For filmmaker Imtiaz Ali, music has always been an essential part of the storytelling process. While some of his films may not have worked well at the box office, their songs have found a permanent place in many playlists of an interestingly varied demographic. Case in point: Love Aaj Kal had songs like Shayad, Aur Tanha, Haan Main Galat that were hits. Another of his films that didn’t do well was the Shah Rukh Khan-Anushka Sharma starrer Jab Harry Met Sejal, yet the songs Hawayein, Safar, Beech Beech Mein stayed on charts for weeks. Last month, the filmmaker’s latest venture Dr Arora Gupt Rog Visheshagya, directed by Sajid Ali and Archit Kumar released on SonyLiv. While the series has had a mixed response so far, its soundtrack has been appreciated much.
He speaks to ZeeZest about his love for music, the importance of a good soundtrack, rise in original content creation for the OTT platforms, working with his younger brother Sajid Ali and more.
1. Music has always been a rather significant part of your films and your shows too, right from Socha Na Tha, Rockstar, Cocktail, Tamasha, Love Aaj Kal and Jab Harry Met Sejal. Please tell us about the process.
Music, I feel is the most entertaining part of filmmaking for me. As a director, it is that part of my filmmaking process which I enjoy the most. You could say that it is a personal reason because I get to spend time with music and musicians and that is probably the reason why I have used so much music and given importance to music in my work. Music and filmmaking have a very deep-rooted connection in the Hindi film industry. Kafi gehra nata hai. And there is no reason that the scene should not be followed for OTT shows too.
2. Your latest, Dr Arora, is a show about a sexologist treating patients in small towns in the late-90s. Yet, this show has five songs that are already so popular. Tell us about the music.
There are so many talented people around me when it comes to music. I keep searching for moments as to how I should get some more work done with a composer-musician like Niladri Kumar. Maybe create one more song and get the feeling that we had when we listened to Niladri and Arijit Singh’s song, Mehram. That is the kind of feeling I wish everyone goes through every time, baar baar when they hear music. This is the reason why I feel that whenever possible, as much as possible, music should be there in our OTT series and in films and in all our shows. In Dr Arora we really laboured and went out on a limb to make some songs. Working with lyricist Irshad Kamil, Niladri Kumar and Sunny MR, has been a very interesting and fantastic experience. And through this music, we wanted to recreate the era gone by, recreate the 70s in the 90s. So that also happened very nicely in the songs that we created for this show.
3. A lot depends on the casting of a show or a film and the right cast can really make or break it. Tell us about how you chose the various actors for all these distinct characters in your story.
Casting director Mukesh Chhabra has done the casting for this show too and he has done many films with me earlier. For Dr Arora, we held workshops held for the casting. The show was cast according to the characters that we had and many of the cast members are exactly opposite in real life. For example, we decided that Vivek Mushran would be Bagla Sahib in the series. In real life Vivek and Bagla are diametrically opposite each other. Similarly, initially I thought Vidya was too glamorous for the role of Vaishali. But she presented herself in such a way that she fit the role and yet added glamour to the show. Every single character has been represented very truthfully and honestly by the actors playing it. These were not straightforward roles and scenes because we were talking about aberrations that people hide from. Each actor in the show had the liberty and heart and love to do this so, so nicely.
4. There is a massive rise in original OTT content. What do you have to say about this? What are the plus points of this phase in the content creation space?
It is actually very exciting to be a director and a storyteller at this time, because you can create a story of any duration that the story wants to be. You do not have to fit it to film anymore. There are a lot of things that we could not place in the cinema earlier, which you can now, like this show. There are so many things that we’d think about but we didn’t make movies on, but digital platforms have enabled us to create the shows out of them.
5. Working with the director duo Sajid Ali and Archit Kumar, one is your brother and the other is your college junior, how was it? There are so many sub-stories in the show, how did you manage it?
I could bully them both at work because they both are much younger than me. But honestly, we divided the tracks of the various characters so each of them was looking at different characters. They both had a very good vibe with each other. I was never on the set and on the few days that I did go on set, I felt that I should not have been there. They did everything. And, of course, the director is the captain of the ship. I had my other things to do in terms of being a writer for the show.