Imtiaz Ali, the Bollywood chronicler of young, modern love, is losing his way. His body of work, which began with Socha Na Tha, appear to be going through some sort of a midlife crisis of late, with Jab Harry Met Sejal and Love Aaj Kal remake.
And like all midlife crisis, there is a visible devolution. The writer-director’s female characters are losing their agency and the storytelling is getting rather unsurprising.
When we think of Imtiaz Ali, it’s the relatable love stories, closer-to-life characters, and realistic plots that flash before our eyes. Be it Tamasha, Rockstar, Highway or Socha Na Tha – his films are as real as life can get. But after watching his recent films, it is clear he has lost touch with his unique style.
Jab Imtiaz turned unbelievable
Let’s be honest about it. All of Imtiaz Ali’s characters have certain commonalities – the vulnerable men, the unending quest for something bigger while dealing with the complexities of life, the fierce and mature women who rescue the male characters from their own emotional whirlwind. But the way he weaves magic while telling stories that have a sort of redeeming quality is what makes people deeply resonate with his style.
But we did not realise when it got so bad that the female characters in his films started seeking validation from men. In Jab Harry Met Sejal, the story revolves around either the search for the damn ring or Sejal asking Harry if she is ‘layak’ (read sexually attractive or worthy of his attention). What is more disconcerting is Ali’s response. “Here is a man she doesn’t know and she’s not going to spend her life with, and somebody who’s honest enough to talk about himself. And so, she asks him about her latent insecurities, about the way she appears.”
Why in the world would a woman want anyone’s validation, let alone a stranger’s? The notions of beauty and sexuality are already flawed in Indian society.
The big fall
And then there was his film Laila Majnu. We don’t know why Ali repeated the overused Bollywood trope of guy being a stalker and girl pretending to not like him. Even if it was a re-imagination of an ancient folklore, it’s beyond our understanding why this flawed idea had to be reinforced.
The downfall of Imtiaz Ali from a director who took bold subjects like child sexual abuse and Stockholm Syndrome (Highway) to falling back on Bollywood clichés is worrying.
Let’s come back to his latest venture – the remake of his 11-year-old film of the same name, Love Aaj Kal. Perhaps he forgot that even when remaking a successful film, the new one needs to be a compelling, engaging watch. Unfortunately, the Sara Ali Khan-Kartik Aryan-starrer does not only have a convoluted plot but comes with additional drama, all of which seems unnecessary.
Imtiaz Ali’s own story – hailing from a city where very few would have ever dreamt of being a filmmaker to founding his college’s theatre society in DU to establishing himself as among Bollywood’s most successful filmmakers – is one full of hope. So are his films (or at least used to be). For a generation of fans who have always admired his films, Imtiaz Ali owes them better stories.
This article has been updated to remove the mention of the film ‘Laila Majnu’, which Imtiaz Ali did not direct. The error is regretted.