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Saturday, September 30, 2023

Imtiaz Ali: Bollywood’s Most Profound & Philosophical Filmmaker

Imtiaz Ali is one of the most celebrated filmmakers in Bollywood.

The director, who began his career with writing and helming television show, has gone on to present love-stories in the most profound ways.

His directorial debut in Hindi cinema was with Socha Na Tha.

Despite the film’s fresh angle and interesting storyline, it did not succeed at the box-office, although it was somewhat appreciated by critics.

Over the years, Imitaz has gone on to make movies which have a very philosophical appeal.

Many of which depict characters on a journey of some kind – be it geographical or sentimental.

But above all, his films have always depicted the theme of self-discovery – especially with ventures like Jab We Met, Tamasha, Highway and Jab Harry Met Sejal (to a certain extent).

I have always been able to resonate with the Imtiaz Ali’s stories on a deep and spiritual level.

His films are not just products, but in fact, they signify more insightful meanings about life.

Jab We Met (2007)

Jab We Met amazes me through the juxtapositions of both central characters in the film.

On one hand, Shahid Kapoor (as Aditya Kashyap) essays a depressed/heartbroken and famous businessman who loses focus in life.

Until he is forced to accompany Kareena Kapoor Khan (as Geet Dhillon) back to Bhatinda and then elope to unite Geet with her boyfriend.

It seems as though Aditya’s lacked motive in his life.

Hence, by leaving his mobile phone and car keys on top of the car, it signifies how he wishes to live as someone with no attachments and recognition.

The fact that Aditya had become like a lost soul without any destination, Geet becomes a motive for his livelihood.

Furthermore, there is a scene where Geet tells Aditya to flush down the photo of his ex-girlfriend.

This symbolises how we all should not let our past bound our present life.

What I also loved was the switching of roles.

In the second half of the film, Aditya adapts the personality of Geet, whilst Geet becomes the serious and sad personality of Aditya.

This role-reversal outlines that there is an Aditya Kashyap and Geet Dhillon in all of us.

Love Aaj Kal (2009)

Love Aaj Kal is undoubtedly Imtiaz Ali’s biggest commercial success till date.

The film depicts the story of Jai (Saif Ali Khan) and Meera (Deepika Padukone) who separate after being unsure about their feelings for each other.

During this time Jai talks to café owner Veer (Rishi Kapoor) who explains his love-story.

Through this analogy, Veer convinces Jai that love is about determination, strength and belief.

Not just physical compatibility.

What I also find quite ironic is that this 2009 blockbuster signifies how love is universal with every time-period.

Similarly, Ali’s later film Tamasha also follows the tagline ‘Why always the same story?’

This message (from both films) convinces me that life really is a circle.

Characters change, time and places change, but a tale will never change. It simply adapts to the current situation.

Rockstar (2011)

I can closely resonate with Janardhan Jakhar (Ranbir Kapoor) in this film. He was advised by a canteen owner that pure art and music stems from a broken heart.

Absurdly, Jakhar tries to get his heart broken from his true and soul love, Heer (Nargis Fakhri), but when he actually does, things spiral downwards for him.

Despite catapulting to immense fame and acclaim, Jakhar (whose stage name then becomes ‘Jordan’) becomes a lost and frustrated soul.

I have felt also like this before.

If something ever occurs were going well, but one incident would completely dwell on my mind and I would engulf myself in pessimism.

It’s almost like I would activate this self-destruct button in my brain and adapted similar behaviours of Jordan.

But of course, I would soon be snapped out of this mode by my nearest and dearest.

As such, the track ‘Nadaan Parindey’ in this film reflects Ranbir Kapoor’s character.

The lyrics:

“Kyun Des Bides Phire Maara Kyun Haal Behaal Thaka Haara. Kyun Des Bides Phire Maara Tu Raat Biraat Ka Banjaara” Symbolises Jordan as a nave bird who wanders around countries in a fatigued state, unbeknownst of his destination.

This, to some extent, could relate to us and how we could be like this nave bird, trying to find our destination in life.

Highway (2014)

Highway narrates how an affluent girl, Veera (Alia Bhatt) finds freedom whilst kidnapped by Raghuvir (Randeep Hooda).

The film does not only stand as a path-breaker for Alia, but it is also thought-provoking.

As the Highway itself is not just a road, but a metaphor for Veera’s life.

In the movie, we see that she was abused during her childhood and forced by her mother to hide it.

Thus, being taken on a long journey, on long roads and without any security, becomes her liberty.

The moment we I found out about Veera’s abuse, chills are sent down our spine.

We feel a moment of shock that this seemingly happy-go-lucky girl had to suffer so much.

But the story makes us think about how many Veera’s there are in our society.

It also compels me that sometimes what we see is not everything. A smiling face can hide a searing pain.

Another big message I feel that the film conveys the message that money might be able to buy us leisure and comfort, but it cannot buy happiness or protection, per se.

We understand this point when Veera cries to her father about how she was told to be careful outside from dangerous people – but the most dangerous individual was in her home.

Furthermore, in the award-winning song Patakha Guddi, the lyrics towards the end are:

“Maalik Ne Jo Chinta Di Toh Door Karega Woh Hi” meaning if God has given the worries, then he will remove it.

This acts as a reminder to me and all of us that the Almighty is looking after us, regardless of how big a problem is.

Tamasha (2015)

I get irritated when someone says that Tamasha is a quintessential Bollywood love-story because it really is not.

By far, it is Imtiaz’s most underrated work.

More than it is a love story, the movie denotes the constant battle of profession versus passion.

It is interesting how we see a clown and robot – symbolising the conflict of Ved (Ranbir Kapoor) between his profession a businessman versus his passion for the performing arts.

I resonate with this conflict.

When I face hardship whilst pursuing my passion I often think ‘what if I was pursuing a more academical career… Would I have been happy?’ this very notion is encapsulated within Tamasha. 

Frequently in life, we feel like we may know a person, especially if our acquaintance with them has been present for quite some time.

However, the frightening truth is that sometimes we fail to recognise that particular individual.

This dilemma of recognising the people we love forms the crux of this film

Remember that scene when Tara says, “I’ve fallen for someone else, Ved”?

As such, this question whether (or not) we recognise a person extends to us asking ourselves the same… How well do we know ourselves?

Final Word

Unlike any other filmmaker in Bollywood, Ali does not just make movies, he lives them and shares his perspective with the world.

Through the medium of entertainment, Imtiaz Ali’s stories which can help us understand the deeper meaning of ordinary occurrences in life.

Moreover, I admire the Imtiaz’s frequent references to Rumi.

In Rockstar, there is a poem along the lines of “Away, beyond all concepts of wrong-doing and right-doing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there”, which Ranbir recites.

Later in Jab Harry Met Sejal, the tagline of the film is dubbed as ‘What you seeking, is seeking you’ a quote from Rumi.

The fact that Imtiaz Ali incorporates such profound ideologies in his work, it makes his films not just works of art, but conscious representations of life.

Anuj Radia
Journalist and film enthusiast.

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