Writer-director Imtiaz Ali has become synonymous with a sensitive and almost philosophical telling of modern-day love stories. The filmmaker’s latest, starring Kartik Aaryan and Sara Ali Khan, is a new take on his 2009 film Love Aaj Kal, and there has been much chatter about whether Imtiaz will be able to add freshness to the proceedings and recreate the magic of his earlier films.
The recurring themes of travel, self-discovery, flawed characters, complexities of modern-day love and finding one's true self, run through all of Imtiaz’s films. While this has made his films richer and deeper, it has also made them feel repetitive over the years, often earning him criticism. But there is no denying the unforgettable cinematic moments of romance and angst that he has managed to create on screen with his almost Sufi take on fragile modern-day relationships and his distinctive style of story-telling style.
While the beauty and flaws of his work have been a point of debate among his fans and detractors alike, one thing cannot be denied - Imtiaz’s love stories are a genre in themselves. On the eve of his new film’s release, here’s a ranking of all of Imtiaz Ali films.
7. Jab Harry Met Sejal (2018)
In most of Imtiaz’s films, the drama emerges from the inner complexities of his characters rather than external elements. Their inner turmoils is why Imtiaz is said to have an almost Sufi outlook to love in his films. But in Jab Harry Met Sejal, the characters, completely aware of their flaws, just seem to ambling away and it becomes difficult to invest in them. Their drama often feels forced unlike the organic conflicts faced by the lovers in his earlier films like Jab We Met, Love Aaj Kal and Socha Na Tha. This has got to be his weakest film.
6. Love Aaj Kal (2009)
Imtiaz’s exploration of ‘career vs love’ or ‘effects of love on one's career’ or vice versa began with Love Aaj Kal, and continued to flow into films like Rockstar and Tamasha. He compares the conflicts of yesteryear relationships, which mostly revolved around external factors like family opposition or societal pressures to the current generation’s (2000s), where young couples often jostle between casual relationships and true love, and have to at times make a choice between career and love. Apart from being entertaining, Love Aaj Kal was a relatively simpler version of Imtiaz’s angst-ridden love.
5. Rockstar (2011)
Rockstar follows the journey of an aspiring singer (Ranbir Kapoor) from a humble background who goes on to become a rebellious rockstar. He believes that good music can be born from heartache, but when he does experience deep love, it consumes him, rendering him incapable of being able to celebrate his musical success. Rockstar’s strength lay more in Ranbir Kapoor’s compelling performance and AR Rahman’s brilliant soundtrack, than in Imtiaz Ali’s writing, which felt self-indulgent at several points in the film.
4. Tamasha (2015)
Imtiaz often romanticises the problems of modern-day youth, making them relate to the characters and situations. Tamasha is one such example. Ved, an inherently creative person, loses himself as he is forced into business. When Tara reenters his life, a dull and drab Ved is forced to confront his real self, as she is the only one who can really see the person behind the mask. As with Rockstar, Tamasha strips its male protagonist, one layer of artifice at a time, so he can find himself and his true destiny. Tamasha is a polarising film that has managed to stand the test of time.
3. Highway (2014)
Highway had several themes from his earlier and later films, including a love story that unfolds through road travel, but it was intrinsically about two characters finding an escape in each other, from their respective childhood traumas. Alia Bhatt, who was only one film old at the film, proved her acting chops as a protagonist who develops a ‘Stockholm syndrome’ kind of love for her captor. The two find ‘the self’ through their unlikely love for each other by escaping into the unknown landscapes of the Himalayas, only to be jolted back to reality.
2. Socha Na Tha (2005)
A filmmaker’s first film often turns out to be his most honest work. Imtiaz’s debut film Socha Na Tha is a fresh innocent love story of two people who are against arrange marriage and end up rejecting each other. They meet each other again, fall in love and discover they made the wrong choice. It’s discovering love and the self, but without the baggage of the complexities of his later films. No doubt that Imtiaz has managed to add a lot more layers to his characters since, but Socha Na Tha remains one of his most unadulterated works, especially when you look back at the filmmaker’s journey.
1. Jab We Met (2005)
Jab We Met was a perfect balance between exploring modern-day love and flawed characters, but its mains strength was the protagonists Geet and Aditya. A feisty Geet (Kareena Kapoor Khan) bumps into reticent Aditya (Shahid Kapoor) when he is at his lowest point after his break up. While she believes in love and marriage, Aditya has lost his faith in them. The two travel together and develop a beautiful bond. The next time the two meet, Aditya is on a high in his life and believes in love once again, while Geet has lost everything, including her hope to find love. Jab We Met’s writing is warm, relatable and witty, despite being predictable at times. But its strength truly is the well-written unforgettable scenes that are intrinsic to the love story - from Hotel Decent to Kareena rattling off abuses to her ex. These scenes will stay with you long after. Kareena’s no holds barred performance was a bonus, with Shahid holding his own.
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