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Saif missed Kareena on the sets of ‘Love Aaj Kal’: Imtiaz Ali

With 'Jab We Met',he gave us a romance with spunk. We find out what other love potions Imtiaz is serving up.

Written by Harneet Singh | Mumbai |
May 25, 2009 11:01:47 am

With Jab We Met,he gave us a romance with spunk. As Imtiaz Ali gets ready for his next release Love Aaj Kal,we find out what other love potions he’s serving up.

Like his Bollywood colleagues,if you too have wondered how Imtiaz Ali—a soft-spoken,long-haired,non-filmi guy from Jamshedpur—reinvented the romance genre in Hindi films with Jab We Met and Socha Na Tha,well,take a sip of Darjeeling chai. Make that 25 cups of Lopchu Estate Darjeeling tea,preferably brewed in an earthen pot. “This is my only quirk. I need as much of my single-estate tea as I can get. I can make do with cutting chai on the sets now and then but just to be on the safe side I always carry these.” These being sachets of his favourite poison. “I just need hot water and then I’m good,” he says.

We are at Saif Ali Khan’s Illuminati Films’ production office in suburban Bandra. Ali is giving last-minute instructions to his team of assistant directors who are leaving for Mehboob Studios,where the last bit of a song from his forthcoming,Love Aaj Kal,remains to be shot. His phone beeps repeatedly—music composer Pritam is on the other line and the duo discusses a song. “I’ll come and hear it. But be warned it’ll be late in the night,” Ali tells him. Next,his assistant wants to know what to tell choreographer Bosco. “Ask him what time he’s reaching Mehboob. I’ll reach accordingly,” he says between sips.

It’s a long day of “studio crawling” (as Ali calls it) ahead. After the Mehboob shoot,he has to go for a costume meeting,then a background score meeting with Salim-Suleman,followed by a drop-in at Fiesta mixing studio and then at Prime Focus in Film City. No wonder,he needs his chai kick. And no wonder his passport is still in his laptop bag after he returned from Dubai a few days back. “I haven’t had the time to take it out,” he says.

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With the Saif Ali Khan-Deepika Padukone starrer Love Aaj Kal releasing in June,Ali will only get busier. Does the expectation of delivering a better,more successful film than Jab We Met,which has acquired cult status,burden him? “I’m quite oblivious to Jab We Met. I’ve reached a stage where I’m not at all impressed with it. As a creator,I recognise its faults and I’m under no pressure to match it. The expectations,if there are any,are from myself,” he says.

The 37-year-old,who grew up in a family that owned cinema halls in hometown Jamshedpur,recalls “wandering in and out of” Jamshedpur Talkies,Karim Talkies and Star Talkies. He retains that childlike wonder for cinema. “My sense of cinema appreciation comes from seeing the first-hand reactions of a raunchy north Indian audience who,when they go to see a Mithun Chakraborty film,dress up like him,” he says. Ali doesn’t want to offer any intellectual debate through his movies; he just wants to entertain. “The audience pays an entertainment tax,not an information tax. A film can offer a perspective or a worldview but the audience will only take it back home if it entertains,” he says.

Ali’s journey began with theatre—playing Aladdin in his first school play in Class IX and then writing and directing school plays. He staged his first professional play,Arthur Miller’s All My Sons,when he was in Class XII. He then moved to Delhi where he established Ibtida,the drama society of Hindu College which stages thought-provoking street plays even now. “My batchmate,Prabhat Ranjan,felt we should name it after my initial I,so we did just that,” he says. By then,Ali had realised that his happiness lies behind the camera. “I decided that I would rather look at someone then be looked at,” he says.

The next stop was obviously Mumbai. He arrived in 1993 with no idea of how Bollywood worked. “I thought the film industry was a huge building with different rooms like acting,directing and producing. I thought it’s very simple. One just needs to enroll in this building and then get certificates from these different rooms,” he says with a rueful smile. But soon,he was out there struggling,finally getting to direct the Kirron Kher chat show Purushkshetra. Then,the big break came with TV soap Imtihaan. “That’s where it all started. I learnt direction when I was already the director. In hindsight,I feel I’m a victim of accidents in my life. I’ve just blown in the wind,” he says.

After Ali wrote Socha Na Tha (which he did in three days) for a three-part telefilm slot,he was told the telefilm wasn’t happening. Director Anurag Kashyap,who is a good friend,arranged for his meeting with Abhay Deol who referred the script to big brother Sunny. The elder Deol liked it so much that he decided to produce it,thus marking the beginning of Ali’s film career.

He’s only two films old but has already perfected the ‘Imtiaz Ali touch’. His films are unapologetically romantic but you don’t feel apologetic about liking them. They are cool,smart,with a breezy momentum that keeps you interested in the story. You remember his characters and their moments— Socha Na Tha’s Abhay Deol climbing the balcony of Ayesha Takia’s house in the middle of the night to confirm whether what he is feeling is love or Jab We Met’s Kareena Kapoor telling Shahid Kapoor to flush his ex-girlfriend’s pictures down the toilet.

Ali has a thing for road romances (Jab We Met was tentatively titled Train) and likes to make his protagonists run. A lot. “It just happens. There’s no reason,” he says with a shrug. Love Aaj Kal is a take on love in the past and the present. Saif and Deepika play lovers who meet in two time zones. “The older generation doesn’t understand today’s love,they find the whole instant gratification aspect of it ridiculous. The youngsters think their elders were stupid to be in a relationship for two years and not even hold hands. Yet when love hits,all lovers do the same things. That’s what the film explores,” he says.

Love Aaj Kal marks two big firsts: it’s Saif’s debut venture as a producer and his first pairing with Deepika. The actor,in a recent interview,expressed regret that girlfriend Kareena Kapoor was not paired opposite him. Ali downplays his producer/star’s statement. “Deepika has a rhythm to her that I wanted for my character,Meera. Let me tell you Saif and Deepika worked very well on the set. It’s just that Saif missed Kareena but then everyone misses their girlfriends. In his case,it’s just that he had the liberty to say it.”

Don’t blame Saif,apparently in Bollywood,it’s a big deal to bag an Imtiaz Ali film. At an award function last year,Kareena openly expressed her disappointment of losing out on Love Aaj Kal. That too was a first. Ali must be flattered. “The thing with flattery is that you don’t recognise it when it happens. It was not a happy feeling when Kareena publicly said what she did. I felt bad because we had cleared the issue and I didn’t realise that she still felt so bad about it.” In the past too,Imtiaz has been known to go by his gut and back it up while choosing actors. Abhay got the nod for his “un-heroic looks.” The boy-faced Shahid was selected as the mature Aditya in Jab We Met for “his inner maturity.” This quiet conviction makes him stand out in the crowd.

Though comfortably placed in Bollywood’s power hierarchy,he remains an outsider who is enjoying the carnival. He has a close group of friends that acts as his first critics’ club: the list includes wife Priti and film buddies Anurag Kashyap,Shivam Nair,Sriram Raghavan,Nishikant Kamat and his neighbours. He prefers zipping through the city in an autorickshaw and likes to watch movies in his neighbourhood multiplex rather than wait for invitations for private screenings. He grew his hair long just to avoid going to the salon. “I used to feel very self conscious when girls with weirdly-coloured hair used to give me caustic glances in the salon. So I just decided not to get a haircut.” Today they call it a style statement. Just like his movies.

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