Finding the right actors who can deliver the character fully well has been director Imtiaz Ali’s top most priority. The director of ‘Jab We Met’ fame talks about making his stories real.
He belongs to the school of realistic cinema. Bollywood scriptwriter-cum-director Imtiaz Ali knits stories in a way that audiences can relate to his fictitious characters, dialogues and situations.
Thirty-eight-year-old Imtiaz, recognised as a gifted director after his film Jab We Met became an outstanding success, says there was no magical formula or a mathematical solution to balance the script with real life. “While writing the script, I don’t see the cinematic image but the characteristics, smell and nature of the situation. While meeting an actor, I try to figure out his inner configuration. For me it is very important to choose only those artistes who share the characteristics of the person I’ve in mind.”
To drive home his point, Imtiaz explains the reason for selecting Deepika Padukone for his last release Love Aaj Kal. “Well, Deepika is a person who likes to hide behind other actors and she thinks more than she speaks. Because of these qualities, I took her in the film. Taking someone else would have been disastrous as I cannot explain silence in a person. By choosing Deepika to play Meera, I not only got a fine actor but was able to showcase her culture and upbringing. Once I’ve the intuition that the actor before me fits the character, I do my best to accommodate him or her in my movie.”
Imtiaz believes that films should be made in a manner that the audience can easily relate to incidents. “Like in Jab We Met I decided to show a girl in a train sleeper as it had unpredictability all around. Suddenly, the viewer thinks of endless possibilities. Moreover, with the train sequence I can explore a whole gamut of things. I’ve been lucky that I never filmed the shot I had planned.”
Once on the sets, Imtiaz tries to go according to his plan. “But I end up doing things differently when 150 people unexpectedly turn up at the sets. Their energy levels are palpable and I’m forced to do things differently. When I started my career, I felt insecure as I couldn’t adjust my technique of shooting. Instead of feeling frustrated, I tried to settle for the nuances of the scene that had been shot.”
Love is the central theme in Imtiaz’s movies but the film-maker insists there was no deliberate attempt. “When I was young, love had a certain meaning. But now I feel there is no uniform quality like love. I get confused with the word, nobody uses it in my movies. Contrary to the views of many people, I don’t feel my films are romantic.”
Imtiaz takes risk if he is convinced that the actor will be able to deliver. Making Brazilian model Giselli Monteiro enact the role of a Sikh girl in his third film was a risky proposition but Imtiaz went ahead. “For Love Aaj Kal I was searching for an innocent-looking Sikh girl from the trading community living in Karol Bagh in 1969. As I felt girls in Bombay are too liberal, I auditioned a number of girls in Punjab. Somehow I couldn’t find the qualities of a shy girl there and was disheartened. Someone introduced me to Giselli, who appeared diffident and timid. She seemed perfect to portray the character of Harleen. She had a typical North Indian Punjabi bone structure. It was a co-incidence. I thought it was a big challenge but again that unpredictability factor made me go ahead with my decision to cast her. I knew my entire film could have fallen apart if Giselli had failed to live up to her role.”
Having lived in Delhi, Jamshedpur and Patna, Imtiaz is well acquainted with how people converse in buses and other public transport. “I keep my dialogue colloquial. Initially, I wanted someone else to write dialogue for my films, but ended up writing them myself. And I got an award for best dialogue writing. The language outside and inside the theatre has grown much closer in my films.”
Justifying the use of ubiquitous song and dance scenes in Bollywood even though his films are set in cosmopolitan cities with normally techno-savvy characters, Imtiaz says song and dance have been part of Indian culture from ages. “I’ve watched innumerable jatras in villages in which Ram and Sita sing and Hanuman appears. Our film-makers know how to use songs and we aren’t ashamed of them. Whenever I introduce a song I make sure that it connects with the situation and story.”
Imtiaz, who began his career directing television programmes, has a penchant for using one English word in the title of his film. “Barring, my first one Socha Na Tha, both my films Jab We Met and Love Aaj Kal have one English word. The reason behind this is that normally people in cosmopolitan cities converse in neither Hindi nor English but Hinglish. My characters also speak Hinglish, so that is why one English word keeps cropping up in the title.”