A fetish for freshness

ALL ABOUT LOVE: Imtiaz Ali and his art of making movies.

In our series on the dynamic new breed of filmmakers who are set to take Hindi cinema to places it’s never gone before, we now look at Imtiaz Ali, the man with a fetish for freshness in otherwise tried-and-tested genres, come Socha Na Tha, Jab We Met or his new film Love Aaj Kal.

He take times to open up, but then becomes candid. Obviously, Imtiaz has a great sense of humour, which comes across in his films. His characters are real yet entertaining, his plots ‘cool fun’ with their astoundingly fresh twists to formula. His movies have melodic yet contemporary music, with literate lyrics.

Hindi films have been enriched by many talents from Jamshedpur, but probably by none more than this tall, long-haired tea-addict. The audiences, in turn, are addicted to the re-runs of his directorial debut, Sunny Deol’s Socha Na Tha, which introduced Abhay Deol and Ayesha Takia, flopped in 2005 but is now in demand, and his cult 2007 super-hit Jab We Met.

Imtiaz is no pseudo catering to highbrow critics, yet curiously manages to please that tribe too. His family owned three movie-halls and his keen observation of audience reactions there honed his filmmaking sensibilities. As he once put it, “My job is to entertain even if I offer a perspective. Only then will the audiences take a movie home after paying entertainment tax!”

In high-school he acted in and then began writing and directing plays. His first professional play, Arthur Miller’s All My Sons, was staged while in junior college. Moving to Delhi, he established a drama society in his college, then moved to Mumbai where he eventually got to direct Kirron Kher’s chat show ‘Purushkshetra’ and the soap ‘Imtihaan’. In films he began as writer with Ahista Ahista (2006) and through its hero Abhay Deol came Socha Na Tha, a rejected telefilm as planned originally, whose script Sunny Deol loved and decided to produce.

Interestingly therefore, two of his three films have been home productions of top stars, with Saif Ali Khan, producer-hero of Love Aaj Kal, said to have signed him last year for two home productions. Smiles Imtiaz, “One of the first questions I asked Saif was why he wanted to turn a producer. From his answers I realised that he was a man with a vision, which was important to me because I was going to commit two years of my life to him.”

Imtiaz grins as he admits that he was actually “pretty rude and obnoxious, but I must say that all my ghosts were exorcised by Saif!” This is because the producer, says Imtiaz, makes all the difference “when I go on location at five in the morning or on my sets with all guns blazing.”

Despite his conviction and spunky narratives that make for memorable characters and sequences, Imtiaz is already associated with (a) only love stories (b) train sequences and small-towns and (c) lovers on the run. We want to know why.

Imtiaz seems to ponder as he replies, “I do not watch many love stories. I have never wanted to make only this genre of movie. All my three films have been about relationships between men and women. But yes, at the same time I am not perturbed that three films have been in the same slot and I am not obsessed about not belonging to it, so it’s basically about the story. Also, contrary to what people think, there is nothing in common between any of them. I am also not in the game of meeting up raised expectations from LAK because of JWM. As a filmmaker, you cannot be satisfied with the product. On the other hand, had a perfect film existed, it would have been too boring!”

He also stresses that “No one elopes in Love Aaj Kal” but admits that his films have had travel and trains! “Since one part of LAK is set in the 1960s, I wanted a steam engine-driven train and a station that seemed to belong to the past and I finally homed in on Patiala. I am glad that my producers were willing to spend all that money. It looks much more authentic than a set built somewhere.”

His films are also known for crackling chemistry between lead pairs, even if — as in JWM — his lead pair had split in real life during its making. Does he write plots after shaping characters or the other way round?

“I don’t think that there are any special ingredients needed for chemistry on screen,” he replies. “By definition, chemistry always happens on its own. But yes, if the characters have chemistry, the actors have it too, not always because they have a personal rapport.” He adds that he works from an idea to a plot to characters, and that once he gets going, “the story writes itself. I just go with the flow and the characters come into shape.”

Two quick ones: Rishi Kapoor and Neetu Singh come together after 29 years. And does he think there are differences between love aaj and kal?

Rishi Kapoor, he says, “has a key role in the story. Neetu-ji has a very small part and I just wanted her to bring her grace to it and I am happy that she consented, but you cannot call it a comeback. And I do not think that love has changed, but I could be wrong. Maybe I am trying to discover answers to my own questions on love through my films.”

Finally, his writer Irshad Kamil notes that he is excessively finicky about words in dialogues and lyrics. “I am,” he confesses. “I come from a literate family and can never tolerate bad language or grammar.”

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