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'Tiger Zinda Hai' has a strong story to tell, says director Ali Abbas Zafar

Ali Abbas Zafar (white) with Katrina Kaif and crew members

Ali Abbas Zafar (white) with Katrina Kaif and crew members  

The weight of directing the second edition of a huge film (the 2012 project Ek Tha Tiger) sits heavily on Ali Abbas Zafar’s shoulders, even though he talks about moving away from the pressure and approaching it with the enthusiasm of seeking new adventures from a Salman Khan film. “There’s a thin line between meeting expectations and not being able to. This has been a different kind of pressure compared to Sultan,” he tells us.

Before he turned a filmmaker, Zafar was studying biochemistry in Delhi. He was in the process of finding his calling. He remembers, “Back then, if someone had told me I’d be directing Salman Khan, I would have laughed. As a biochemistry student, maybe I would have hoped to do a blood test for him!” But eventually, he joined theatre, worked as an assistant director and went on to become a Yash Raj Films’ talent.

Inspired by true events

The premise of Tiger Zinda Hai is inspired by the real-life rescue operation of 46 nurses taken as hostages by ISIS in Iraq in 2014. The critically-acclaimed Malayalam film Take Off starring Fahadh Fazil and Parvathy has dealt with it already. Reportedly, the makers of the Malayalam film shelved the idea of a Hindi remake after the trailer of Tiger Zinda Hai was unveiled. Zafar avers, “I haven’t watched Take Off but have heard so many good things about the film. In 2014 when I was waiting for Salman’s dates to begin Sultan, I read about the Iraq incident. The stories of those nurses are hugely inspirational. I felt the need to write something based on it.” Tiger Zinda Hai, he maintains, is a larger-than-life Bollywood fiction, “I researched for six to eight months and wrote a fictional account. I didn’t contact the real people involved because if I do, I’d feel compelled to include other narratives. If real stories have to be retold, I’d have had to do it in a different way.”

The spies Rathore (Tiger) and Zoya, Zafar says, became a part of the story much later. He had written the story involving an Indian and Pakistani spy. When Yash Raj mooted the franchise to director Kabir Khan’s Ek Tha Tiger, Zafar saw the potential of those characters in his story. “I’ve tried to present this story from the point of humanitarian issues that cut across religion and race. We’ve looked at the emotional side, without making political statements,” he says. Added to this, Zafar was keen on a sleek action thriller “on the lines of MI series and other Hollywood films that deal with spy operations.”

Sense of purpose

The five year gap between Ek Tha Tiger and Tiger Zinda Hai, he feels, allowed for a matured approach in the bond between Tiger and Zoya, “Ek Tha Tiger had its priorities in romance. Tiger Zinda Hai has a strong story to tell and Salman and Katrina are more agent-like and walk with a sense of purpose in my film.”

Since this is his second project with Salman, the camaraderie on sets was a step ahead, says Zafar, “I share a great rapport with Salman and Salim uncle. And it’s been hugely liberating to work with a producer like Adi (Aditya Chopra) who is my sounding board.”

On his own evolution as a filmmaker, he reflects that he wants to “get better at the craft with each film.” When the stakes are high and the giddy world of Bollywood threatens to get the better of him, Zafar looks back at his Dehradun days when he would watch films purely out of the love for the magic that unfolds on the large screen. “As a ticket-buyer, I had no bias. I hope I can continue to analyse scripts in that manner,” he signs off.

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Printable version | Sep 30, 2020 11:40:07 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/movies/ali-abbas-zafar-on-tiger-zinda-hai-strong-story-to-tell/article21379753.ece

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