Filmmaker Imtiaz Ali says thoughts and imagination come into play when you’re on a leisurely journey. The writer draws a mind map around his travel fetish

Whether it was Jab We Met or Rockstar, “the journey” that his actors set out on, even within themselves, form the crux of Imtiaz Ali’s stories. Highway, which releases today, takes the storytelling to the road again. “The pressure of having to plan is so big in travel, that it takes the pleasure out of it,” believes Imtiaz. And it’s no different when making a film where the story can be burdening. Which is why he didn’t really have a very rigid bound script for Highway. “People actually say all my films look the same. They say everybody is running away in my films, they all want to break relationships, that kind of thing…” says the man with a wry sense of humour, taking us along on his journey, as he promotes his film in Bangalore. Excerpts from an interview:

Is that intentional? Making all films alike?

I want all my films to look distinctly different, like some other directors I admire. But in a way I can’t really take myself completely out of the movies I make. There’s the commonality of me and some common interests and I feel that the relationship between a director and his film is always going to be organic. And it’s only a change in him that will really bring about a defining change in his movies.

That life-defining moment hasn’t yet happened?

No, it happens… usually you recognise a life-defining moment in retrospect and I’m sure that its happening…there comes a point when the author has to read his books to find out who he is. He doesn’t know.

Why the recurring leitmotif of journeys in your film?

There’s a lot of time you have on a journey. You don’t have to worry about chores or daily existence. Your mind settles down and when you think you’re really thinking of nothing, is when you’re really forming opinions. I think that’s why a journey has been interesting for me. Thoughts, imagination come into your mind, plans are made. Usually what happens is that everything is so urgent, you forget what is important. You’re always doing this fire-fighting. Especially on unexpected journeys you have time, you can figure certain deeper things out like who you are and what you want. That’s why I enjoy journeys.

Do you do that? Just go somewhere, unplanned?

I fortunately get to travel a lot anyway. I enjoy it. I try to travel as much as I can…I’m always looking for a reason to.

How do you usually travel?

Train largely, because I’m from a small town. I had to take a train to wherever! Or long flights, where you can sit and write. But mostly trains, and road.

Do you drive a lot?

Not as often, but yes, but not everything is planned. For instance I had gone with my daughter on a holiday to a foreign country, and we had hired a car and we had no ideas where we will stay the night. Just travel, and when we were hungry, eat somewhere, choose best place possible, a bed and breakfast kind of place, get up and drive again, into the road that we thought was most interesting. And she’s 13 years old…that was extremely enjoyable for both of us.

Enjoyable because of the sense of adventure?

Ya, and also because there’s no pressure. Or when you’re travelling, you’re constantly planning. And now there are gadgets. My brother Arif and I were travelling in Europe and he was not even looking up! He was only looking at the guide map. And he would say “Bhaiya now castle is going to come on the right” and I would look and be like “Arrey ya...beautiful”. There was no point in his coming there, he could have just been home and seen the map. The pressure of having to plan is so big in travel, that it takes the pleasure out of travel.

So that’s why you made Highway without a bound, strictly planned script?

Exactly! The pressure of the plot is so heavy on the film and director, like “what is this film saying now?” sometimes you have to let things happen on their own. the audience is smart enough to understand “yeh ladki kidnap hui hai aur waapas naheen jaana chahti”. It not that complicated. If you let it breathe on its own, there are some beautiful things which look good in cinema. I enjoy scenes in films, which do not have the pressure of the story so much…and it flows. I’ve tried to go in that direction.

You’re happy the way Highway panned out after you saw the final cut?

Happy you’re never. Honestly speaking. I can say I’m happy and it’s the best film in the world. It might just be the best film in the world. But happy you can never be. I’m happy I made the film because I got to experience this life. If you give me another month I’ll do something new…it’s a process. Like Mahesh Bhatt says “Films are never finished. They are always abandoned.”