Imtiaz Ali: If you want to act in Hindi films, speak the bloody language
The filmmaker talks about his production, Laila Majnu, while reflecting on his last film debacle and his upcoming plans
Director Imtiaz Ali reveals that he envisioned a modern retelling of Laila Majnu almost ten years ago. The finished film, directed by his brother Sajid Ali and co-produced by Ekta Kapoor, Preety Ali, and Imtiaz himself, is now all set for release on September 7. The film stars fresh faces, Tripti Dimri and Avinash Tiwary, and is set in present-day Jammu and Kashmir. Part of this film has been written by Imtiaz himself.
Excerpts from a chat with the ace writer-director:
What's your writing contribution to Laila Majnu?
I wrote some scenes and conceptualised the world of Laila Majnu myself. I had a certain vision for the film, and this is what you will see on screen. But I did not want to direct it. I was interested in someone else's interpretation of my story.
What has Sajid Ali’s interpretation brought to this film?
He has introduced some very interesting elements that I couldn't have brought. For example, he reimagined Laila as a girl who is flirty and manipulative. She is constantly seeking attention and pouting before her phone. I couldn't have thought of Laila like that. Also, the music Sajid has helped create is fresh and engaging.
Why did you decide against casting popular actors in this film?
We wanted young and fresh actors, partly because Sajid felt more comfortable working with new people. Also, we wanted the audience to think of them just as Laila and Majnu. If, say, Ranbir Kapoor was playing Majnu, you would be conscious of the actor.
Laila Majnu is a classic love story. What is new about your interpretation?
Towards the end of this film, Laila comes to Majnu after all the pain and heartbreak, but he does not accept her. It is an ending I didn't understand but was fascinated by. I wanted to discover this feeling.
You’ve, of course, explored the human emotion of love in many of your films. What's your understanding of it?
I still don’t think I understand too much about love, even at my age. It remains an enigma to me. Yes, all my films seem to be about love. But I'm as lost as anybody else. I'm not a romantic person in my everyday life, actually.
You are the face of contemporary romance in Indian cinema. Do you think about how the youth will react to an old love story like Laila Majnu?
I've thought about it. I am very happy to present this fresh take on Laila Majnu, which is made for the youth of this country. I’m confident that the sensitive and passionate youth will instantly connect with these characters.
Do you fear being typecast as a romantic director?
Sometimes, trade experts tell me to make more films like Jab We Met and Rockstar. But this is not why I decided to follow my dreams and came from Jamshedpur. I could have opened a shop or started a business. I don't want to restrict myself as a storyteller.
Are you excited by the role of a producer?
I am a director first. It's my only interest. But after working for many years, there's a certain value I can bring to other films as a producer. Sometimes you have to do things which may not interest you, like I'm doing publicity now (laughs).
Returning to your role as a director, were you heartbroken after the failure of Jab Harry Met Sejal?
This is not the first or last disappointment of my life. I've gained more from my failures than my successes. There's only so much pain that can affect me when a film falls short of expectation. It does not devastate me.
Were you tempted to analyse what went wrong with that film?
My analysis will be biased. It is very difficult to look from the other side. I don't go into post-mortem mode after a film is released. I try to move on. I make every film with equal passion. Some work, some don't.
What's happening on the directing front?
I've written four stories. I've developed two screenplays, and am currently developing the others. As I've turned producer, I need a lot of firepower. I will pick the right project soon.
Saif Ali Khan played a sardar in your film, Love Aaj Kal (2009). And now, he’s tasted much success for a similar look in Sacred Games.
I loved Saif in Sacred Games. Vikramaditya Motwane was the right director for him. Nawazuddin is amazing; he always surprises you. I was riveted throughout the show.
After all these years, is there something about the Hindi film industry that bothers you?
Well, yes. If you’re acting in a Hindi film, learn to speak the bloody language. Not everyone is from a Hindi-speaking background, I get that. But if you want to work in Hindi films, you need to learn the language. It’s a problem I encounter with many young actors. It makes it very hard to work with them.