Farless, corrupt, Robin Hood—Chulbul Pandey can be given many monikers. He’s the protagonist in the film Dabangg, played by a moustachioed Salman Khan who sings, dances and thrashes goons in the badlands of Uttar Pradesh in the promotional spots. As we chat with the man behind the film, director Abhinav Kashyap, on his debut, he lets us in on working with stars, setting the film in the Hindi heartland and his brother Anurag Kashyap. Edited excerpts:
You are one of the few directors to have directed Salman Khan in one go, that is, in one shooting schedule. What was it like working with him?
Abhinav Kashyap, director of film Dabangg.
It was fantastic; it was a dream come true. There were certain things I wanted to do with him, which I wouldn’t have thought possible, but I still put it across to him and he surprised me. He did just about everything that I wanted him to. One was that I wanted to shoot the film in one go and did not want him to go on another project, which he did not. Then, I wanted him to grow a moustache, which he couldn’t grow because he was shooting for Veer. He wore a moustache for the film. He also took off the bracelet that he is known not to take off.
With ‘Dabangg’, we are witnessing a hinterland macho hero after a long time, although we have seen the Hindi heartland in slightly different films such as Vishal Bhardwaj’s films. What inspired you?
The cinemas of the 1970s. The hero was always from the hinterland in those blockbusters. Manoj Kumar, Dilip Kumar and Amitabh Bachchan—they all did films set in small towns and it just got lost somewhere in the 1980s and 1990s, I think. So there is that space when a new director comes in and he wants to create his own identity. You want to look different from the others, that is what you have to offer to cinema. I thought not many people were setting their stories in small places. So this was one good opportunity for me.
Any particular anecdote during the shoot that you would like to share with us?
The first day was the most interesting. I think Salman still wasn’t sure if he wanted to put on the moustache or not. He came on the set and we met, and I refreshed the story for him. He had come from out of town straight to the set. Then I went off into the set to compose the shot and everything, and I got a call saying Salman wants to meet me. He was wearing a moustache. That was a huge surprise. He was wearing one and he asked everyone around how it is looking.
Salman Khan and Sonakshi Sinha in Dabangg.
Anurag Kashyap, your brother, is a path-breaking director. How much has he influenced you?
I am very proud to be his brother. I have looked at his growth very closely. And I have learnt from him. There are certain mistakes he made, I didn’t want to repeat them. He always believed that he has to create his own space because he didn’t come from a film background. It is difficult for any new person to come in and start dictating how he wants to make his cinema, then the potential investors run away. But he did things differently and now I’m happy he has been able to create his own space. Coming back to Dabangg, this is why I wanted to do something which is not regular on screen. I could have tried starting out with a film set abroad or set in Bombay. I can attribute some bit of it to what I have learnt from Anurag.
Which Bollywood directors have influenced your style of film-making?
I don’t know. Every story is different; every film commands its own style. But I think subconsciously there have been some film-makers whose work I have liked consistently. One being Bimal Roy, the other being Hrishikesh Mukherjee, then there is Anurag, whose work I really like. I also like most of Mani Ratnam’s work.
Dabangg released in theatres on Friday.