Imtiaz Ali and the art of last-minute filmmaking

MUMBAI Thu Aug 8, 2013 2:27am IST

Handout photograph.

Credit: Reuters

MUMBAI (Reuters) - When Imtiaz Ali began filming his new movie "Highway", the Bollywood filmmaker had little more than a one-line script for a story he came up with years before his industry debut as a director.

Ali, 42, shot the film sequentially and often improvised dialogue on set, relying on the ambience to decide what his characters would do in a particular scene.

"(The film) is all about the journey influencing you. If you have already decided the influence, then it is a fake journey," Ali told Reuters in an interview. "If you have the guts, keep the script open."

"Highway", starring Alia Bhatt and Randeep Hooda, is a road movie about two individuals thrown together during a journey. The film, which opens in cinemas at the end of the year, was filmed in Kashmir, Rajasthan and Himachal Pradesh.

The director said he sometimes scouted film locations on the eve of filming, often changing scenes depending on how his cast reacted and expanding on the characters as the film evolved.

"Alia had never been exposed to that kind of terrain in her life," said Ali. "I changed my script because her experience is more real that what I felt when I wrote it."

"There are many drafts when a script is written - but this one has just one draft and that draft got over when the shooting got over."

The journey is a recurrent theme in Ali's films, nowhere more so than in his 2007 box-office hit "Jab We Met" which had two strangers falling in love after a chance meeting on a train.

It was this fascination with travelling that gave Ali the premise for "Highway" much before he made his Bollywood debut with "Socha Na Tha" in 2005. He found himself drawn to the story again after continuing his remarkable box-office run with "Love Aaj Kal" and most recently "Rockstar".

"There is some charm in a film that you have been speaking about to your friends for 15 years and you still continue to do so," said Ali. "I thought if the story has held on for so long, the best way to tell it would be the simple way."

Ali said he wanted to capture the interplay between the two characters of "Highway" and the emotions they go through. But his unconventional style of filming wasn't child's play.

"Your crew is lugging equipment for three hours in a remote village in Kashmir or Himachal and they don't know whether you will have a script at the end of the day or not," he said.

Did he know how the film would end or was it left till the last minute?

"No, I knew how it would end, I had a pretty good idea," said Ali. "The end is the point of the film." (Editing by Tony Tharakan)

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