Ahead of Love Aaj Kal, ranking all Imtiaz Ali films from Socha Na Tha to Jab We Met and Rockstar
Now that Imtiaz Ali completes 15 years in Bollywood, a look at his past films yet, which have another commonality besides the director — love in abundance.
Eleven years after juxtaposing the love of the present and that of the past in Love Aaj Kal (the OG), Imtiaz Ali seeks to replicate the same comparison in his upcoming romantic drama, starring Sara Ali Khan and Kartik Aaryan.
While love may have changed from 2009 to 2020 now, the brand of Imtiaz Ali's romance has remained more or less the same ever since he made his debut in 2005. For him, love is exploration of the self through spiritual and emotional engagement with a partner.
Now that he has completed 15 years in business, and is coming up with yet another expression of his school of love, we've ranked all of Imtiaz Ali's films below.
When the trailer of the new Love Aaj Kal released, it was criticised for putting old wine in a new bottle. This writer felt the same for Imtiaz's 2015 coming-of-age film Tamasha. From the colourful trailer, it looked like yet another Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani-esque rom-com. But the second part of the first half took me by surprise, a pleasant one at that. Ranbir Kapoor's Ved was conditioned to function only within a template set by society. Like almost every Imtiaz film, here Tara (Deepika Padukone) becomes a catalyst for his internal change.
Tamasha was a masterpiece in terms of concept, narrative and craft. Narrated as a musical, Tamasha underlined Imtiaz's genius as a storyteller. He structured the film in such a way that it felt like the two principal characters are telling their stories themselves while shaping them.
2. Jab We Met
The 2007 film, starring Kareena Kapoor Khan and Shahid Kapoor, was Imtiaz's breakthrough in Hindi cinema. Geet (Kareena) became iconic, yet Aditya (role played by Shahid) was the dark horse of the film, for me. Geet was easy to fall in love with — she was a dreamer, blunt and persuasive in her approach, and blessed with crackling lines written by Imtiaz. But Aditya was really the perfect counter to the eventual criticism of Imtiaz's films — that the woman is merely a medium for man to complete his arc.
That was clearly the case with Aditya and Geet in the first half. But the second half saw a flip when Aditya pushed Geet to live life on her own terms and achieve the dream she has seen for years. It was a mature take on relationships since love is indeed about reminding your partner during a low phase how they once felt the best version of themselves. It was also a smart way to establish that though a dreamer must not change to fit into society, dreams can change with the course of time.
The 2014 road movie was Alia Bhatt's breakthrough. Two years after she played a high schoolgirl in her debut film, Karan Johar's campus caper Student of the Year, Alia completely surrendered herself to Imtiaz's vision in Highway. It was a perfect cast as Alia, both in the film and in the eyes of the audience, broke free of the shackles of civilisation and embraced her true self on a 'forced' abduction journey along with her kidnapper, a Haryanvi truck driver Mahabir (Randeep Hooda).
To label their love story as Stockholm's Syndrome would be a sheer injustice to the respective journey both of them undergo as co-travelers. While she discovers freedom in 'bondage,' he is nudged to come to terms with his vulnerable self and parts of his childhood he had left abandoned.
The scene that carries the essence of the film is the one shot in the deserted plains of Sambhar, Rajasthan, when Mahabir lets Veera (Alia) run away from him only to see her return exhausted after a helter-skelter dash in the no man's land.
To quote from my 'This Day That Year' piece on five years of Highway:
"The romance in Highway is a result of two people with contrasting backgrounds, connecting through similar past demons, and the will to overcome them through their companionship. Travel allows them to come closer to not only each other but also nature, and in turn their own primal selves."
4. Love Aaj Kal
The 2009 film, starring Deepika Padukone, Saif Ali Khan, and Rishi Kapoor, was certainly novel in its concept and structure, using a then-rare parallel narrative technique. Saif imagining himself as a younger Rishi Kapoor falling in love with his then-love interest Harleen (Giselli Monteiro) was a masterstroke, rather than the makers casting another actor to play the younger version of Veer, Rishi's character.
A moment that stood out during the narrative was Meera (Deepika Padukone) telling her husband Vikram (Rahul Khanna) moments after their wedding that she has to chase Jai (Saif) because she is not in love with the man she married. "Main tumhe baad mei sorry bol dungi," (I will apologise to you later) could have been a hilarious dialogue had the audience not been immersed in Imtiaz's idea of love by then.
The love Imtiaz showcased in 2009, as compared to that in the previous century, was quite pure, contrary to popular opinion.
The 2011 musical saw Ranbir deliver one of the most memorable performances of his career. The film graphed the journey of a singer who channels the pain and catharsis of heartbreak and an unfinished love story into his music. AR Rahman's unique soundtrack, Irshad Kamil's graphic lyrics, and Mohit Suri's evocative vocals, along with Imtiaz's singular vision, made Rockstar a musical masterpiece.
But in order to execute this brilliantly conceptualised film, Imtiaz required every person associated with the project to be on the same page as him. It was a difficult film to crack tonally. This was exactly where it fell short, thanks to the leading lady in newcomer Nargis Fakhri. She could not do the heavy-lifting her role inherently demanded, thus falling short in almost every scene where she shared screen space with a much more evolved Ranbir.
6. Socha Na Tha
The 2005 film, starring Ayesha Takia and Abhay Deol, may not be the most sound Imtiaz Ali film in terms of production value. But it is his least complex film, in a good way. Since it was his directorial debut, it was redolent of the innocence of a young filmmaker. Whether he maintained a tight hold on the narrative or whether he had not processed or experienced various shades of love by then, it worked in his favour since Socha Na Tha was a breezy film best remembered for its simplicity and humility.
In hindsight, 'sweet' and 'simple' are not exactly the qualities one expects from an Imtiaz Ali film. Let us just say, Imtiaz, like the lead actor Abhay Deol, found his creative voice much later in the ensuing years. That leaves Ayesha Takia, a complete revelation in the film because of her restrained performance as a practical woman who assumes she is in unrequited love.
7. Jab Harry Met Sejal
A lot has been said about arguably the most underwhelming film by Imtiaz Ali. While a lot of that is true, there is still a lot to love in his 2017 film, starring Anushka Sharma and Shah Rukh Khan. It is true the synergy of two different schools of romance, of SRK and Imtiaz, should have created fireworks but I believe the film stemmed from a fully realised script that fell severely short in execution. Though Imtiaz chose to tell this layered story through the character of Harry (SRK), and kept the backstory of Sejal (Anushka) between the lines, some more light on where she was coming from would have made the film more well-rounded.
It is a similar sin Imtiaz committed in Tamasha, though the difference is there was a lot else going on in the favour of his 2015 film. In Jab Harry Met Sejal unfortunately, the most fun parts were when Imtiaz's actual story had not kicked in. The philosophical undertone he wanted to convey got compromised because of the inconsistent treatment of the film.
Imtiaz Ali is probably the only filmmaker who, in my eyes, has not given a single bad film yet. And that is saying a lot.
How would you rank Imtiaz Ali's films? Tell us your ranking below
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