He is known for his romantic films that bring forth strong characters. But Imtiaz Ali is not among those who like giving themselves a pat on their back with the success of every film. In fact, he has no qualms admitting that his 2011 hit movie, Rockstar, was a "flawed" film.
Here, the 44-year-old, who recently wrapped up his next, starring Ranbir Kapoor and Deepika Padukone, Tamasha, talks about how he is an "accidental" filmmaker, and more.
Do you try to keep the premise and treatment of your films different on purpose?
My attempt is never to be different. In fact, I don’t know how different my next is going to be [from my previous movies]. My new film has a specific thought, and it has been with me for the longest time. I, like all people, behave and carry myself in a certain way for some reason. That’s the central thought of this film. So, in a way, it is about abrasion.
Is filmmaking a personal process for you?
There is a story and there is a character who experiences certain feelings. I try to understand those feelings. Sometimes, I feel those emotions personally, wherein I feel that I have been in a similar situation. But, usually, filmmaking is not a medium for me to express my own emotions.
Imtiaz Ali and Ranbir Kapoor on the sets of Tamasha in Gurgaon.
You are working with Ranbir once again in your next. Has he matured as an actor?
Ranbir has become purer than before. I thought it wasn’t possible, as he is a mainstream actor in the Hindi film industry. When I worked with him this time around, I didn’t get a feeling that I have worked with this person before. Even when you are acting, you keep certain things in mind. There are dos and don’ts, and some tricks that actors have. But the less they rely on those tricks, the better their performance becomes. Ranbir is on the same path.
Deepika and you have a special equation…
Her career growth is out there for the whole world to see. I am the happiest about it because when I first met her, even before her debut film had released, I was so thrilled about this new actress coming into Bollywood. She is shy, so she took a long time to show what she can do. But now, there’s a sense of ease with which she approaches her work. During Love Aaj Kal (2009), I remember I had to make her comfortable and push her. Now, that’s not needed.
You started off with theatre in college (he was in Hindu college in Delhi, where he founded the theatre group, Ibtida). How has it shaped you creatively?
Theatre has been a very important element in my life. It has taught me many things that I realise now, when I’m on the sets. I never worked towards being a director. I don’t know how it happened. It still surprises me that I am a film director. Basically, my life has been a series of incidents and accidents, and I am a film director by accident. From theatre, I moved to TV. But I kept steering through my career, not knowing where I was going. But cinema is the world I feel I belong to. I guess, they (theatre and TV industry members) didn’t like me (smiles).
Imtiaz Ali poses with the members of Ibtida at Hindu College, Delhi.
You’re often called a ‘love story specialist’. Does that annoy you?
It’s not annoying, but it would be if I tried to limit myself to it. I feel that sometimes, people know more about you than you do about yourself. If people have been saying this, then it must be true. But I am not saying that I am only going to make conventional love stories between a man and a woman.
Highway (2014) was a different kind of film from you. How has it changed things for you?
One of the reasons behind making Highway was that I was getting irritated with the kind of infrastructure that was available to filmmakers like me. I used to feel that I was hiding behind all the gadgets. So, to strip myself of all of that, I decided to tell a simple story with two actors and a camera. While making my new movie, I realised that it helped a lot to have made Highway, because I could break down the hoopla, and focus on the core of the story.
How do you decide what film to work on next?
I don’t know. When I find myself talking about something, and trying to find people who I can tell that story to, I figure that’s the one that is most itching to come out. There’s no parameter.
You said in an interview that you are inclined to making ‘socially responsible films’…
When I was growing up, and even now, I have always wanted to be like the nice guys. Cinema is a very powerful medium… even more powerful than advertising. For instance, in none of my films, will you ever see anyone smoking, and that is so not because of the censors, but because I feel people might find it stylish. I will never try to glamorise and justify any convoluted thought — socially or personally, like communalism or anti-nationalism.
You also said that you were "more influenced by movies that were not meaningful cinema"…
I really enjoy them. I know for sure that I have spent so much time at Jamshedpur Talkies, Karim Talkies and Basant Talkies (all in Jamshedpur, where Imtiaz grew up), that I know how it feels when the music plays and the girl looks and the boy turns (smiles). I am so lucky to have been born in India, and to be given a chance to make movies here because there is a lot of song and dance. I struggle every time to put songs in my films, but I love working on music. I have grown up watching the most commercial form of cinema. For instance, I admire movies made by David Dhawan, but when I make a film, it won’t turn out like that.
Many Bollywood directors are from smaller centres. Does that help?
Tremendously. People like Anurag Kashyap and Anurag Basu (directors), and I, we’re all lucky, because if you come from a small town, your journey has to be big to have got you this far. Our worlds are broader. I was in Jamshedpur. Then I went to Patna and Delhi. Now, I am in Mumbai. And now, when we travel overseas, our journey continues. We are seeing more of the world.
Filmmaker Anurag Kashyap
What’s your process of writing and filmmaking like?
When I feel like writing, I write. It doesn’t matter which country I am in or what I am doing. I write when I want to. Yes, when I am writing, I feel I become slightly irresponsible, so if I have to meet someone or go somewhere or receive a call, I don’t do so. Sometimes, I write while travelling. All the writing for Love Aaj Kal (2009) happened when I was traveling for recce to San Francisco, USA, and London, UK. I enjoy writing in flights.
Has directing TV serials like Imtihan come in handy?
Before that, I did Purushetra. They come in handy because I know that, ultimately, if a scene is not working out, I can write it afresh and shoot it immediately. It helped a lot during Highway, since many locations were unknown, I would write things on the way. I remember I was walking Alia (Bhatt; actor) to the top of a hill, and when she asked me what the scene was, I said, ‘I don’t know, but by the time we reach the top, I will. You relax.’ That comes from TV. In films, you shouldn’t do it. It’s sacrilege.
Have you started thinking about your next story?
I am getting closer to finalising one. I always decide on the story first, and then think of who the actors or producer can be.
Jab We Met (2007) is like a cult film now. Did you have any idea about it?
Besides having something fresh and positive, I feel JWM has many mistakes. I don’t know what makes it work because I was making it like any other film. There are many things in it that I am not proud of. Sometimes, people fight with me if I criticise me. It feels like it is someone else’s film; it doesn’t feel like my film. Even with Rockstar, there are fans who don’t like me saying anything about it. So I just keep quiet (laughs).
You said that Rockstar was also an imperfect film…
It is a flawed film. There is a big flaw that I can see. Two weeks back, Ranbir and I argued about it, and I explained to him why I feel it is flawed. Sometimes, you try to do difficult things and fail a bit.
There’s a perception that you will always work with big stars. Is this true?
If I take money from someone to make a movie, I would like to make sure that I am in a position to return it. So, if a film will cost me several crores, I will feel safer if I have a known name. If I ever come to a situation where I feel that it’s a Rs 100 crore film, and it will never recover the money, if I get a new hero, then I won’t make that movie till I find a way to make it with the same actor.
Do you ever feel the pressure to deliver successful films?
You can’t get pressurised by all of it. The audience might have expectations, but at the end of the day, I am here for my selfish reasons. I am interested in this work, and I will do what I want to do. I will try to make it interesting for everyone else, but that’s not my first job. I am not going to be worried about what people expect. My relationship with my work is far too selfish.
Read: Checkout leaked pics from Tamasha sets