Imtiaz Ali on A.R. Rahman: Only music director who works without safety-net

Imtiaz Ali is one of the rare filmmakers who strikes a perfect balance between philosophy and entertainment in his stories.

Auteur Imtiaz Ali is one of the rare filmmakers who strikes a perfect balance between philosophy and entertainment in his stories. While his earlier works like ‘Socha Na Tha’ and ‘Jab We Met’ were more on the entertaining side, films like ‘Love Aaj Kal’ (2009), ‘Rockstar’ and ‘Tamasha’ have aged like a fine wine and have cultivated a new fan base which craves for deeper meaning to a story as much as the entertainment.

The filmmaker is now gearing up for his ninth film, the biopic based on the highest selling Punjabi musician of all times, ‘Amar Singh Chamkila’.

“There are a lot of ‘9’ happening,” Imtiaz told IANS as he seems in a quirky mood.

“Nine is my favourite number, A.R. Rahman (his music composer) also loves nine, he has made ’99 Songs’ and ‘Chamkila’ is my ninth film”.

‘Amar Singh Chamkila’, which is set to release on April 12, marks his third collaboration with the Oscar and Grammy-winning music composer A.R. Rahman after ‘Rockstar’ and ‘Tamasha’. Both their earlier collaborations have gone on to become cult-classics.

Imtiaz told IANS that similar to the motif of his stories the journey is of the essence for him to work with Rahman, who works without a “safety-net”.

“if we talk about the way of working with Rahman, there hasn’t actually been one. It’s more of a process to explore the story, to explore the characters and the themes behind it. He is perhaps the only music director in the industry who works without a safety net. Every song has its own way forward. It’s never like ‘Oh remember we did that song like this, let’s try something similar’. It’s always a fresh idea, the spectrum of notes and the texture when we work together,” he said.

Imtiaz continues, “After one song, one album, one film, I would like to think that now I have cracked the process of working with him but that’s not the case and I am very grateful for that because as artistes, we constantly want to venture into the unknown because that’s where magic happens. When you work with Rahman, you get to experience the unknown and you get to derive from the unknown.”

The filmmaker then shared about the concept of his upcoming Netflix movie, and said that a cursory glance at the title will give it away with the colourful font and the blood splatter.

“We didn’t want to get sad at Chamkila’s demise. The idea was to always celebrate him as an artiste,” he said.

Amar Singh Chamkila died at the age of 27, which makes him another addition to the 27 club or the ‘the curse of 27’.

Many prominent musicians like Kurt Cobain, Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison, Amy Winehouse left the world at the age of 27.

Ask him if he believes that the curse of 27 is a real thing, Imtiaz told IANS: “Well, people do believe that the curse of 27 is a real thing but, I don’t think that there is anything in particular which is magical or cursed about being a musician at 27. It has become a phenomenon and there are many musicians across the world who unfortunately are a part of the 27 club, who left the world at 27.”

Imtiaz continues, “Chamkila is perhaps the only musician from India who is part of that club, it is unfortunate but sadly it is a phenomenon. Another common thing between Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison, Amy Winehouse and Chamkila is that they were imminently popular and were at the peak of their careers when they departed. I always get intrigued as to why did it happen to these musicians. Is it because they achieved everything at such a tender age that life itself became unsustainable after that? Perhaps we will never know.”

The filmmaker then speaks about taking longer routes in a journey and how important this is for any artiste.

Imtiaz told IANS: “For artistes in particular, it’s essential that they take longer routes to their destination and the reason behind that is India is a very diverse land culturally and in terms of the geography as well. The longer the route you take, the more people you will come in contact with, the more cultures and the languages you will get to experience and understand. Subconsciously, it all adds to your library (the mind) as an artiste.”

“These are the things from which you draw while telling a story, composing the music or performing for the camera or the stage. The more culturally rich your mind becomes, the better will be the output and terms of the artwork. Even Mahatma Gandhi travelled across the country for a year before starting his fight for freedom. He wanted to understand the people to whom he would talk to, he wanted to know the masses and it was very important for him to travel across the country to get an understanding of what people want, how people think and what will appeal to them,” he concludes.

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