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How 'Tiger Zinda Hai' was made in Abu Dhabi.

Summary: Director Ali Abbas Zafar speaks about his experience of filming with Salman Khan the capital, which was dressed up as war-torn Iraq

Image Credit: Yash Raj Films Manjusha Radhakrishnan, Chief Reporter

Bollywood director Ali Abbas Zafar, who filmed for 65 days in Abu Dhabi for his star-studded spy thriller Tiger Zinda Hai, felt he had struck gold when he saw the Arkan Cement Factory in Al Ain at night.

The Goliath industrial building, which isn't a typical architectural marvel, had a majestic aura around it, claims the director who was driving past it during one of his location scouting exercises.

"The factory, which was the only building in that deserted area, looked like something out of a Star Wars set. There was that foreboding humming sound coming out of it as if aliens had descended upon it. It made me think why someone has never shot at the Arkan cement factory before," said Zafar in an interview with Gulf News tabloid! .

All of last summer, Zafar and his team led by Salman Khan and Katrina Kaif - who play rival spies from India and Pakistan respectively - were hard at work to bring their action film alive and get it ready to roll out by December 21 in the UAE. Filming at 50 degree Celsius heat in locations including Liwa desert with a 300-plus international crew was all in a day's work for the Tiger team.

Abu Dhabi has been dressed up as war-torn Iraq in which Kaif and Khan, the supremely good-looking pair from the original instalment, reunite on a mission to save the lives of 46 nurses who are taken hostage by a fictional terrorist called Abu Usman. Espionage entertainer tropes such as car chases, double-crossing and gravity-defying stunts are a part of this glossy package.

But it isn't all sheen and sparkle, maintains Zafar.

The idea for his latest film was triggered when this director learnt about the real-life incident of nurses from Kerala escaping Daesh captivity after they were taken hostage, and returning to India in 2014. The incident stayed with him, claims Zafar, who finished the first draft of the script while he was nearing the last schedule of filming his mammoth blockbuster Sultan , also starring Khan.

"I wanted to work on a contemporary story that questioned and explored the idea of peace, brotherhood and humanity in today's world that we live in," said Zafar.

Tiger Zinda Hai was initially planned as a standalone story, but later reworked it as a sequel to Ek Tha Tiger (2012), which was directed by Kabir Khan. Zafar inherited the sequel from the production house Yash Raj Films, who own the rights to the Tiger series.

But like all good old Bollywood dramas, a bit of star-driven propaganda is expected. While the heroes of the real-life incident were the nurses, the all-conquering saviours are likely to be Khan and Kaif in this film. But Zafar says that the hero of Tiger Zinda Hai is the story, while the chemistry between the lead pair because of their personal and professional familiarity is just gravy.

"The bigger hero are there nurses who are trapped in there... The agents are no longer lovers like the first part. This story is about pursuing a cause. Both Katrina and Salman are equals at work and explores them as agents who are on the field, their duties on ground zero and the decisions they need to make," he said.

The sequel is set eight years apart from the original and the spies aren't romantically involved anymore.

While the trailer was embraced with gusto, there were a few who criticised the makers for its resemblance to the Malayalam film, Take Off , starring Parvathy, which was gritty, real and told from a woman's perspective.

"I haven't seen Take Off and I started writing the script for Tiger Zinda Hai before Take Off . There are no similarities, it's a different film... Whatever little I know of Take Off , it's the point of the view of the nurses, but Tiger speaks largely about what's happening in the world right now. The idea that languages, races and nationalities should co-exist in harmony instead of fighting is our message," said Zafar.

Tiger Zinda Hai is an ambitious attempt at making strides towards making Hindi films at par with international films. After scouting many locations in the Middle East, Zafar and team zeroed down Abu Dhabi.

"The story of Tiger Zinda Hai is set in Iraq and we needed a country that could support us infrastructure-wise. We needed a huge amount of military and army support. Choppers, trucks, tans and aircrafts had to be all provided for," said Zafar.

A 20,000 square metre backlot in Khalifa Industrial Zone was transformed into a set in which crucial hostage scenes would be filmed. Around 150 crew worked over 100 days to create the film's main set.

"The support that we got from twofour54, the government and the local companies were amazing. Visually, this is going to be a spectacular film and we needed the kind of great support on the grounds," said Zafar.

In a video, Khan also expressed his delight at filming in the UAE and said that he would return to Abu Dhabi to film because his experience of filming Tiger Zinda Hai was smooth. Khan riding a quad bike in the UAE deserts remains one of the iconic images from the film to have been circulated recently.

"Salman is one of the biggest stars who knows what works with the audiences and he is one of the biggest draws of this film," said Zafar.

Tiger was also filmed in Austria and Morocco. But the major portions of the movie were shot in the UAE.

"We had a powerful story in our hands and we had a certain vision that was required to execute it," said Zafar. "Everyone is used to Hollywood and Western cinema when it comes to spy thrillers. But we wanted to make a film that was authentic and real."


Don't miss it!

Tiger Zinda Hai releases in the UAE on December 21.


65: The number of days that Katrina Kaif and Salman Khan filmed in Abu Dhabi.

300: The number of people in the production team from India, US, UK and the MENA region.

1,500: The number of extras that were supposedly needed for the film.

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Publication:Gulf News (United Arab Emirates)
Geographic Code:7UNIT
Date:Dec 20, 2017
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