Imtiaz Ali on casting newcomers in Laila Majnu: 'Intense love stories have been successful with new cast'

Seema Sinha

Sep,04 2018 18:39:25 IST

Someone who flourishes in the romance genre has always wondered at the classic eternal love story Laila Majnu. So much so that Imtiaz Ali, the writer-director of intense love stories such as Rockstar and Tamasha, wrote some scenes of Laila Majnu 10 years ago just out of interest. But for the contemporary take on Laila Majnu (releasing on 7 September), which is set in Kashmir, he let his younger brother, Sajid Ali helm it, whereas he chose to pen it along with Sajid. He is also a creative director on the project that is co-produced by Ekta Kapoor.

“I got engaged with this film because I wanted to understand this love story. It's so strange that finally, when Laila comes to Majnu after all the waiting and heartaches they go through, he doesn’t accept her! He says, ‘I don’t need you anymore’. That is the end of the film. I wonder what the hell happened. Kya hai isme yaar, kya hua? I wanted to discover it and that’s why I am part of this film,” says Imtiaz, sounding perplexed.

A still from Laila Majnu

A still from Laila Majnu

While Sajid is candid enough to say that he was under-confident of making a romantic film, the subject definitely comes under Imtiaz’s comfort zone. “I had conceptualised and visualised the film in a certain way much before any director or producer was working on it. I was doing it out of my own interest. So, the broad vision is mine. I already had an idea how I will direct but if somebody else directed it then for me it would be interesting to watch,” says Imtiaz.  “But certain things that Sajid brought into the film is very exciting. For instance, the character of Laila. To imagine Laila as a flirt, as a manipulative girl who seeks attention is interesting. I might have not thought that. She is always watching herself on camera, pouting, posing… That kind of Laila was difficult for me to imagine. Also, I like Sajid’s sense of music. It is of a certain type. I am very happy with the songs and the performances of the lead players,” he further adds.

Imtiaz says that most of the times intense love stories become successful when you have new actors in the film. “If you look in the past, you will see that intense love stories have been successful with new cast, be it in films like Ek Duje Ke Liye, Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak, Maine Pyar Kiya and Aashiqui series. The characters of that film are young and actors who are playing that part are also young so, it’s a plus," he says. “I also think established actors have a certain kind of reputation on screen, therefore, we wanted to cast new actors because audience should feel that they are watching the characters rather than any star in the film without any preconceived notion. Also, Sajid was more comfortable working with new people,” he added.

The very fact that it has taken about three years to write the script and two-and-a-half years for the auditions of the main cast shows how difficult it is to present this legendary tale to the audience today. “Yes, it was very difficult to write despite knowing the story. We wanted to keep those aspects and find a way of keeping them,” says Imtiaz, further adding, “But a classic love story or an eternal love story is something which is modern at every point of time. Many kind of stories came in but have become redundant today. We are not listening to those anymore, but Laila-Majnu, Romeo-Juliet or Shirin-Farhad are still being told and heard because something relevant is still there to be told,” he says.

Imtiaz may be making films on love but he says that he is confused about the emotion. He admits he is not a romantic person. “I don’t know whether I have experienced true love. Even when I was as young as you guys and now that I am as old as myself, I don’t think I have understood anything different or better about love. It is an enigma. All my movies seem to be about love but I don’t have any answer personally, I am as lost and confused maybe more than you are. I am not a romantic person in my personal life. Not at all. But something that you are interested in but you don’t understand is more enticing than something that you understand. If I understood something I will be bored of it,” he says.

Imtiaz Ali. Facebook

Imtiaz Ali. Facebook

Perhaps, that explains why almost all of Imtiaz's films, right from Socha Na Tha to Jab Harry Met Sejal have confused love as a common theme. “I don’t deliberately put it but somewhere, it is a reflection of the world I see around and how people are thinking. Nobody, who's in love, or in a relationship, or not in a relationship, or in any kind of relationship, is ever clear in his or her mind. There is always some struggle, there is always some confusion, which could be emotional. But I have never seen somebody very sorted and easy. How can films be any different?" he says.

Imtiaz, who is probably one of the most dynamic mainstream filmmakers in Hindi cinema, may not consider himself to be romantic but today, when we talk about contemporary romance, one cannot not talk about his films. But when he brings back an age old romance, how does he think will the youth react to his take on Laila Majnu? “I thought about it and I was very happy actually to present this take of Laila Majnu and it is the need for the youth of this country. I feel somewhere watching Laila and Majnu, the sensitive and passionate youth will definitely get this feeling that 'this is me'. That is my guess,” he says.

With reference to his previous release, Shah Rukh Khan-Anushka Sharma-starrer Jab Harry Met Sejal, that did not garner good response at the box office, Imtiaz says, “I am always questioning my craft. This is not the first or the last failure or disappointment I am going to have in my life. I have gained more from my failures than from my success. I know that whether other people agree with me or not. There is only that much pain that actually affects me when I realise that something has fallen short of expectations. It doesn’t devastate me. It is fine. Both are equal for me. After a film is done, I don’t calculate. I don’t get into the postmortem mode. I let go because I can’t do anything about it. If that experience has to teach me something, it will. You make every film with equal passion. Whether Harry or Rockstar, there was equal passion while making them. Some films will do better than the other. Sometimes, I get too much credit and sometimes, I don’t get enough credit. That is life.”

Some time back, there were these rumours about Imtiaz and Shahid Kapoor reuniting for the sequel of their super hit 2007 film, Jab We Met, and the director dismisses it saying, “There will be more news like this. Because the fact is that I keep meeting actors. We work together. There is obviously friendship. There will always be speculations. I never announced any film. I never said I am making a film. I never said I am working with Shahid Kapoor. Now it is being said that the film is not happening and I am wondering which film. I never said anything. Whoever said, tell that person there is no truth to it. I have written four stories and I am developing those. Many people said I should make a sequel to my films such as Jab We Met,  Love Aaj Kal and Rockstar. The audience loves to watch a sequel even if it's bad. Sequels make money. But I don’t want to make sequels just for the sake of it and spoil my image. If I find good content, I will certainly do it,” says Imtiaz.

After having created magic on celluloid twice, Imtiaz says, he would definitely want to collaborate with Ranbir Kapoor yet again. “I hope so. Hope very soon,” says Imtiaz. While raving about Ranbir’s performance in his last release Sanju, a blockbuster, he signs off saying, “Ranbir was amazing. When Sanjay Dutt came later in the film, I said, 'Yeh kaun hai (Who is he)?'."

Updated Date: Sep 04, 2018 18:39 PM