Kabir Khan

Film Director, Screenwriter and Cinematographer

“DOMINANT DISCOURSE”: Kabir Khan speaks up about filmmaking and research

Khan talked about the philosophy that drives him to make the kind of films he does, and the role of filmmakers in the society they live in and research mind set.

How film school influenced him?

The intrinsic beat of cinema and filmography is very different from the rest and primarily it comes from documentary style of film making, learnt at film school, A.J.K. Mass Communication Research Centre in New Delhi. Previous work experience in news organisations at international and national levels and interest on the Taliban and Afghanistan was the cue why he made a film like “Kabul Express” for mainstream Bollywood cinema in the year 2006.

On transitioning into mainstream cinema

Lack of platforms for showcasing the documentary projects in the early years paved the way for eventual transition into mainstream cinema. Storytelling is the cornerstone of any visual medium or visual communication, be it documentary films, commissioned projects or mainstream Bollywood films. There are specific humane stories everywhere and one needs to develop them for universal appeal and for cinematic medium.

How documentary filmmaking experience helped him?

Documentary filmmaking requires prior research to provide the context, footage and other visuals, narration, and interviews that will appear in the film. Directorial debut project “The Forgotten Army” in the year 1999 instilled research ethos and mind set. Very often, the process of documentary research involves some or all of conceptualising, using and assessing documents and this research helped during the development and preproduction process of mainstream filmmaking. His script for Bajrangi Bhaijaan was influenced by some of his own experiences in Kashmir.

Importance of research

For the upcoming Indian Sports Drama film, 83, there are several types of research that were undertaken, including archival research at Lords Cricket Ground, academic research, and intensive in-person interviews. India, unlike many Western countries has no recording or archival culture and relies more on oral transmission/oral culture. The publications in United Kingdom have great archival resources and for the film, he travelled to London every month for two years for research and visual references.

Balancing between control and improvisation

Improvisation on locations is performance ‘written’ through action in the moment of its actual performance by actors. It is indeed a collaborative act of spontaneous expression between actors, crew and director in a during principal photography phase. Any attempt to dictate the content of that expression with a written script destroys the defining quality of spontaneity. In a way, writing (bound script) and improvisation appears antithetical but a balance can always be aimed at. Be always open to stimuli and improvise till the last moment possible. As a rule, do not over brief the actor for it might kill the improvisation. Mr. Irfan Khan brought many novel and improvised ideas when filming ‘New York’ in 2009. 

On Director’s role and responsibilities

90 percent of the Director’s role (on a set/location) is in fact managing and channelling people’s energies for a predefined creative vision. People skills and patience are of paramount importance for a Director. For a first time Director, being in charge of 100 plus people on a live set/location can be very demanding and intimidating and one need to be confident and secure about his/her vision. 

How he does undertake casting?

Casting choices are more about matching personas and less about finding lookalikes. Physical similarities are necessary but not sufficient enough. For the movie, 83, the casting was very diverse, representing all regions and cultures of India.

How he finds his team?

Cinema is an art form that relies on teamwork and ideological alignment therein. When selecting team members for a new project, the first right of refusal is always given to his known friend who worked before. If the director can’t or won’t communicate, no one will be able to carry out his or her vision and likewise if the director doesn’t listen to his or her collaborators, good ideas go unnoticed. Either way, one end up with a film that will probably not be as good as it could be, or that betrays the whole point and inherent fun and sheer joy of filmmaking.

On filmmaker’s societal responsibility

People understand politics in a very narrow sense and politics pervades every part of filmmaker’s life, work and viewpoints. For example, there is gender politics in a typical film project. Politics and films go hand in hand and filmmaker’s own politics pervades all his/her works, for there is no apolitical view point!!! Political view point very often becomes crucial differentiator in filmography. Filmmakers need to be definitely aware and conscious of the politics in society.

Why Is It Important to Keep Abreast of Technology Trends?

VFX technology is very liberating for filmmakers. ‘Kabul Express’ did not have a single VFX shot, but latest projects like ‘83’ and ‘The Forgotten Army: Azaadi Ke Liye’ has about 2000 VFX shots. One’s own filmmaking could be completely redefined by interactive technologies that one has not even imagined today. Without keeping abreast of rapidly changing technology trends, as a film maker, one is denied of telling richer and impactful stories. Surprisingly, in many best VFX projects, VFX provided realistic computer-generated imagery to accompany live-action footage in a seamless and unnoticeable fashion. Biggest strength in filmmaking is storytelling and technology always enables it. No need to have an obsession with technology however.

Overdoing Film Marketing Tactics

Currently and unfortunately, India over markets its films and very often it takes away the intrigue and enigma factors involved in a typical film release pattern. There is no scientific study detailing the linkages between marketing budgets and box office collections. A higher marketing budget need not necessarily translate into better box office performance and vice versa.

Expert Bio:  Mr. Kabir Khan is an Indian film director, screenwriter and cinematographer. He started his career working in documentary films, and then made his feature film directorial debut in 2006 with ‘Kabul Express’ gained him the Indira Gandhi Award for Best Debut Film of a Director at the 54th National Film Awards, followed by ‘New York’(2009), ‘Ek Tha Tiger’ (2012), ‘Bajrangi Bhaijaan’ (2015), ‘Phantom’ (2015), ‘Tubelight’(2017) and Web-Series ‘The Forgotten Army – Azaadi Ke Liye’ (2020). His most-successful film is Bajrangi Bhaijaan, which has been the third highest-grossing Indian film globally. The film garnered the National Film Award for Best Popular Film Providing Wholesome Entertainment at the 63rd National Film Awards.

 The author of the blog and Annapurna College of Film and Media makes it abundantly clear that the knowledge being shared by the expert(s) is for informational and educational purposes only. The questions are designed for students to listen to personal experience(s). The blog is written to capture those experience(s).

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