The best thing about interviewing Imtiaz Ali is that he is never in a rush. He listens well and answers your question nice and slow, allowing you to absorb each and every word spoken. I caught up with this brilliant filmmaker for a quick tete-a-tete at the screening of Shor Se Shuruat, an amalgamation of seven short films the directors of whom were mentored by seven eminent Indian directors including Ali for the project. Excerpts from the interview.
Imtiaz, how was the experience of mentoring Satish Raj for his short film, MIAI’M?
Satish has assisted me in three films — Rockstar, Love Aaj Kal and Jab We Met. There was already a working rapport with him. I never bossed over him and he never listened to me. Even when he was assisting, he would never listen to me. So it was fun because he is the most unpredictable character who I have worked with. And it was time for me to tell him, ‘Get a taste of your own medicine.’ My inputs to him were not measured or decided. It was just that at every stage he would come and tell me, ‘This is my story. Do you like it?’ And then I would say whether it was nice or not.
When these short film directors make a transition into feature filmmakers one of the challenges they face is getting an actor of their choice. The studios may insist on a star and you may want someone else. How should they tackle it?
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That’s an old problem. It’s been going on for 100 years all over the world. I will say the same thing which a lot of people would have said. The power of a story should be the reason to make a film and nothing else.
Has it happened with you?
Yes, I faced it during my first film when I was trying to cast Abhay Deol in it. I had gone to some very nice jewellers who wanted to produce films. They liked my story. One of them said it is a nice story but we should get SRK for it. So things like that happen.
But was there no desire then to work with SRK?
See what happens usually is you have a story and you choose an actor who is suitable. SRK was not suitable for it. I needed someone of Abhay’s age at that time. SRK was not of that age.
So script chooses your actor and not the other way round?
Yes. I do respect the market forces. I will be a fool to say that I am making a Rs 500 crore film with a newcomer. It won’t happen. So then I won’t make that film. But if a film requires a guy who is 15-year-old, I will not go to SRK for it. I will not make the movie. So that choice is mine. And sometimes if I know that I require an A-lister who will get me a certain draw in the market then I will see whether I am getting him or not. And if it falls into place then it becomes that overall coincidence where you are looking for a person who is a star and he also fits your script. You then set out to make that film.
Satish’s short film’s theatrical version has been censored by the CBFC. What do you make of Pahlaj Nihalani?
What to say about Mr. Nihalani. It’s like Mariana trench. Too difficult to understand why he is doing what he is doing (shrugs).
Let’s talk a bit about your film with SRK. So the title is not Ring?
No. This is happened so many times with me where I haven’t figured out the title of the movie even though I have started shooting it. It’s happened again and I will come out with a title soon.
What was the strategy behind getting Salman Khan to tweet about your film?
I don’t know. I think perhaps SRK and Salman had decided between themselves that Salman will tweet. It was actually very nice and heartening for all of us that Salman tweeted because otherwise he has nothing to do with it. So it was quite nice of him.
How much did SRK unlearn himself to work with Imtiaz Ali?
I don’t know. Neither have I worked with SRK before and nor have I worked with any other director but Imtiaz Ali before. So I don’t know.
But how would you describe your experience of directing him?
It’s a very good one because we communicate very easily. We are both from the same North Indian middle-class family with a Delhi theatre background. So it was very easy to communicate with him. I can’t talk much about it because I am not allowed to.
Alright. Finally tell us what other film genres would you like to direct?
I don’t understand genres. When a story is getting a grip of me inside, I am not even cognisant of the genre it will belong to. It is only after the movie is made that people categorise it as a specific genre. So I am not really going out there to make a movie necessarily of a different genre. I am not bothered about genres at all.
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