Actor, director and scriptwriter Imtiaz Ali is a man of many talents. But the Jab We Met director would rather stand behind the camera any day, writes Parul Khanna.
It was the usual story, one that Bollywood has done a million times, a million ways: boy meets girl, they fall in love, problems come, problems go, boy and girl live happily ever after. <b1>
Eight out of 10 such stories sink at the box office. But that did not bother director Imtiaz Ali, who is now basking in the success of Jab We Met (JWM). He just took the old story and turned it around. "The plot is nothing. People don't come to see the plot. They come to see the movie. I don't want to show the audience how complicated I can get. Every movie is about a boy and a girl falling in love; the treatment differs."
Ali's fresh handling of the subject ensured that Jab We Met clicked with the audience and critics alike. But even he had not expected the movie to be so popular. He still receives congratulatory calls and SMSes.
Though Ali was no fan of Kareena Kapoor, she was his first choice for Geet, the chirpy sardarni who meets Aditya (Shahid Kapoor) on the way home to Bhatinda. <b2>
"I wanted a girl who could look natural in scenes where she misses the train. She had to be without make-up, someone who could be hyper, talkative and interesting but not irritating. I was never a fan of hers and hadn't seen too many of her flicks, but I just knew Kareena was perfect as Geet."
He was right. Kareena has given one of her best performances in Jab We Met, changing effortlessly from a bubbly, spontaneous girl in the first half to a quiet, hurt woman in the second. Ali cast Shahid after he met him and discovered the actor was more than a poster boy.
"When I met him, I realised he wasn't the forgettable actor that he comes across in several of his movies. He has gone through a lot in life and that maturity had never been brought out. He was perfect for the role of a young, mature, quiet guy."
He agrees that the couple's highlyhyped split had made him anxious.
"Things happened and I never wanted or expected them to. I was quite scared about the split's effect on the film initially. But after it released, nobody even remembered. It was a good film, so it came out unscathed."
He snaps at the suggestion that the Shahid-Kareena split was engineered to bring publicity to
Jab We Met
. "Rubbish. What makes you think Saif would be part of that too?"
Man of many trades
Ali is not only a director, he is a writer and actor too. He directed and written the script of his debut film Socha Na Tha and played the role of Yakub Memon in Anurag Kashyap's Black Friday. But he had stated in previous interviews that acting does not interest him in the least. He prefers direction.
Ali discovered this affinity towards the dramatic arts while studying in Jamshedpur. His interest in direction was kindled further during his graduation in English Literature from Delhi University's Hindu College where he was very active in the dramatics society. After that, he joined Act 1, a theatre group at Mandi House and got deeper into theatre. <b3>
Like thousands before him, the next logical step was Bollywood. But instead of looking for a break in films, Ali adopted what he thought was a more intelligent route: advertising.
That was easier said than done. Every ad agency he applied to told him that they needed good writers like him but the confirmation call never came. "I frequented this one particular office so much that I started to feel people were laughing at me," he says.
He kept his interest in theatre alive between various interviews but desperation soon set in and he started working as a production assistant with a channel, labelling and delivering tapes. Things got better after he got a break that brought him offers to direct serials. <b4>
He did well, directing serials like Purushetra and Imtihaan and some episodes of Star Bestsellers, but still he wasn't happy. "I never felt that I fit in. Everybody I met would tell me how I did not belong to the TV industry and was meant to be in films."
Ali explains he has a "natural inclination" towards films.
He elaborates: "While watching TV, people do a hundred thousand things. So, you need to catch their attention by fair and foul means like loud music, screams, close-ups and melodrama. Films are watched in the quiet dark of a hall and thus have the full attention of the viewer. So one can tell a story differently."
That brought him to his debut film Socha Na Tha starring Abhay Deol and Ayesha Takia. Jab We Met followed soon after. So, after two love stories, what does Ali have in his bag now? "I am going on a holiday now and will decide about the next project once I am back. I won't stick to romantic stories."