As I started walking towards his cabin in the office of producer Sajid Nadiadwala, my mind was flooded with questions about just what will be my opening line to a director whose work I’ve most connected with. Just then, a man came from behind and stretched his hand to greet me. “Hi, Imtiaz Ali.” I blurted in my mind, “But who doesn’t know you?!”
Within minutes, I told him how he was one of the reasons for many things in my life- relationships, filmyness and interest in cinema. How, after watching all his films, I have come out of the theatre becoming his characters.
In conversation with filmmaker Imtiaz Ali, about his latest romantic-drama Tamasha and other things in the Imtiaz Ali world.
And for those wondering what was my opening line to him- It was just my name. Kind of sweet, I guess, for a guy who thought he was Shahid Kapoor after Jab We Met, Saif Ali Khan after Love Aaj Kal, Ranbir Kapoor after Rockstar….
Over to the interview.
Q) You wanted to make Rockstar much before it actually happened. Highway was originally a 45-min TV episode for Rishtey on Zee TV, almost 15 years ago. Was Tamasha conceptualised right after Highway or was it with you for some time?
A) The idea of Tamasha has been with me perhaps the longest time but then I had never thought of it as a film. The idea, or the feeling is perhaps the oldest one that I remeber which has now come as a movie. The story of the film fabricated itself around the idea, by and by. It was actually after Rockstar that I thought of making this film. Taking the idea and making it as a film. And then Highway came in between because it kind of worked out in that way. It created its own space and I made Highway first. So that is the story.
Q) So were Ranbir Kapoor and Deepika always the choice?
A) I was not thinking about who is going to be cast in it while I was thinking of the story. It was only later when I had the seed and I knew I am going to be making in into a film… Because Ranbir is a friend so we anyway chat about stories. He knows most of the stories which are going on in my mind. He has some stories on his mind that I know as well. So then I told him this one and said I am going to make this into a film. And then, at that point of time, even at the inception stage he decided to work it out. But by that time, the basic soul of the film was in my mind already.
Q) And Deepika?
A) Deepika came in after Highway, or may be before. I don’t remember exactly… But later, after I finished writing the script—Not that she heard the script—
Q) She didn’t?
A) No, because I think it also goes on trust. What happens is that she has seen me, she has worked with me before, Ranbir has worked with me before… I will never offer something to somebody if it is not valuable to them. And I will make sure it becomes interesting and important. So that way she had not heard the script. But since we were making it she wanted to be a part of it.
Q) Was that a particular characteristic you were loooking in Deepika that will fit in very well with Tara?
A) Yes. I thought Tara was a kind of person who would look really nice if Deepika does that part. Because it is not like Deepika is exactly like Tara but it would be interesting. Because I wanted somebody who is like sharper, quicker and less creative than Deepika. Deepika in her life has discovered emotional quotient but Tara in her life discovers the emotional quotient in the story of the film, not before. So that was the big difference.
Q) There are a lot of talks that Ranbir-Deepika are the next Shah Rukh Khan-Kajol in terms of pairing.
A) I don’t see it like that. People who are in the film industry talk in a different language. I feel that if the roles are suitable to both of them, then it will be the greatest fun because both of them are great fun to work with. And they are very good to work with together as well. But the roles have to have the basic chemistry otherwise the so called ‘chemistry’, there is nothing like that. Beacsue the same couple will look different in different film
Q) You worked with Shahid-Kareena in Jab We Met when they were dating. Now you have worked with Ranbir-Deepika. You think people who are or have been in a relationship can add an emotional depth to the charterers?
A) It is totally not necessary. It is not necessary at at all. It really deopends upon the characters and it depends upon the people these actors are. The fact that they are having a relationship, or have had it will not really make too much of a difference.
Q) You’ve said in the past that you were an underachiever, who failed exams… From the promos it seems Ranbir’s character is also an underachiever- he isn’t doing what he wants to. How much of Tamasha comes from your own life?
A) I have been more lucky than Ved was in his life. Because ultimately I got the chances to steer out and come in the direction of my own interest. The same is happening to him but it is happening in a different way. In that way, there is something similar. At least I understand where he is coming from. It is not autobiographical but I would say that the life I have lived makes me understand what is going on in Ved’s life and obviously, it may be probably sourced because of my own experiences.
Q) You came to Delhi and found your true calling while doing theatre. Tamasha has a theatre angle too where Ved finds his true calling in it…
A) Yes, I actually started doing theatre while I was in school in Jamshedpur, very very early and I always thought it’s going to be my hobby but it didn’t remain a hobby and I am still doing exactly the same thing. Tamasha has got a lot to do with theatre because… All the worlds a stage. Bazeecha-e-itfal hai duniya meray aage. Hota hai shab-o-roz tamasha meray aage (The world is a children’s playground before me; Night and Day, this theatre is enacted before me). So it is like Tamasha is a play, it is a performance. So stage is a very good simile for that.”
Q) Ranbir said he and Deepika would love to act in a play directed by you. Can we see that happening in future?
A) (smiles) Yes, these are dreams we have but sometimes some of them come true if we push them. I hope that happens. I have not done a play for the longest longest time in my life. It would be fun.
Q) From your debut film Socha Na Tha till Tamasha- your characters are always initially confused about what they want, they are in search of something. So should we believe you are on a journey of self discovery through filmmaking?
A) It is involuntary. It is not as if consciously I am on a journey of self discovery… Even the term sounds boring to me. I don’t want to discover myself, whatever I have discovered about myself is not that interesting to me. There are other things in the world that are more interesting which I am trying to enjoy. So I am not really moving with any great purpose in life. I am just trying to go in the direction that I am being led or am interested in going. I am discovering whatever comes my way. And that (what comes way) is not me. It is said philosophically that every discovery is a discovery of your self… May be so, but the discovery or the journey for me is not myself, it’s always outside.
Q) I think with you a lot of things have happened by accidents. As you have said, there are many things that you didn’t want to do but you ended up doing that…
A) (Laughs) Yes yes, correct. I feel that there is this larger subconcious within you which guides you much more than five percent intellect that is going on in your brain.
Q) You did Rockstar with Ranbir when he was going through a low phase- Rocket Singh and Anjaana Anjaani hadn’t worked. The movie brought him success. Now you’re coming with Tamasha, after three of his films have failed. You think Tamasha will turn the tide for him too?
A) I hope so. These things are far too transcient. The career graph is just a dot in the time line, it changes all the time. I hope for both of them, Ranbir and Deepika, this becomes a high point. Or this takes them somewhere higher. I know as actors, and for me as a director, we have gone to a different level, in the work that we have done with Tamasha. I hope that the same happens in terms of stature for both of them.
Q) Jab We Met changed the career of Sahid and Kareena. Love Aaj Kal did that to Saif, Cocktail to Deepika, Ranbir changed after Rockstar, and Alia after Highway. You have given actors their biggest turn arounds…
A) It’s coincidental yaar, I don’t know what it is… I feel that I love these people… I am happy to have contributed to their careers and their lives. Because I know what value they hold for me and what they have done for me.
Q) Deepika seems more open, more mature and more in control as an actress in Tamasha than she did in Love Aaj Kal. Has that change come because of her film choices, which have established a confidence which perhaps was missing earlier?
A) I think she has grown as a person. She has shed her very very inherent shyness while acting. She has been able to overcome that. That is why she looks more confident, she has always been good, but she looks more confident because she has been able to deal with the shyness.
Q) You got your first break as a director because of Sunny Deol. He is now coming as a director with Ghayal 2…
A) All my life I will be indebted to Mr Deol for giving me the first film. I wish him all the best. I know he is a very intelligent man, the world knows him as the angry man who beats up people… (Laughs) but he is a very senstive person, extremelly shy person. And I will always wish him all the best in whatever it is in my capacity to do for him, I will always do.
Q) Have you seen the promo?
A) I have not seen the promo yet. I have been just working on Tamasha. I think once Tamasha gets over, I will see a lot of new things. The world will be a new thing for me…
Q) That is when you will go on a journey of “self-discovery…”
A) (Laughs) Yes that will be a big journey as there are so many things waiting to be discovered by me. I am just looking at Tamasha right now.
Q) What was the reason you started your own production company, Window Seat? Was that always part of your plan?
A) No, my plan was and is never to become a producer as such but sometimes I feel that certain films need to be made in a certain way. For instance, I wanted Highway to be a film which would not be percieved as an out-and-out commercial film. What I mean commercial is that… Have you realised it is so unique that film industry is perhaps the only place where the deal of sale is done before the product begins to be made.
So what are you going with? You are only going with reputation and promises. Those promises can be false and the reputation can be binding. If I have made Rockstar, if I have made Love Aaj Kal, if I have made films of a certain budget of a certain type… If I make Highway, which is a different budget, a different style, then, is somebody going to get cheated in the line?
Somebody’s going to say arey yaar see his last collection was this much and see what happens here, so now you have newcommers you don’t have stars so you cut this much and still give me this much money. So I wanted to produce it because I wanted to make sure that it is sold ahead in the right price. So that is why I started Window Seat. Now that it is there I will try to invest in it and I will see which of movies need to have that production arm, just to make sense of the film and push it forward in the right direction. I feel that nobody in the making of a movie should lose money. That is really not right.
Q) So will you be producing only your films or looking out for other projects as well?
A) I do not have a steady plan. There are also so many stories that I have… Like Cocktail, where I know as a director I can only direct these many movies… Like probably be able to direct one movie in a year and a half or two years but the number of stories I have are a lot. There are some other stories I feel they can be made, so those stories perhaps I can fester and make or produce under Window Seat.
Q) Almost all your movies have had a common theme of love, romance, longing. Will we see you working with the king of romance, Shah Rukh Khan soon? There were reports…
A) (smiles) I hope so. I hope to work with Shah Rukh Khan. He is a very positive man. I’ve spent a lot of time with him. There is nothing confirmed so, I can’t make a statement or anything on
Q) You are known to make contemporary romantic films and he has starred in some of the most iconic romantic films in the 90’s… Did any of those films ever inspire you? Considering if the collaboration happens it’ll be very…
A) (Cuts in, smiling) It’ll be fun. It’ll be fun for me at least. ‘DDLJ’ was a great film, in fact I also liked ‘Darr’ before that. Although it was on the other side of romance… It was obsession. It was interesting the way the story was told, even what he did in ‘Kabhi Haan Kabhi Naa’, that is one of m favourite movies and also some of his recent films. He has various shades… I feel that because he is from Delhi and from my university, we understand the language of each other.
Q) So any other upcoming projects?
A) Nothing yaar. As I said, the whole focus is on Tamasha. Once this clears then… And it always happen, I have some stories on my mind but which is the one which is going to be the next, I have not really sealed, signed or delivered yet.
Q) I think the next time I come to interview you, my first question still would be ‘when was this story conceptualised…’
A) (laughs) Correct, correct. That’s what happens with me…
Interview done exclusively for PTI.