Don’t go by the Bollywood director Imtiaz Ali’s golly-lock looks, neither by his humble demeanor, underneath lies a sharp mind and heart that not only explodes in cinematic best in such blockbusters like ‘Jab we met’, ‘Rockstar’ and recent ‘Highway’ but has brought Kashmir once again on the tourist circuit in more ways than one. Apart from highlighting virgin landscapes, the film Rockstar had Nargis Fakri attired in kurtas and shawls in exquisite Kashmiri embroidery. RASHMI TALWAR caught Imtiaz Ali in Srinagar (Kashmir), while he was shyly treading the celebrity tourism path chalked out by Jammu & Kashmir’s Tourism cell.
Q1. Don’t you think other countries with similar luxuriant landscapes could offer better locales than Kashmir?
Ans: There couldn’t be a single film maker who doesn’t want to shoot in Kashmir. In my movies, I have shown not even five percent of Kashmir. Nothing can match Kashmir and its endearing backdrops or its innocence. My top priority would be Kashmir compared to any other part of the world as beautiful as they may be. If I may put it in a few words which I know would not suffice the emotional bonding I have towards it, I could say –‘Kashmir is organic, it’s not manicured’ that is why it is so special.
Q2. Was it an effort to promote the place you fell in love with, even though you are not of it?
Ans: I didn’t do film shoots here with a conscious effort to promote Kashmir. It just happened and I am happy it did. Punjab has its own flavors and one can see a lot of Punjab in Yash Chopra’s films, plus Punjab is the current flavor too. I used Punjab in ‘Jab we met’ but in terms of visual beauty Kashmir is matchless.
Q3. Kashmir is indeed lucky to have you?
Ans: No, I consider myself the lucky one that I was able to shoot in Kashmir and not the other way around. I come here to fulfill my greed. I had no clue that showing Kashmir would develop as vast an expanse as it eventually did and I am indeed humbled by the response. There is immense talent in this place. I once did an impromptu short film ‘window seat’ of only five and a half minutes duration and a shikarawala sang a song in it. With a mere back score and sound of rippling water it caught the limelight on you tube. The film revolved along the varied touristy experiences of the shikarawala. The impromptu song by the shikarawala Habibullah Butt, of Dandi, became the highlight of the film. Even now Butt rows the shikara in the Dal Lake.
Q4. What level do you give to music in your films?
Ans: Music is very vital to my films as it is to the entire spectrum of Indian movies. I am very particular about the background scores, the soundtracks, the song and the lyrics. They should not only gel together to bring forth the story but in places I have chosen them for the sheer effect of the travails. I try not to insert a playback singer’s voice that does not match the character’s personality, even though I may be emotionally affected by it. I try to use it appropriately; rest is up to the Almighty.
Q5. You think you have something unique in you that other directors may not have?
Ans: Yes, I have an e-mail address ‘standingingalerybelow’ (smiles) and it has a unique story. A girl who once worked with me kept this name for our production house’s email, because in all my films there was always a character under the gallery. When she left, she gifted me the email and ever since it has become my prized personal email.
Q6. Can I safely address you as a hit director given the fact that you have had a string of blockbusters in a short span?
Ans: I never know if my work would be attractive to my audience or hit the dust. There are always layers and layers in creating a film. It is the script, the storyline, the conception, writing, presentation, direction and final outcome and no one knows whether it will click or turn into a flop. Yes, instinct is very much present but instinct and period, beyond that I don’t think. That is how I make it; the end result is not something that I or anyone can predict.
Q7. Which one of the actresses would you prefer Aaliya Bhatt or Kareena Kapoor? Do you like happy or prefer open endings where audience draw their own conclusions?
Ans: Aalia was amazing. In every new shot she surprised me during the making of ‘Highway’. Kareena is of course more experienced and is a very good actress. I haven’t experimented much with open endings I don’t feel there is a choice in a storyline. Whatever the story demands I meander it that way.‘Rockstar’ had a tragic ending, ‘Highway’ had a good one so did ‘Jab we met’.
Q8. What is lacking in Bollywood today? Is there anyone you would love to work with?
Ans: Bollywood is missing out on the strength of good writers. Strong storylines are missing. I would have loved to work with Dalip Kumar; he is one of the greatest actors India has seen. But I do not foresee my dream coming true.
Q9. Do you take time or make instant decisions? Which one would you consider for a re-make of an old or a regional hit?
Ans: I take snap decisions. I don’t linger around too much (running his fingers in his curly hair and giving it a gentle flick). I find no fun in remakes or rehashing old stuff be it songs or stories. There is a whole world of new stories.
I love to make movies on human interest stories where characters are vital and I choose them with care. I would however love to make a character movie someday like Farhan Akhtar’s–Bhaag Milkha Bhaag. Also I would try a period film someday in the backdrop of Mughal period when Urdu was developing and poets were writing in mixed languages, the period of Hazrat Aamir Khusro, the emergence of Hindustani music.
Q10. Any love interest in your life? What are your views on marriage?
Ans: No, I wouldn’t like to talk about my love interest. Marriage is very difficult; people should go into it on their own risks.
FIRST PUBLISHED IN RISING KASHMIR ON JUNE 29, 2014 ON PAGE 7