We will release it August 28.
After we finish Bajrangi's release, we will start with the marketing of Phantom.
I hope Bajrangi will still running in theaters by the time Phantom releases. That will be a happy occasion for me.
How different is it to work with Kareena Kapoor, Katrina Kaif, Salman Khan and Saif Ali Khan? What are their styles as actors? How do they prepare before coming on the sets?
I have worked with John (Abraham) and Arshad (Warsi) as well. They all have different working styles and (ways of) approaching their characters. Some like to get really deep into a character.
Saif is somebody who likes to understand exactly what the character is all about. He wants as much background information as possible about the character. Salman is more spontaneous when he approaches his character.
Between Katrina and Kareena, Katrina spends more time with the character. She wants more background and more rehearsals, to be better (at it). Kareena is more spontaneous. Once you give her the brief, she likes to do it without (extra) rehearsals.
As a director it is fun to work with different styles. I like what the actor likes, because whatever works for the actor is fine by me. At the end of the day, they have to do it.
Once they give their first take, then I step in.
I don't like over-briefing my actors before the first take. I would like to see what they are bringing and what is their thought process. They might do something that I have not thought about. I don't want to stop that process by over briefing them and over directing them.
After the first take, I change something I want to change, and sometimes what they do is brilliant.
You've worked with the biggest Bollywood stars now. Whom do you want to work with next? Any plans to work with Shah Rukh Khan and Aamir Khan too?
I would love to. These are all superb actors and big stars. But ultimately we have to agree on a story. Bajrangi Bhaijaan happened because Salman and I shared a vision for a story. We really loved it and wanted to work together.
If there is a story that Shah Rukh or Aamir get excited about, and I like it too, then I would love to work with them. But it is the question of finding the right project. Shah Rukh and Aamir are two big stars of our country.
I would like to work with the newer lot too, like Ranbir Kapoor, who is very exciting. Ranveer Singh. I would love to collaborate with Hrithik.
Would we see you trying other genres? Like doing a slapstick comedy? Or a romantic film for that matter?
I don't believe in physical comedies so I don't think I will be excited about it.
I would love to do a romantic film. But again I will put some context into that romance. I can't do a love story set in a vacuum.
Who are your closest friends in the industry?
Arshad is a very close friend. I haven't worked with him after Kabul Express. We have both not been excited about anything together (since) so far. Arshad is one of the finest actors we have. I would like to work with him (again).
John has been an integral part of my career. He backed and supported me when I was at the start of my career.
Katrina has been close. We have been working (together) since New York. Not just close to me, but my family also. Salman is a very close friend today.
I had a great time with Saif, even though we have just done one film together. We got along really well.
I have a couple of ideas I am working on. But only after Phantom and Bajrangi. I want a break because I have done two films back to back.
For the last two years I have been shooting non-stop. So I need some space to clear out my mind, to get clarity of thought, to know exactly what I want to do. It is very important for a director, if you are working non-stop, otherwise you lose your clarity.
I am planning a vacation. I love traveling, definitely looking forward to traveling
Do you feel like going back to your documentary days?
I do. I really miss my documentary days. That is a completely different zone. Closer to reality. My documentaries are my raw material for all my films. That is something I do want to be in touch with.
Unfortunately, I haven't, in the last five years, had time to do it, because (choosing) the subject of a documentary, demands a lot of time and I have not got that kind of time. It is something that I keep thinking about and would love to get back to if it is possible.