Much has already been made of the fact that Salman Khan is all set to make several container loads of money from his latest release ‘Kick’: an action-packed romp in which Salman’s appropriately named character ‘Devil’ kicks plenty of butt and blows up a lot of stuff, all the while romancing the beautiful Jacqueline Fernandez.
Another man who’s going to be laughing all the way to the bank – in fact, increasingly embodies that age-old adage – is Chetan Bhagat, the softly-spoken, best-selling author who was brought in by the film’s producer-director Sajid Nadiadwala to add a semblance of sense to all that butt-kicking and explosions.
Lo and behold, it may have worked.
As the movie opened at gazillions of cinemas across the world, the usual chorus of negative criticism – “a Salman Khan movie is akin to thrusting your head inside a microwave oven at full whack” – was tempered.
The Hindustan Times even gushed, “Kick has a story!”. And that’s due, in part, to the involvement of Chetan Bhagat.
The author was approached by Nadiadwala who had co-produced the movie adaptation of ‘2 States’.
“It’s interesting that Sajid rought me into the project after reading and buying the rights for ‘2 States’. I kept asking him if he really wanted me on the project. I mean he had Salman, and the film was called ‘Kick’ for god sakes!”, Bhagat says.
“I initially told him, ‘you guys have all the ingredients for a mega-blockbuster. Surely you’re good to go’. But he told me that he needs a certain story-telling element. The characters, the story, the setting needed to be spot on. He told me that he wanted an author’s take on the story.”
Nadiadwala (a lawyer by training) has become a multi-millionaire by producing dozens of ridiculously bad movies with regressive themes, including such gems as the ‘Housefull’ franchise and ‘Hey Babyy’ over the past twenty years.
‘Kick’ is his directorial debut and he clearly needed to infuse a smidgen of logic to proceedings.
“I’ve always felt that there should be plenty of butt-kicking and flying about in films like this but there needs to be a certain amount of logic to it. At least a link from one scene to the next!”, Bhagat says.
“I think that shows a sign of changing times in Bollywood. Of course it’s an out-and-out Salman Khan movie but there’s a bit more to it than that.”
Bhagat isn’t new to Bollywood. In fact, the former investment banker-turned-writer has been riding a massive wave of success since his first foray into the business of movies with the monster hit ‘3 Idiots’.
Subsequent adaptations of Bhagat’s works have been critical and commercial successes.
‘Kick’ is Bhagat’s first attempt at being a proper screen writer and it’s both curious and appropriate that it is a Salman Khan flick.
The two men may occupy different social and cultural spaces but they are similar in more ways than one imagines.
The average Salman Khan film is as ludicrous as a flying porker and has all the subtlety of an HGV but you won’t hear the actor apologizing for that. He’s out to entertain as many people as he can and make as much money as he can. All those ‘filmy’ types can sit in their smoke-filled rooms discussing subtext, nuances and narratives and lament.
Bhagat has a similar outlook to his writing.
His books may not be up for a Booker or a Pulitzer any time soon but they are simple tales about average people battling with universal issues. Millions upon millions of readers around the world agree.
In fact, Bhagat is endearingly unabashed about “literary types” falling backwards, aghast at the notion that a writer would collaborate in any way with Salman Khan of all people!
“The literary community disowned me a long time ago. I don’t really mind. I think they are a little amused by it. Considering that I had some Bollywood connections already, I think there’s a sense that they want to see what we’ve done with this film. To sit and watch it for themselves. I’d be interested to know what they think. Hell hath no fury than a literary type scorned!”
“I’ve been a fan of some of Salman’s previous films. I remember skipping college to go see ‘Main Ne Pyaar Kyar’. I had a huge crush on Bhagyashree at the time. To me the idea with doing this film was to reach an India that I wouldn’t reach otherwise.
“It’s Salman’s India. Salman is quintessentially Indian. So am I but in a different way. We are a little bit different and this is an experiment that bridges that gap.”
Differences aside, the garrulous, temperamental and all-powerful Salman Khan has taken quite a shine to Bhagat, if their interaction at a recent press conference was anything to go by.
While many of the journalists were slightly offended at Salman’s famously condescending attitude not just towards reporters but his colleagues, Bhagat insists it is Salman’s less-famous ‘Big Brother’ mentality.
“He’s a very selective. Either he will completely ignore you or tease you and rib you and basically own you. There’s no middle ground. I know he’s not a fake person. He’s a very man’s man and a very boy’s boy. It’s all a bit like ragging the freshman. I find it quite endearing.
Bhagat’s new-found big brother is certain to open myriad new doors for the ambitious writer. After books, film adaptations and screenplays, he’s keen to try his hand at producing.
However, he says, he will do things differently.
“I do want to have more participation and bring a little bit more to the table than just writing. But I want to do it my way. Especially when it comes to marketing. With books, I help market it myself. I think for the Indian film business to really achieve cross-over appeal it needs to do things a little differently.
“Like preview screenings for example. I remember with ‘2 States’ a journalist I knew from Time magazine said he would do a feature for the international edition of the magazine but he said he wanted to watch the film before its release which, of course, the studio doesn’t want to hear about for various reasons. If I was producing, I would do it differently. One needs to understand different sensibilities if we are to cross over”.
Producing films and being Salman Bhai’s ‘Chota Bhai’ doesn’t mean that Bhagat will be giving up writing any time soon.
His latest novel will be out this October.
Typically for an author who’s proved expert at tapping into issues that millions upon millions of young Indians grapple with on a daily basis – from the travails of life in a call centre through college life and love to ethnic divisions – his new work will be about the deepening chasm between India’s rural poor and upwardly-mobile, but no less troubled, urban rich.
It certainly won’t read like a thesis by a suffering economics student.
That will be particularly pleasing for Bhagat as he trots along to the bank with a container load of cash.