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Friday, January 22, 2021

Imtiaz Ali: ‘My idea of love has constantly evolved’

Filmmaker Imtiaz Ali on exploring his doubts in his films, why some art is timeless and making Love Aaj Kal again.

Written by Alaka Sahani | Updated: February 2, 2020 9:03:36 am
Imtiaz Ali, Love Aaj Kal, Bollywood, Hindi Films, Filmmaking, Karthik Aaryan, Sara Ali Khan, JabWe Met, Rockstar, Shahid Kapur, Kareena Kapoor, Saif Ali Khan, Rockstar, Sadda haq aithe rakh Director Imtiaz Ali/ Express Photo by Amit Chakravarty

A decade after you made the first Love Aaj Kal (2009), you are back with another film with the same title.

It’s not a sequel or a continuation. It’s a fresh story with new characters. The concept, of course, is the same. Two stories, set in different eras, interact with each other. That’s the reason I was very clear about calling my latest movie Love Aaj Kal. This story came in my mind some years ago, when I was talking to my daughter (Ida) about the romantic days of my life. Years later, it had formed a certain narrative. So, I decided to go for it. One love story in the film is set in Delhi, now, and the other story takes place in the 1990s. These two are very different from each other. Yet, the essence of what you are looking for in a lover or a romantic relationship is the same.

Did you try to understand the dating scene today?

Being in the film industry gives you the opportunity to interact with people of different ages. I’ve seen young people engaging with each other, romantically; I’ve seen perspectives and mindsets about romance, intimacy and physicality change. What was taboo earlier is no longer so. I don’t know what my idea of love is, except that it has constantly evolved and I’m trying to understand it at different stages of my life. If I had a clear view of what it is, then that part of me would have relaxed and I wouldn’t be making films about it.

Have these questions been transmitted to your characters?

I think so. I see this romantic uncertainty in many of my characters. I see it in Zoe and Raghu (Sara Ali Khan and Kartik Aaryan, respectively, in the forthcoming Love Aaj Kal). I see it in Aditya and Geet (in Jab We Met, 2007) as well as Rockstar’s Jordan (in 2011). Geet (Kareena Kapoor) seemed confident initially, but, in the second half, there was a lot of uncertainty in her. She went so blindly with that concept (of love). Later, she stumbled and was surrounded by self-doubt.

Who among your characters, do you think, understood love?

No one. The one who comes closest to it is Veer (Aaryan in a double role) in the upcoming movie. Even then, he’s not really understood it. But, like many young people, he understands what he does not want as far as a romantic relationship is concerned. He does not want what he has seen the previous generation suffering from. He wants something which is idealistic, but he doesn’t know how to get it.

When the trailer released, many thought you were repeating yourself.

This does not bother me as I’m very certain of what is new in this film. It’s impossible for you to show everything in a three-and-a-half-minute trailer. Love Aaj Kal is the most franchise-able idea that I’ve had. As our aaj (present) and kal (past) change, love aaj kal (love then and now) also undergoes a change. Potentially, a new story can be created. In this franchise, there are some common motifs, like music, that repeat themselves.

Your male characters are criticised for not growing up.

As long as I don’t grow up, my protagonists won’t grow up. I think people should learn to deal with it. I manifest myself in my characters in some ways. It does not make me feel great as there must be so many unresolved things in me. But that’s how it is.

Do you believe some people are better able to mask their emotions than others?

I believe that anybody who claims to have found clarity is actually putting a veil over what is unclear. Clarity has to be something that’s luminous. With age, do you become wiser? Do your fears end? Does your mind stop questioning? I don’t think so. Your questioning stops when you become dull.

If you could go back in time, would you change anything in your stories?

There are lots of things that are not so good in my films. In Rockstar, when Jordan and Heer came together in the second half, there was a dull phase in the film. It’s almost as though the narrative, which is so intimate, suddenly became distant. I think, as a writer, I didn’t understand what was going on in their lives. Then the moment her health starts to fail and he realises that he is going to lose her, I can feel the writer again. It’s as if the writer in me blacked out during the other phase.

Rockstar ran into troubles over the song Sadda haq, but this is an expression that has resurfaced during protests.

Sometimes, what artists or musicians create is used in various protests and occasions. Sadda haq aithe rakh, much before Rockstar, was used (as a slogan) in the leftist revolution in Punjab. We borrowed it from there. Of course, it will be used for protests. It is not mine. It is for anybody to use.

Hum dekhenge has become a protest anthem decades after it was written and performed. It seems that powerful art
is timeless.

Art is timeless. As long as their art has relevance, those artistes are alive. The films that we write might trigger something, provide relief to people or show them the way; give them a little companionship, or help them voice their opinions. Amir Khusrau’s work such as Aaj rang hai or Mann kunto maula, or Kabir’s songs or Rumi’s writing or Guru Nanak’s words have that timelessness. (The new) Love Aaj Kal’s Veer follows these poets and philosophers. This is what also gives him a certain wisdom.

Young people are also out on the streets across the country, protesting against the CAA and the NRC. What do you think of these student movements?

Since I’ve been making this film, I don’t know whether I have the entire picture. As a person, who is a known face, I take it as a responsibility to inform myself 100 per cent before making a comment.

Do you feel, though, that we have not seen young people come together like this in a while?

I think violence of any sort is not good. We are from the land of (Mahatma) Gandhi. As far as groups of students coming together are concerned, it’s good for people to unite for a cause. If they feel very strongly about something, they must voice their opinion. The Constitution allows them to do so. The beauty of this country is that it allows you to disagree. You should do it and you should do it with a lot of love. You cannot expect anything to change for the better if you do it in a negative manner. With love, you can change anything.

Will you, someday, move away from the themes you are identified with and try something different?

I don’t see myself holding on to what I’ve been identified with. Such identification is really up to the audience. I can’t change that and they didn’t take my approval for it either. I want to have the ability and the freedom to do anything, any kind of film that I feel like as long as it is entertaining people. I will do something that I am most interested in, not because I want to change anything.

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