“He doesn’t change for anyone,” declares Katrina Kaif, the leading lady in romantic thriller Ek Tha Tiger, out this weekend in the UAE.
She was responding to a question about what she learnt re-uniting with her former lover Salman Khan on the big screen in one of this year’s Eid releases.
Khan, 46, belongs to a rarefied breed of actors who relies on studied histrionics and distinct on-screen mannerisms to captivate millions of hearts. In the last two years, the bankable Khan has churned out three blockbusters in a row: Dabangg, Ready and Bodyguard. These films — an ode to old-school typical masala flicks, as they are called — were high on style and songs and low on logic. His kick alone is accompanied by the sound of thunder claps and one blow can polish off three men at a go.
“I have known Salman for many years now. To me, Salman has always been the same person. He has seen his ups and downs in the industry. Some of his film did OK and some others enjoyed super, super success. But he has always remained the same person and that’s what makes him who he is. He doesn’t change, people around him change,” said Kaif in an interview over the phone.
Even Ek Tha’s award-winning director, Kabir Khan, stands by Kaif’s verdict. The award-winning filmmaker, who has treated us to realistic dramas including Kabul Express and New York, set in post 9/11 America, believes that only Khan in Bollywood could have carried off a cheesy title such as Ek Tha Tiger, which roughly translates as There Was Once A Tiger.
Salman Khan plays a RAW (Research and Analysis — India’s external intelligence unit) agent who’s sent on a mission to track a Dublin-based scientist suspected of selling missile technology secrets to Pakistan. So far, so good. But what Tiger isn’t prepared for, is to fall in love with none other than the suspect’s gorgeous caretaker played by Kaif.
“Salman fits that title beautifully. He’s apt, because Ek Tha Tiger is a story of a legend. It’s about a guy who’s very aggressive. He is a known as tiger in the world of intelligence. And I knew from the start that I needed a star to whom the audience will instantly connect. He needs to have that aura around him so that we don’t spend time building that,” said Kabir Khan.
The director, who is known to be an exacting filmmaker, admits he didn’t try to tamper with the hit Khan’s studied style of acting. On screen, Khan is something akin to southern superstar Rajnikanth who can get away with just being himself.
“I didn’t consciously tell him to shed what he has been doing over the past years. I just asked him to tweak what I thought was out of character or was not appropriate for Tiger,” said Khan.
He may have let Khan get away with his typical acting gimmicks, but his mandate was clear on one front: He did not want his star spy Tiger to be Bollywood’s answer to Jason Bond or Jason Bourne.
“I made a conscious effort not to make Tiger a James Bond. There has to be a differentiator in our films, because even in our love stories our heroes are like James Bond. They can bash up villains and fight many men at a time. So I haven’t given Tiger any fancy cars, phones or guns that shoot through tankers. I have made him real, raw and edgy.”
In our five-minute interaction with the on-screen Tiger, Khan sounded cornered when asked about the latest project and his role.
“I play a guy who would do anything for his country. Basically, he’s very dedicated. But it’s also a love story,” said Khan about his film, whose teasers have been banned from airing in Pakistan amidst concerns it shows the country in a bad light.
“See, at the end of the day, it is a love story and we are not trying to make any political statements. It is a clean film and we are not putting any country down. We are just actors and we want everybody to watch this film,” said Khan.
His director is quick to second him.
“I find jingoism very vulgar. I would never go into that territory. All my films have attempted to break the jingoistic stereotype and in this day and age it’s stupid to get into that,” said Kabir Khan.
The film, incidently, releases on Wednesday, on India’s Independence day.
“Once [it] is out, you will realise that Ek Tha Tiger is very balanced. If anything, we are trying to build bridges.”