MUMBAI—Kabir Khan’s “Tubelight” starring Salman Khan has just released to mixed reviews, and Salman Khan’s performance has been dubbed the “lifeboat” of the film. The actor-filmmaker's last two successive collaborations – “Ek Tha Tiger” (2012) and “Bajrangi Bhaijaan” (2015) – were huge hits. If “Tubelight” will turn the spotlight once again on this duo, only time will unfold.
Kabir Khan told India-West that he would not take credit for Salman Khan’s performance in “Tubelight” because the actor has brought a lot to the table. When we met the filmmaker for a chat at his office before the release of “Tubelight,” he opened up on his thoughts about Salman Khan as an actor, as a person who is a child at heart, and who cares for the crew. Kabir Khan also said that his connect with the superstar dates right to his directorial debut, “Kabul Express” (2006).
Excerpts from an interview:
Q: Buzz is that Salman Khan was to do “Kabul Express.”
A: I was a struggler then, and a friend introduced me to him. He was very warm even then, and I had this four-minute DVD documentary on Afghanistan that he watched. I then narrated him my film’s story, and he said that he wanted to play the main terrorist and even discussed the way he would do it. I laughed and took it as a joke, till months later, he met me and asked, “Tu wapas hi nahin aaya (You did not even come back to me for this role)!” He was serious, and I had thought he was joking!
But that meeting had an unusual benefit for me. When I was casting for my next film “New York,” Aditya Chopra, the producer, suggested Katrina Kaif as she suited an NRI’s role. When I approached her, she was not very keen as she was looking at being a typical YRF heroine in this first film of hers with the banner! She luckily mentioned my film to Salman, and when he asked who the director was, she told him my name. And he said, “I have seen his work. Aankh band karke film kar lo (Accept the film blindly)!” For him to say that about me after a ten-minute encounter was very heartening to me.
Q: After working thrice with Salman, what do you think is bigger – the story or the superstar?
A: For me, it is always the story. A superstar has a big draw of his own, but that number may not be successful for that star’s film. But mainstream films are now breaking convention: “Dangal” has no high-octane action, a love story is missing, lip-sync songs are absent, and we have a 90-kilo fat hero! Yet, it is the highest-grossing Hindi film!
Or take “Bajrangi…” again. A classic Salman Khan film must have lots of action and breaking of bones, glamorous locations or picturesque songs. We did not have them, and there was not even a proper love story again – Kareena Kapoor just had a small role. And we had a small child. The film is his highest grosser! So the audience is telling you that the story is important. A star will just bring in a wider appeal.
Q: Your films have always had a real backdrop, usually the relationship between two countries.
A: I never designed that deliberately, it just comes. I have done a lot of work with a Delhi journalist named Saeed Naqvi. We traveled doing news and features, and that’s when I realized that what we come to know from BBC or CNN is something different from the ground reality. That fascination is a story told to us and the story that should have been told to us.
Q: After three films, what do you find the best quality in Salman Khan?
A: That he is a child at heart. What you see on his face is what he is feeling – happy, sad and angry. There is no hidden agenda. And as a star, he is very caring about the crew. For all the 40 members on our last two films that he co-produced, the food would come from his house.
Q: There is no release as yet in Pakistan.
A: Sadly, politics always decide such things. They have two major releases on Eid, so they do not want our film to create a risk for the business. “Bajrangi Bhaijaan” is one of the highest grossers of Salman in Pakistan.
Q: Your memories of the late Om Puri, who passed away recently?
A: I had a special relationship with him. He was to play one of the key terrorists in my first film, but his doctor forbade him as he had a back problem then and we were shooting and driving in tough terrain. When he did that small role in “Bajrangi…,” he asked me to write a long role in “Tubelight.” He left only one day’s shoot pending, and we could easily manage the edit.
Q: What next?
A: I have an idea for an Indo-Chinese project, and I am doing a web series as well.