Popular Bollywood cinema is often not critically acclaimed. But filmmaker Imtiaz Ali manages to tiptoe around this unspoken rule, often making big hits of stories with deeply troubled characters. Be it Ved and Tara from Tamasha, Geet and Aditya from Jab We Met, Mahabir and Veera fromHighway, or Jordan from Rockstar, Ali's characters go through complex changes, yet remain completely relatable.
This balance, as well as the added perk of Bollywood A-listers, fetches Ali acclaim whilst paying all the bills. And he has no qualms in admitting that cinema, after all, is for profit-making.
In an interview with Catch, he talks about this marketability of cinema, and what makes him pick 'superstars' - Shahrukh Khan, he confirms, will star in his next.
"When I'm casting for a movie, there are a couple of things I keep in mind. The primary, and perhaps the most important, is the suitability to a character of an actor.
"The other thing that I do also keep in mind is that there is somebody who's going to bring the money in for me to tell the story... It is, in a way, my responsibility to ensure that he recovers his money, otherwise cinema as a medium is going to go down."
Ali's films, largely understood as romances, indulge in a form of storytelling where the love story often competes with the romance of travel, art, cinema. A character in an Ali film finds his lost self through theatre (Tamasha), in another, the change in his protagonist's personality is mapped through his music (Rockstar).
"I do feel interested in artists. I do feel there's a certain sense of acceptance," he says.
"You know, the [artist's] mind is open, the heart is open. It becomes a more interesting character for me to relate to while writing."
And is it easier for him to relate to the artist because he sees himself in these characters? Not to the extent of Ved's struggle in Tamasha, he says, but yes.
"I have been in a situation where I was thinking how do I make my career if I want to pursue writing...or performing arts. I could never really convince myself that I would be able to support myself and earn a living if I did..."
Well he sure proved himself wrong there.