'Preparation is not something Salman will admit to because I think it's not "cool" enough to do that.'
'This is the first time I saw him prepare for a role.'
'This is the first time I saw him struggling to get a hold of this character.'
Kabir Khan collaborates with Salman Khan for the third time after Ek The Tiger and Bajrangi Bhaijaan, both huge blockbusters.
Kabir promises that Tubelight, their latest film, is far more complicated and will see Salman in his toughest role so far.
Set against the backdrop of the 1962 India-China war, the film also stars Sohail Khan, Chinese actress Zhu Zhu and the adorable Matin Rey Tangu.
Kabir Khan tells Rajul Hegde what to expect from the film.
Has he changed in any way?
I see an evolution in his approach.
In Ek Tha Tiger, he was brazen.
In Bajrangi Bhaijaan, I saw him getting involved with the character.
Bajrangi came easily to him because we were tapping into his inherent charm.
He is a very charming person when he wants to be.
Tubelight is far more complicated.
It is one of his toughest roles till date. He plays a man child, so he can never look normal or over-the-top.
Was it difficult to convince Salman to play such a vulnerable character?
I think the journey started when he decided to take up Bajrangi Bhaijaan, which was an antithesis of what he had been doing since the past eight, nine years. And it was successful.
Ek Tha Tiger was one of our most successful action films.
We could have easily done another film in the same genre; it would have been a safe bet.
But he suggested that we try something different.
With the commercial success that Bajrangi Bhaijaan achieved, we realised that the audience is open to different cinema.
I often say that it is the industry that actually limits itself by saying 'Yeh audience ko nahi chahiye (the audience does not want it)'.
But the audience wholeheartedly accepts anything that is new, refreshing and has a good story.
The story is the king today. It is bigger than the stars.
For Salman, it's not the character that matters, but what the character stands for; what values the character is sending out to the audience.
Even though content is king, won't a star like Salman change the dynamics of a film?
Yes, it changes, as your opening becomes bigger and the expectations also increase.
If Tubelight stops at 200 crore, it would have made money, but you guys won't be impressed.
Our audience has proved that content is king.
There have been films with superstars, which have not delivered the business they were supposed to.
The stars of Baahubali were not big names in Bollywood; we didn't know them that well.
We knew (director S S) Rajamouli, so if anybody is the star of that film, it's the director.
Even Dangal was more about the girls.
I told Salman that he was a supporting actor in Bajrangi Bhaijaan; it's Harshaali's (Malhotra) film. The audience took to these films in a huge way.
How much have you and Salman influenced each other?
Sometimes I get stuck in the rut of finding logic and context to everything.
Both Salman and Aditya Chopra would tell me to 'just sometimes fly'.
They would tell me to take cinematic liberties and not get disturbed by it.
This has definitely helped me.
Salman has helped me sometimes in maybe approaching a scene with more flair and throwing some logic outside the window -- but not making it completely illogical.
Earlier, I used to argue and would not let it go.
What I have contributed to Salman is the reverse of this.
I have told him that 'Dude, it does matter after a period!'
It's the blending of the two sensibilities that has worked well.
He allows me to fly a little, but I don't allow him to fly too much.
What preparation did Salman undergo to play a man-child in Tubelight?
Preparation is not something Salman will admit to because I think it's not 'cool' to do that.
This is the first time I saw him prepare for a role.
This is the first time I saw him struggling to get a hold of this character.
He would call me in the middle of the night saying 'Arre, koi reference de (Give me a reference for the character)' and I would say, 'Main kahan se reference doon? Reference hi nahi hai (What reference can I give you when there is no reference?)'
He would ask for a reference from Hollywood, and I would still say, 'nahi hai (it ain't there).'
There was one person who he knew who was probably close to this character, so he met him.
He would keep asking about the character, that was his preparation.
Just sitting and thinking about the character much more than I have ever seen him do.
Even today, he usually goes by instinct.
Why did you choose to adapt Little Boy?
There's something about the story that I really like.
After Ek Tha Tiger, I was offered the remake rights of a lot of Hollywood blockbusters.
I was so excited, as I thought my next 10 years were taken care of!
For two months, I went through the scripts and could not pick up even one film.
I suddenly realised that none of them fit into the Indian context properly.
Some of them were subsequently made by other filmmakers and they didn't work.
I feel it's very difficult to take a story from other culture and have it seamlessly fitted into your culture and context.
One day, out of the blue, one of my assistants told me to watch a film on the teachings of the Bible.
I watched it and found that apart from the Bible aspect, there was something about the story that I really liked.
I could see this film set in my context even better than the original.
So, we called up the filmmakers and told them that we wanted to adapt their work, not remake it.
They were happy to sell us the rights.
Little Boy wasn't a hit. Was that an area of concern?
Just because a film is a blockbuster in Hollywood doesn't make it perfect for Indian audiences.
We are two different cultures. If you force something to fit into your culture, it will never work.
What attracted me was the story point of the film.
Shah Rukh Khan has a cameo. What was the camaraderie like between Salman and him on the sets?
These days, they are close friends. There was a lot of warmth and affection.
I have known Shah Rukh for a long time.
He was only person I knew when I landed in Bombay. I didn't know anybody in the industry except him because we studied in the same college.
He was my senior and I have studied from his notes.
I knew Gauri too. We have danced together in a stage production.
When we asked him to come on board, he instantly agreed.
That day, the entire crew became an audience because both of them are powerhouses.
To see them together after 20 years will be a treat.
Whether you like the film or not, you will love the scene featuring them.
Tell us about your leading lady, Zhu Zhu.
She is a very strong and integral part of Tubelight.
I would like the audience to discover her in the film.
I don't want to demystify her before the film.
I don't want to demystify Matin Re Tangu either.
He's such a bundle of joy.
Matin has got a great response.
I expected that. He is unbelievable.
There are some people who enter a room and own it in five minutes.
He is one of them.
That's why we introduced him at an event.
Imagine that Salman Khan was on stage, but you were only watching Matin.
Tubelight is set during the 1962 War. Yet, you say the film is very contemporary and fits into what is happening today in the country.
I don't think I would have been attracted to the story if it was limited to 1962.
The reason I was drawn to it was that it is based in 1962, but it's so relevant today.
The war is a backdrop in the film.
Tubelight is dedicated to the families of the soldiers.
It is the battle they fight when their loved ones go to war.
Within five minutes you will forget that this film is set in 1962 and see how relevant it is today.