Imtiaz Ali and his affair with modern romantic cinema

Imtiaz Ali and his affair with modern romantic cinema

In times when recreated songs and cliched love stories are the norm, Imtiaz Ali still lives by mystical romances, true-to-life characters and narrative journeys that aren't just self-exploratory but also define the meaning of love altogether.

imtiaz ali rockstar highway tamasha jab we met
Imtiaz Ali has directed films like Jab We Met, Highway, Tamasha, Socha Na Tha, Rockstar and Love Aaj Kal.

In times when recreated songs and flashy love stories are the norm, there is one filmmaker who still lives by mystical romances, true-to-life characters and narrative journeys that aren’t just self-exploratory but also define the meaning of love altogether. Imtiaz Ali is possibly the only one among the current filmmakers who can be accredited with making true romantic stories for this generation.

Imtiaz made his filmmaking debut with 2005’s Socha Na Tha and he has been redefining romance with almost all of his projects ever since. He is one of the rare filmmakers who have a consistent appeal to the audiences, so much so that cinephiles flock to the theaters to watch his films despite the fact whether they star bigwigs or not. While his contemporaries stick to giving us cliched versions of boy-meets-girl love stories, Imtiaz’s universe is a whole lot different. It is full of flawed characters fighting with their inner demons and finding the most unusual partners for themselves, be it Veera’s Mahabir, Ved’s Tara or Geet’s Aditya.

Imtiaz has many a time accepted how he is as disillusioned with the feeling of love as his viewers and that through his films and interviews he tries to discover that definition.

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Alia Bhatt and Randeep Hooda in a still from Highway.

“When you are talking about love, you perhaps think so, but you aren’t really talking about someone else, say your lover. You are, in a way, just talking about your own self, about what you love or what you are looking for. And that is what needs definition. The other person, in my opinion, is just an object for you, just a vehicle to realize your own feelings,” Imtiaz told The Huffington Post last year. And that is probably the reason why self-exploration is a dominating theme in almost all of his films. Imtiaz is one filmmaker who stands by the statement that “to truly fall in love with someone, one needs to fall in love with his own self.” This is why Imtiaz says that love is more a direction than a destination for him.


A recurring theme in Imtiaz Ali films is also travelling. While at some level that does signify the initial unrest that his flawed characters feel at the beginning of the story, there also lies a much more significant analogy to the coming-of-age journey that his characters undertake with the film’s narrative.

And while most of the characters start their metaphorical journey in an attempt to discover themselves, they are often disarmed with the novel feeling of love somewhere along the way. There is something magical with the way Imtiaz weaves the two in all his narratives. It is almost as if that they can’t exist without each other. And that is probably the reason why falling in love is one of the most important steps in self-exploration for most of his characters.

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Ranbir Kapoor as Ved in Tamasha and Jordan in Rockstar.

The perfect embodiment of this phenomenon is Jordan (Ranbir Kapoor) who thinks he can’t be a good singer unless he is heartbroken. While his story can’t progress without him discovering love, in other Imtiaz films, Highway or Tamasha for example, love is hardly the problem. Veera’s (Alia Bhatt) problem is her claustrophobia towards cities, her love for free, open spaces and for Ved, his suppressed desire to become a storyteller manifests itself in Corsica where he pretends to be someone else. While Heer (Nargis Fakhri) embodies heartbreak for Jordan, Mahabir (Randeep Hooda) represents freedom for Veera and Taara (Deepika Padukone) becomes Ved’s outlet for storytelling.

It is almost like Imtiaz’s characters fall in love with the person they become with their significant others, while it is painfully cathartic sometimes like in Rockstar and Tamasha, it is also emotionally elevating at other occasions like in Jab We Met and Highway.

Imtiaz also believes in writing his own script and dialogues. That is probably the reason why his narratives are intensely compelling and his dialogues don’t appear to be scripted dialogues at all. They are everyday conversations that often embody the emotions of the viewers.

jab we met kareena kapoor shahid kapoor imtiaz ali
Kareena Kapoor Khan and Shahid Kapoor in Jab We Met.

The universe that Imtiaz weaves carries a signature style that separates his work from others. It is effortlessly real and appeals to the audience with its rawness. Sure, it may get repetitive at times but his stories always come with a fresher, sometimes darker undertones.