‘My aesthetics are very normal’

Director Imtiaz Ali on the new look of love and longing in Hindi cinema

In the age of post truth, there is a filmmaker who feels romance is still alive in life that innocence can still be salvaged. His contemporaries like Anubhav Sinha feel that Imtiaz Ali is the only filmmaker who is making true romantic stories for this generation. However, Imtiaz doesn’t feel the genre is in danger. “If you take out old newspaper clippings, you would find articles on how romance is dying or how originality is in danger. There was a time in the ‘70s when the cult of angry young man emerged and people feared that romance might die but then Yash Chopra, who himself played a part in the creation of angry young man, kept it afloat,” says Imtiaz on the sidelines of NFDC’s Film Bazaar in Goa where he talked about re-defining romance on celluloid.

Imtiaz holds in times when there are plenty of options to choose from and plenty of choices to distract, an individual’s intention has become crucial. “Let’s talk about life. At some point of time, it was such a big deal to hold a girl's hand. Today, it is easier to meet a person and make love to that person but it is not the end of the story.” In fact, he says, herein lies the contemporary tragedy. “Earlier the notion was if you are sleeping with a woman, you have her but now we are at a point where even if I am sleeping with a woman, I don’t have her. So the imagery of loss has changed. It is more internalized. It is a feeling where you are lonely in the crowd. I may be talking to so many people at one point of time and I seem to be very busy but deep inside I am lonely. One has to make a different kind of communication with the audience to convey this loneliness. So the look of tragedy has changed because the nature of longing in life has changed. It will take some time to set itself crystallise in cinema but we are working towards it.”

We saw glimpses of it in Imtiaz’s Tamasha where after taking us to an electrifying ride in Corsica, he showed mirror to the urban male, and it was discomforting. “May be audience didn't want to see that part. Many feel that they should feel gratified after watching a film and what they saw were may be their deficiencies. But I am really glad that it caused discomfort.” In a mainstream film? “We can only do it in mainstream. You have to be talking to a larger number of people.”

Imtiaz maintains that the role of strong female characters is a new phenomenon. “Earlier, our cinema was little dogmatic but as with exposure to television and exposure to social media the understanding of audience and directors increased, we could emulate life better. Traditionally, our grandmothers have always been dominating our grandfathers but to have the ability to present that in cinema developed only recently.” But the tendency still is to make her conform to the norm after intermission like in Cocktail, which Imtiaz wrote. “It also depends on how a story turns out. Sometimes a certain part of the story becomes stronger so you feel the other part is not strong. In Cocktail, when the question should have been which girl I like more, it became which girl my mother would like more. That’s how it happens and in this case I can blame the director,” Imtiaz chuckles.

But Tamasha could also be told from a female point of view. “Absolutely, and it would have been very interesting from a female point of view because in traditional household one had to factor in more problems for an engineer girl who wants to be storyteller. There would be some members in the family who would push her to get married and have children.” And then a man comes who would emotionally hold her... “That would not be so cool...” he interrupts. Does he feel today’s man is not capable of doing it? “No, don’t generalise. It is true that many men see women as bodies but there are many who provide sustenance to their dreams. In fact, there was a girl who had done engineering and was acting in Tamasha. She told me she was not good with numbers but was coerced to do engineering by her family. I didn’t inquire about the man in her life but may be...”

While exploring all these trappings of new age romance, Imtiaz sticks to the good old ways of using songs to take the narrative forward. “You might not watch Awara or Shri 420 these days, but you still listen to their songs. Songs give life to the film. However, you have to ensure that your brief to the composer and lyricist is cogent to make them integral to the story.” And as a writer, Imtiaz says, it is his job that if he is inspired by Rumi, it should seamlessly translate into a contemporary story.

Was he always like that, a journeyman exploring love and longing? Imtiaz, who grew up in Jamshedpur in her aunt’s family which owned three theatres, says, “I am from the middle of the middle (class). My aesthetic is very mid-level. It was like that even when I was doing theatre in Delhi. I would think that I am too filmy. I was definitely not an intellectual. I was with Jan Natya Manch people for some time but I was that jhalla (non serious) who would love naach gaana. I can't discuss the politics of shoe even when I know the audience is getting bored,” he laughs. “Through my plays, I wanted to make them happy. My aesthetics are very normal. They are not super fine and perhaps that’s why I fall in line with many people in this country.” As for the journeys in his films, Imtiaz says, it is an interesting tool to put masks or take them off characters. “When you are travelling people don’t know who you are. So you could do anything and it is an interesting terrain for a writer.”

Now, Imtiaz is on yet another big ticket journey where Shah Rukh Khan is playing the guide! “He is the easiest guy to work with and the most unimposing person. I can take liberty with him. It is about a tour guide and a girl looking for her engagement ring.” The two have been in touch for a long time and it is said that Imtiaz would narrate all his stories to Shah Rukh. “It was not a procedure. It is like when we meet he would ask what am I upto and I would tell him that I am working with Saif or Ranbir and he would say, ‘ok! tell me the story’. I narrated the story of Love Aaj Kal to him and even when he knew Saif was doing he listened it just for fun.” Let’s see how the two kings of romance Ring in the New Year.

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Printable version | Apr 7, 2020 8:51:04 AM |

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