‘10% of film’s budget should be invested in R&D and the script falls under R&D’ – Imtiaz Ali

Trust Imtiaz Ali to be as simple as his movies Socha Na Tha and the recent hit Jab We Met.

In an interview with Businessofcinema.com, Ali talks about film making, his childhood and an unchanged life after Jab We Met.

Perceptive about his profession, and a romantic at heart, he is set to bring us some great cinema. We speak to the director who speaks different and speaks clear.


How has life been post Jab We Met?
Not very different from before Jab We Met. Although there is much more interactivity and a lot more people call me, to either say that they liked the movie or producers and actors call to say they want to work with me. It has been a little busier, but generally the same. Since I had already made commitments before Jab We Met, I will have to fulfill them first. So I have to find a pleasant way of refusing producers and I do not like this. Jab We Met is more or less out of my system and I am not thinking about it now. It is everybody’s movie now and I am also one of the viewers.

True. But you are still getting awards and appreciation for Jab We Met and its success has a hand in taking you forward.
Sure. But I am not going to equate my future work with Jab We Met. The reason I made Jab We Met or Socha Na Tha was because I wanted to make them, I was not trying to prove anything or trying to live up to anybody’s expectations. Similarly, the film that I am making now is something I really want to make.

Will your forthcoming film with Saif and Deepika Padukone also be a simple boy-girl love story?
I don’t know how simple it is, there are more layers in this story for sure. It is about relationships between men and women and is contemporary.      

Why do such subjects interest you so much?
I make movies on what I see around me. I am not very genre specific and neither am I very literate about cinema. My point of view is there in all these stories so similarities are bound to be there. But I don’t really care about that! I will not waste my time trying to be different. The only thing that I am concerned about is that audiences should be entertained.

But I am sure you see a lot more in reality than just lovers around you.
I am really interested in women! There is so much dynamism in what goes around between men and women.

I will do what I feel like doing, compulsively and instinctively. Moreover I am lucky that my interests are also the interest of most people in the world, in the sense that I am not elitist, my aesthetics are not very high or subtle, my interests don’t belong to a narrow segment.

On one side your stories are the type that would appeal to a large segment but in terms of a release they aren’t as wide. Isn’t that paradoxical?          
Jab We Met’s release compared to Socha Na Tha was hugely different. The situation of the industry and people who made Socha Na Tha was different from people who made Jab We Met, in terms of money and the ability to make more prints.

And of course, I would always like my movies to be under released than over released. Jab We Met was under released marginally and I would like to maintain that equation because if you over release a movie, somebody is bound to lose money. I think collective goodwill is the biggest earning of Jab We Met, because everyone bought the movie at a reasonable price and made money. I know for a fact that, few sub distributors in remote corners of the country who were going to shut shop have come back into business because of Jab We Met.

Talking about the movie business, as a director how do you feel when your movie’s DVD is sold at Rs 49 within 6 weeks of theatrical release and aired on TV within three months? Also the satellite rights deals are unique in their own right.
I am very lucky that my movie released at a time when technology and Moser Baer could come with a DVD of international quality at Rs 49 only. Now because of this, the DVD is accessible to so many people, who would have otherwise gone and bought pirated copies because a lot of people who buy DVD’s are very price sensitive.

Shops have sold Jab We Met DVDs in sets of 10 and 5 and they have been given as return gifts for birthday parties, so volumes are unbelievable. We have been able to break through at that level and this was possible only because of the pricing. For the health of the film industry, the number of people who watch the film is always going to be a bigger factor than the money a film earns.

The movie released on DVD and TV at a time when people wanted to see it and most of the audiences were watching it for the second or third time, so why shouldn’t we let them watch it? May be six months down the line, people wouldn’t want to watch it and there would be a fall out ratio. The shelf life of a movie depends more on the quality of the movie than its marketing strategy. How does it matter if your Rs 49 comes now or six months later?

So how did Shree Ashtavinayak fall into place for Jab We Met?
Actually I was going to make Jab We Met with a different set of producers and actors earlier, but when that did not work the movie went into cold storage. Then I met Shahid and Kareena and between the three of us we decided we are making this film, and when we thought who the producer should be and our thoughts coincided on Ashtavinayak.

How did you feel when you realized that your movie is releasing just two weeks prior to Om Shanti Om and Saawariya?
I knew I am the 7-up in the cola race. I knew I was not up for comparison with Om Shanti Om and Saawariya. On 9 November when the two movies released, people did not know whether these movies were good, but they knew that Jab We Met was definitely a good film. Pepsi was fighting with Coca Cola, but 7-up was not fighting with anybody. So, I got the advantage.    

The time gap between Socha Na Tha release and Jab We Met shooting was almost a year and a half. What did you do during that time?
I wrote a lot of scripts during that time, but was not able to make movies because things did not shape up in a healthy way. I had an opportunity to compromise and make a movie for earning money, but somehow I resisted the temptation and thought to myself, that I should only make a movie when everything turns out well. I would be everybody’s ass if Jab We Met did not turn out to be a success, because I made a lot of sacrifices and wasted a lot of time with the hope of making a good film.

Do you feel the industry took a long time in accepting you after Socha Na Tha?
Socha Na Tha was not such a big hit. If a movie does well, we get more calls. I got a lot of calls even after Socha Na Tha but that did not happen immediately after the release, because people took close to two years to watch the film. And everybody saw Jab We Met within three weeks or so.

But I would say that the film industry has impressed me by being a very fair place. I have no one in the film industry and I come from a regular middle class family in a small town. People have never not accepted me because of that.

From where did you get your cinema sensibilities?
Ammm… I come from a town called Jamshedpur where my relatives owned three cinema halls — Jamshedpur Talkies, Star Talkies and Kareem Talkies. As a kid when I was growing up and still wore half pants, I had free access into these three cinema halls because the gatekeepers and torch men knew me. I had the liberty of getting into a cinema hall, sitting in a dark corner and watching the film.

So I would go to one cinema hall and after watching 2-3 scenes when I found the movie boring, I would go into another cinema hall and watch an interesting scene or song and come back. This I think has stayed with me and I know what people think when they come to watch a film and what happens when Amitabh Bachchan stands up with a dafli and sings apni to aisi taisi. Also, in my school and college days I got passionately involved in theatre and everything that I know or have done, is from theatre.               

What satisfies you more, writing or direction?
Direction. I write only because I have not found anybody else to write for me. It is not my primary function. 

You have done TV direction for seven years, now that you look back what do you think of the TV space?    
I always thought I was a mediocre television director. Although people thought that I was good, but I knew I never belonged there. People would look at my work and ask what am I doing in television and that I should make movies. So although that was praise, I thought people are trying to say that I was not suited for television!

During my times, television was going through a process and bad directors like me were doing TV. Right now also people are not happy with what is happening in the TV industry, but I think it is going through a necessary change over, like the west. It will become a medium that is watched, respected and enjoyed but not as much as a film. TV is like a factory product where you have to keep churning and films are like a cottage industry where you make something with your hands and then sell it.     

From doing television for several years to now having two films to your credit, you have grown from strength to strength. What according to you has contributed to this?
I feel a little guilty when someone tells me something like this. Genuinely speaking, I have not gone anywhere.

I think Jamshedpur, the city where I was born in and lived has taught me most things. As a kid my parents always made us travel to various interesting places, in trains and we met interesting people. We had richer relatives, so we were embarrassed to be with them. The way my parents have brought me up has contributed a lot. Even now I am always surrounded by people who think I am a push over, my wife being the first one. My friends still think of me as they did in the ninth standard. The people in my life are very real, not filmi and I am very lucky to have them.

How did your association with Saif Ali Khan come about?
This is a very important part of the interview, because everybody believes I met Saif only recently, but actually I met him before Jab We Met even started. As I mentioned earlier that a lot of people called me after Socha Na Tha and Saif was one of them. At that time he was thinking of staring his production house, but I didn’t really have a story to make with him. Then later, before making Jab We Met I got a story idea in my mind which didn’t die for a long time, so while I was making Jab We Met, I discussed the idea with him, and got going on it after Jab We Met released. There is no link up between Saif and Kareena dating each other and my contact with Saif.

What’s next after your movie with Saif?
Let’s see, I have made certain commitments with producers. Like, I will work again with Shree Ashtavinayak and also with Vipul Shah and Sajid Nadiadwala. These are three people I am going to work with after Saif’s films.

Don’t you want to sign a multiple film contract?
Even before Jab We Met released, I had made my mind that I would never sign a multiple film deal with anybody, because I want to have my options open. I want the sky to be my only umbrella. Although I may get a greater sense of guarantee and security, but I want to be free to movie out and into anything. 

What have you thought about your future in terms of growth?
I am not looking for any role apart from the role of a director. In the role of a director, I can do many things and tell different stories. I feel that I am nowhere close to what a director needs to be and I am not saying this out of modesty, I really mean it.

Would you like to say something on a parting note?
I think the industry is not doing as much as it needs to for writers and as a result of which there is a choking of ideas. We pay writers last or may be never. For a film to even be considered, a script needs to be written. But after a script is ready we want to sign actors and cinematographers so we pay them and not writers. There is a certain level of myopia in this scheme.

The only thing I don’t like about the industry is that they copy films from the west. If that’s why you are here, then you rather be in a tailors shop or sell saris in Lucknow. I think like every industry we should also put 10 per cent of the money into R&D, and in our field, the script is a part of R&D.