In one of the most emotive scenes of the 2015 Hindi movie Tamasha, the protagonist, Ved, a corporate employee who had a
break up with his girlfriend and on the verge of a psychotic break, finds his companion of the moment in a Rickshaw driver who drove him in a lonely and maddening night. Ved, who had to pretend as someone else in all his life finds it is the same case for the Rickshaw driver too, who goes on about his ambitions to be a singer all the way. As the conversation and night progress and the parallels between his life and the Rickshaw driver’s come closer, Ved begins to see his inner demons and the reasons behind his breakdown. Such a moment of epiphany can be spotted all through the movies of ace filmmaker Imtiaz Ali. Being one of the prominent filmmakers in Bollywood, Imtiaz Ali is known for the depiction of unbearable qualms of life in movies like Jab We Met, Love Aaj Kal, Rockstar, and Tamasha.
Born in Jamshedpur to a middle-class family, Imtiaz Ali was eager to get into and know more about the life thriving around him. Long trips with his father, who was in the irrigation business, into the distant lands of Bihar and the city of Patna influenced his adolescence a great deal. When he was in class IX, Imtiaz and his brother Arif Ali, who also became a filmmaker later, came to stay with his aunt at Karim Mansion, an old building in Jamshedpur. Two of the cinema theaters in the town situated very close to the building and Imtiaz Ali’s sleep were invaded soon by the dialogues and music oozed out of the theaters. As a boy, he was brought up under strict terms and there were no friends or hangouts for the teenager. Slowly, along with his sleepy musings with cinema, Imtiaz developed a friendship with the projector operator in the cinemas. After nightmarish school days, where he struggled with loneliness and competitive aptitude issues, Imtiaz Ali shifted to Delhi to pursue his graduation in Hindu College, University of Delhi.
Delhi became his incubator and ignited his passion for theater. Soon, he started directing plays for IBTIDA, a theater society founded by him. Before packing to Mumbai in search of a living, Imtiaz was sure about what he wanted in life and theater and media were his strongholds. After some exhausting and churning engagement in advertising and television arena, Imtiaz started directing television programs for Anupam Kher, and by the end of 2005, he had popular television programs like Kurukshetra for Zee TV and Imtihaan for Doordarshan to his credit. The much awaited Bollywood break came to him when Sunny Deol was looking for a script to launch his brother Abhay Deol. Imtiaz Ali’s debut feature, Socha Na Tha happened in 2005 and, even though the routine triangle love story couldn’t make it big at the box office, the newbie filmmaker was well acknowledged for his freshness of vision and intense treatment.
Imtiaz Ali carried over the idea of eloping from gagging familial customs, in search of liberation and answers to one’s inner demonic questions, self-blossomed into full spring in his second feature, Jab We Met. Through the crisscrossing destinies of a businessman fed up with life and a chirpy woman full of life he ran into, the movie amalgamated romance and road movie genres. Imtiaz depicted the couple-met-by-chance and their finding neverland ride to the realization of love and life with dexterity, and Jab We Met not only established Imtiaz as a filmmaker with amazing control over his medium but also as a writer who can transform every tiny moment in life into a cinematic moment that celebrates the irony and humor.
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Imtiaz Ali kept the leitmotif travel when he moved on to the third feature, Love Aaj Kal. But, the filmmaker, a die-hard romantic at heart, took his characters across time this time and the movie depicted love and its nuances as two parallel stories happening in different time coordinates but connected by a common denominator, passionate love. Love Aaj Kal cemented his reputation as one of the prominent storytellers of the new age Bollywood. Lost love and the quest for self-realization through reunion took its vertex in Imtiaz Ali’s next feature, Rockstar. The protagonist, Jordan rocked the younger generation of the nation with music and touched a chord with his internal journey in search of lost love and meaning. Using a typical pot, Imtiaz weaved the passionate love affair between two different kinds of people and their chaotic journeys of ups and downs, both in professional and personal lives.
As a filmmaker, it was the time for shifting some gears for Imtiaz Ali and he turned up with a gritty romance happened between a kidnapper and his hostage girl, with the police on their tail. His next movie, Highway, encapsulated the rough terrains and precariousness of a road trip and Imtiaz hold on to his recurring leitmotif, journey, to study a very passionate and dangerous bond between the abductor and the hostage at the crossroads of life. The vision of storytelling and the imaginary world of emotions, dreams, and despair, which Imtiaz Ali stands for, unleashed in full fury in his next flick, Tamasha. The movie celebrated storytelling, and, most importantly, belief in the stories we engage with. Adopting a story-obsessed young man’s life and using it as a parable, Imtiaz created an alternative world of reality, which shattered and overhauled throughout the movie with touching authenticity. For many reasons, Tamasha can be considered as the fruition of his aesthetic and socio-political worldview.
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Unlike his contemporaries, Imtiaz Ali brought an Indianess into his body of work, which is deeply rooted in the cruel meaninglessness of mundane, day-to-day life and the choking conventions guiding it. Through the leitmotif of journeys, he leaves the difficult world and its realities behind, in search of the lost self and meaning. For Imtiaz Ali, these journeys form the essential narrative, the very body of the movie, and he fills the hollow inner cavity with intense emotions, passion, despair, and humor. One of the most alluring characteristics of his movies is not even once he tries to intellectualize this complex spiritual and existential process. On the contrary, he invites his viewers warm-heartedly to join the journey, face the dangers, experience the transformation, and be a part of the climactic realization, whether it’s for good or bad. Combining all the movies in his filmography together, they can be considered as a visual notebook on the journeys of wounded souls, which reveals a filmmaker who is a nomad and a romanticist in one.
Written By: Ragesh Dipu