The poster of the just-released romantic drama Tamasha states: “Why always the same story?” The film stars Ranbir Kapoor and Deepika Padukone — one a people-pleasing nomad and the other a free-spirit tourist — and mixes complex emotions, foreign locations and a knockout soundtrack. But at first look, the story of finding love and rediscovering one’s self seems to have been told before. I put the question to Imtiaz Ali, the director of Tamasha.
“What gave you that impression?” Imtiaz counter-questions me. “I’m sure nothing is common between this and the other movies. It’s natural that when you see the two actors together you are reminded of all the movies they have done (together), especially their last one.”
This is Imtiaz’s second film with Ranbir after Rockstar and his third with Deepika after Love Aaj Kal and Cocktail (he only produced the latter). How does he explain the film? With one of the shortest and most effective story pitches ever, the director says, “It’s somebody reminding you of who you are. Sometimes you need to a meet a beautiful girl in an exotic island to tell you who are.”
Really? The next time I’m in an exotic location I’ll look up someone beautiful, so that I too can ‘discover’ myself.
“Absolutely. Go there and wait,” Imtiaz says, laughing.
From Socha Na Tha, his debut film starring Aisha Takia and Abhay Deol, to Jab We Met to Highway (Alia Bhatt won the Best Actress Filmfare Award for it last year) travel seems to play an important part in his films. “I personally enjoy journeys a lot and they are always a really dramatic part of my life. I also feel that in stories, it’s refreshing and it changes your perspective and gives you the fulcrum on which you could turn the plot around.”
So is romance in foreign locations the go-to genre right now? Ranbir’s career is full of it, I remind him. “I’m not educated about genre at all. I can’t even pronounce the word properly and so I wouldn’t venture a guess there. When I make a movie, I try to understand the story. See, a person can never understand himself fully, there is always going to be scope for learning more.
“When you make a movie, you take the credit for writing it, directing it, or telling that story, but actually you’re only recording as you as it flows in your head and you try to understand it layer by layer as you explain it to more and more people.”
Imtiaz believes himself to be the “centre of the audience. Luckily I am not a worldly, aesthetically evolved person. I’m pretty middle of the middle, as far as my taste for cinema goes. This makes me attuned to the audience’s expectations.”
Which explains the excellent soundtracks.
“I just talk to him,” Imtiaz says on working with A.R. Rahman. Tamasha is their third collaboration after Rockstar and Highway. “I start by telling him the story and the various aspects, the nook and crannies and thoughts, bouncing ideas any which way until we reach a conclusion.” Tamasha’s soundtrack courtesy Disney/UTV is a fresh mix of classic Rahman with Tum Saath Ho (Alka Yagnik, Arijit Singh) being a stand-out hit.
We start talking about cross-border trade of movies. “I am a firm believer that movies should not have, and cannot have a border. Legally or illegally people will get to see the movies they want to see. In terms of trade, I am not sure how beneficial it is for Indian movies to be released in Pakistan. But I’m sure it is. More important than that is the fact that whatever the numbers are right now, I am sure they can be larger once Pakistan also settles down to the modern thoughts of (film) exhibition that it is going through right now. It is evolving as a market onto itself for its own cinema, and I feel that similarly, Pakistani films coming across to India is a great idea. Some Pakistani films have been released over here with a great deal of success. Ultimately, there would be a bigger market for both industries.”
Imtiaz has been to Lahore once, and would love to travel there again, if given the opportunity. “I feel the vibes of love (in Lahore). I want to be there to eat the food and listen to the music.” he says.
How important is box office to a film-maker? “It is indicative of whether people like my film or not. Every other comment might be somebody’s opinion, but the box office is the reality which tells me how many were really interested in watching my film. That is what matters to me.”
Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, November 29th, 2015