Imtiaz Ali’s cinema carries theatrical imprints after all theatre is where the filmmaker’s affair with performing arts began. His last big screen outing, Tamasha, in fact, was an explicit display of his love for theatre and can even be called his own ode to the medium. So, it’s not surprising when the filmmaker, one of the most sought after in the industry, says that he wants to revisit theatre in a full-fledged way.
In an interview to indianexpress.com, Imtiaz speaks about the purity attached with the medium, his definite plans to direct plays and yes, just a little bit about his upcoming film with superstar Shah Rukh Khan.
“Theatre is my origin. I have spent so much time there and I feel mentally, I am still there. I never disconnected from the theatre and might have accidentally learnt from it. So, this is a natural place for me to be in,” the director says while sharing his excitement about attending a theatre festival in the city.
The festival, Colors Khidkiyaan, has seen top Bollywood filmmakers and actors lending their support, which is a proof of how the film industry’s approach towards theatre has changed over the years. The reason, Imtiaz believes, is that the stage allows an artist to convey his or her story in a “frills-free” manner as opposed to cinema, which often relies on gimmicks to sell its products.
“Theatre is a very no-nonsense, frills-free way of doing what we do where you can spend most of the time actually doing what you want to do. It’s a great platform to practice, replenish yourself, your hunger to learn new things and also do different things that come to your mind. It’s largely more experimental, it’s bare and you rely only upon your core strengths and you cannot have many gimmicks so, it’s a very pure place that you can always go back and purify yourself,” he says.
So, the next obvious question is if he has any plans to go back to Delhi theatre, from where it all started for him, to which Imtiaz replies, “I don’t know if I will go back to Delhi theatre but I do have plans to do plays in my life. I don’t think I will not do any theatrical activity. I will definitely do something. I don’t know when that will happen, though. It might happen a few years later or maybe 20 years later.”
It is a general perception that the artists who make a transition from theatre to movies are more involved with the craft than film creatives for they are indifferent to the commerce of cinema, in plain speak, the box-office numbers.
But Imtiaz doesn’t agree with the notion as he says that for any creative person the most important thing is his or her desire to tell stories, regardless of the medium. The director believes that commerce matters to a playwright as much as it does to filmmakers, though its scale varies.
“When you are working you are not really qualifying art and craft, and commerce as different things. You are doing something that is coming to you and you have an innate feeling that people will like it. The same principle applies in theatre, television and now in films. It has never been any different. Numbers are not there in theatre much but while doing theatre also, we are aware of whether an audience is coming or not, seats are getting filled or not. It’s just that it is a smaller set, a smaller amount of money but its equal amount of desire. I don’t think we are here for the fact that there is more money to get or we are dealing with more money in cinema. We are here to desire and desire is same in the theatre. If you are doing a play in a theatre of 50 seats, you will want all the 50 seats to be filled as much as you would want your film to be a blockbuster,” Imtiaz says.
Last year, during promotions of Tamasha, Imtiaz had expressed his desire to cast Ranbir Kapoor and Deepika Padukone in a play. The director says that is still a wish and hopefully one day he will fulfil it. “We three had talked about it but I don’t know when that will happen. The kind of theatre I qualify in is not a quick fix. It is not a bhelpuri chat. It will take time. So, when they have time and everyone has time only then it can happen.”
But while his play will take some time, his next big screen project will be out much earlier, this August. There’s a lot of obvious buzz around the film, for it is the first time that the director is working with Shah Rukh. That, however, is not the only talking point about the romantic film, with the confusion regarding the movie’s title keeping everyone’s busy. So, what is it — The Ring or Rehnuma? Imtiaz, without divulging anything, answers, “It is neither. At least that I can say. It cannot be either of the two.”
The movie also stars Anushka Sharma, making it the third time the actor is collaborating with Shah Rukh.