Imtiaz goes off-track

With Highway, Imtiaz Ali has returned to simple storytelling without the frills of the mainstream cinema. Photo: Monica Tiwari   | Photo Credit: Monica Tiwari

“I can’t forget this place,” Imtiaz Ali beams with excitement. We are at Ahuja Residency at the corner of Sunder Nagar. Not a usual place for the table to be set, but Imtiaz insists to eat here because the place was his camp during the making of Highway. “It was here that I found the sweater that Randeep Hooda wore beneath his shirt throughout the film. I saw the guard wearing it and found it suitable for the character of Mahavir Bhati. I offered him a nice jacket in lieu and he readily agreed.”

It is morning, and there are sandwiches on offer but Imtiaz has his own plans. “I have asked my guys to bring chhola-kulcha from a place near Nizamuddin. Try them,” Imtiaz flaunts his knowledge of Delhi street food and is not bragging. A graduate from Hindu College, Imtiaz knows the nook and cranny of the city. “I took Ranbir (Kapoor) to Old Delhi during the shooting of Rockstar. I have learnt our framed photos are on the walls in the Paranthewali gali,” says Imtiaz digging into fluffy kulchas. “I can’t cook. So it is hunger that took me to explore destinations for good quality food at affordable prices.” It is a plan that he employs during shooting as well. “I don’t push for staying in five-star hotels. You can save a lot of many that way,” he adds.

During the shooting of Highway as well, he didn’t take the usual route. “The film is called Highway but we hardly remained on it. We took to lesser known destinations in Rajasthan, Himachal Pradesh and Kashmir and ate whatever came our way. As they say in India the language changes after every few kilometres, it also applies to food.”

Being a travel enthusiast he has been to these places but he was ready to be surprised. “We were not prepared for the climate in Gurais and Aru valley. The local women fed us. The good thing was that nobody showed tantrums. Randeep fell sick because of lack of acclimatization but he didn’t give up and returned to shoot within 24 hours. Similarly, Alia who hasn’t seen the harsh life was game to eat in remote dhabas,” he reminisces sipping ginger tea.

With Highway Imtiaz has returned to simple storytelling without the frills of the mainstream cinema. He knows that people had started calling him as somebody trying to be the new age Yash Chopra of romance. “Be it David Dhawan or Yash Chopra, I asked myself when I started I didn’t have the props and still managed to tell an honest story and it was liked by people. Can I do it again?” He drew from an episode that he made for Zee TV’s Rishtey. “The story is very much relevant. I retained some elements and then built upon them. I like the fact that the film has found appreciation in smaller centres as well.”

He has emerged as a heroine’s director and understands the responsibility that comes with it. “Kareena, who never boarded a train in her life before Jab We Met, got the sur right from the word go and retained it through the film. While shooting the ‘Chor Bazari’ song in Love Aaj Kal, I discovered the naughty side of Deepika Padukone, which she hides in public life. When the casting of Cocktail (Imtiaz wrote the film) was being done I suggested her name for Veronica while she wanted to play Meera. The film didn’t turn out to be the way it was intended in the second half but it proved to be an image changer for her as people perhaps like the contrast between the face and the attitude,” says Imtiaz, who will soon be shooting with Deepika and Ranbir for his next film.

Soon one of his crew members emerge with home-made gond ke ladoo and the focus shifts….

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Printable version | Jan 19, 2022 10:39:30 AM |

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