The Hindi film industry has often portrayed very strong women characters through its cinema, but most of its superheroes still tend to be men. Ali Abbas Zafar is out to shatter that mould. The director’s next film Super Police stars Katrina Kaif where she plays a superhero. He has also been in the news when he announced Mr India 2, which he states is nothing similar to the original except for a few names that will be repeated. Manju Ramanan speaks to the acclaimed director who has worked closely with Salman Khan in Bharat, Tiger Zinda Hai, Sultan and more and is all excited about his superhero ventures.
Tell us about your superhero film with Katrina Kaif?
We have had strong women characters but never a female superhero. I was toying with the idea for a very long time. A superhero film based in reality and whatever is happening around us. She was quite excited to be a part of it. We are in pre-production stage and a lot will depend on the current Covid situation. We are looking to roll next year in Dubai and Abu Dhabi but majorly Abu Dhabi. Abu Dhabi’s Two four 54 has been really helpful. TZH and Bharat were shot there.
How has your experience been with Abu Dhabi as a location?
Abu Dhabi’s Twofour54 is meticulous and logical and that is why it is great working with them. This time though, I am not shooting in the deserts but in downtown with glass buildings and malls in the background with lots of action thrown in. With Abu Dhabi, the permissions are sought out easily by Twofour54. Georgia is another location we have narrowed down to. There are many new regulations now after the pandemic and we have to incorporate those too.
How have you fashioned out Katrina’s superhero character?
It is too early to talk about these things and official announcements will come soon. All I can say is that it will be a visual spectacle for sure. There will be an elaborate international team working on the project. We all know that Katrina is great at dance and action and this film will establish that very well. Her role will be something like what Uma Thurman did in Kill Bill. People started looking at her in a whole different way. All I can say is that it is a superhero film which is packed with logic and science.
What about Mr India 2?
I have just finished writing it and working on the second part. The film is a trilogy set in the present and a bit in the future and has a completely new story set in a new world with characters. I just finished writing part 1. The same characters go over to three parts and I am hoping that it is a full-blown theatrical release. It is produced by Zee and my company. It is an elaborate film and I have been prepping from the last 6 months. So elaborate it is that we have to make a comic book out of it that is the script – so that we know that in each frame, this is how the characters look, the guns look, the cars look etc. I used to love Diamond Comics – Nagraj and Super commandoes and Chacha Chaudhry and of course Spider and Batman.
Writing for superstars? What do you have to keep in mind?
Yeah, I have to keep in mind that I am writing for a superstar but the first thought is to write a story that is relevant to the generation and then write characters that will resonate with the maximum number of people. There is broad scope writing and there is intimate writing. I prefer the broad scope way of writing and find soul in the story. If you look at Sultan or Gunday or Bharat, the soul story is very universal. And such stories are best portrayed on superstar because of their mass appeal and connect with audiences worldwide. The emotion is multilayered. So, the best approach is to not make it complicated. To quote a food analogy, just serve a well-made thali with all the ingredients and make it your very best. Rajkumar Hirani, Rohit Shetty do it too.
How do you avoid clichés yet cater to the masses?
I somehow or the other try to find a story that is around me. I am not inspired by stories that are distant or those I have watched. I have come with a middle-class background level, seen people at the grassroots and known their journey. So, naturally, they become the characters I create. A superhero film for instance needs the drama around the superhero like masks, cape and costumes. You can’t negate that because your target audience is a 6-year old’s imagination.
All the women in your films are empowered and strong characters?
Yes, that is how I see them. Katrina’s character Madam Sir in Bharat is popular because she holds her own ground. She is placed in a certain era but is independent and strong. Her role in Mere Brother ki Dulhan too, is not meek. She is front footed. Even in Tiger Zinda Hai, that is set up in a socio-political scenario, she is shown to have a mind of her own.
Your films have a fragrance of the past era, yet talk of today’s issues?
I am old school. My family is grounded in Indian culture. I am a hill boy. I grew up in Dehradun where I did my schooling and then went to Delhi University that was my major exposure to the wide world. At Kirodimal, I was exposed to theatre and the college has produced artistes such as Satish Kaushik, Syed Naqvi, Kabir Khan, Vijay Krishna Acharya, Mohammed Zeeshan Ayub etc. Somehow, all that I learnt there transpires into the work I do today. Your voice needs to resonate with things around you and it should be popular. And then, be popular and then push the envelope, that is the challenge.
Abu Dhabi Film Commission wished Ali on his birthday today!
Bollywood director @aliabbaszafar celebrates his birthday today!Ali has produced two blockbuster hits starring Bollywood superstar @BeingSalmanKhan in Abu Dhabi. These are Tiger Zinda Hai and Bharat which were filmed at @2454abudhabi backlot, Liwa Desert, Al Wathba, and Al Ain. pic.twitter.com/otancXxehk
— AD Film Commission (@filmabudhabi) January 17, 2022