Imtiaz Ali wants to create a legacy than be part of a rat race
As he brings another timeless romance, Laila Majnu, to theatres, Imtiaz Ali on how he'd rather create a legacy with his work than be part of the rat race
Mohar Basu (MID-DAY; August 12, 2018)

When you've said almost everything about love in your last eight films, is it difficult to find uniqueness in a concept?
I don't approach a story based on the concept of love. I love the idea of telling stories about men, women and their relationships. People are unique and that makes it interesting for me. I don't start thinking that I am making a 'love story'. I have a lifelong interaction with my movies and choose to showcase the experiences well that keep the audience entertained for three hours. I am a greedy filmmaker, hunting for stories to satiate my greed. I don't uphold the genres I am said to be known for.

But ultimately, they are all love stories.
I don't deny that they are, because that's what they are categorised as eventually. However, these categories are defined by people. The audience finds what they are looking for and what is missing from their lives, in my movies. Filmmakers are categorised by their abilities. If my films explore the relationship between a man and woman, someone else's beat revolves around a man's relationship with guns. When Yash ji [Chopra] started making films, he introduced the concept of the angry man with Waqt (1965). In the latter half of his career, he made movies like Dil Toh Pagal Hai and was hailed as King of Romance. Who knows what I will be known for (smiles)?

What about Laila Majnu's story compelled you to write it?
There is divinity and an eternal quality in stories that never end. To understand that is essential in improving my craft. I was reading an anthology on great love stories and my focus was on Heer Ranjha, especially because I was making (2011) at the time. Laila-Majnu has a philosophical stature, like Sufi saints, which hooked me. I wrote about 35 scenes and 10 years later, people who read it thought it could be made into a film.

Is it easy to part with a script that you have written?
I never intended to direct this. Usually, I write scripts with the intention of directing it, otherwise, I hate writing. But once a story is given away, like Cocktail (2012) and Ahista Ahista (2006), I let go. I make no bones about the treatment of a story once I've handed it over to someone else. I don't grudge Homi [Adajania] for Cocktail; once it is someone else's baby, it is easy.

Are you critical of the films they make?
I am critical, but only as much as I am of my own work. I am aware of the mistakes in Cocktail, that happened because of me, as well. Work in this industry is collaborative; at any time, over 150 people are involved in making a film. An Imtiaz Ali film is a product of many people; movies are never a one-man show. All my films could have been better and I can list scenes which could have been shot differently. It's a curse I live with because unlike other industries, the work we do here exists for eternity.

Since you are critical of your own work, can you deduce why Jab Harry Met Sejal was panned so brutally?
It's difficult to say what it deserved. I don't think it's a bad movie and won't shoot it down as a mistake. I have worked hard on that film, like all my other projects. I know what went wrong with that film. Had I done few things differently, it would have turned out better. As far as criticism goes, people will say things, but you have to believe in what you are making and stand by it. I've got contrasting views on Tamasha (2015). Some hailed as a masterpiece and some called it boring as sh** on the same day. They will always try to convince you that their feeling is the universal truth.

When you move forward from a commercially unsuccessful film, are you cautious about your next?
There are no guidelines on what would work and what wouldn't. I am a clean slate when I sit down to write. Stories last a lifetime; box office calculations are transient. I don't operate from a mindset that movies are made for cashing out. I don't know what Sholay (1975) or Andaz Apna Apna (1994) earned but I want to give the audience what these movies gave me. I am creating a legacy.

Have you managed to create a trademark legacy?
I haven't made a legacy, but I am in the process of creating and producing what I wish to. I believe in the power of movies. Market respects talent and creativity, but creativity doesn't necessarily have to respect the market. Making something like Baahubali is beyond my purview.

Do you have a favourite in your filmography?
I can pick a thousand reasons why none of my films are my favourites. But as passionate experiences, I'd pick Highway (2014) and Rockstar.

What is next in the pipeline?
I am writing four stories, will figure out what I want to make next at a later stage. I will be producing these and hence won't be under pressure to stick to time frames. I have had these stories for a long time, and each film will have its own destiny. Right now, I am in the hatching period. I can't be compelled to be part of the industry's rat race.

Imitaz Ali on the set of Highway with Alia Bhatt and Randeep Hooda