Imtiaz Ali's movie picks
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Filmmaker Imtiaz Ali goes back in time and lists all the films that have left a deep impression on him over the years. Some of them he saw as a child with his father in the theatre and others after he started his filmmaking journey in Mumbai. Some were also introduced to him by friend and fellow filmmaker Anurag Kashyap. Ali clarifies that although these films influenced him as a movie watcher, none of them directly shaped the kind of films he makes himself. “While coming up with this list I was trying to find some correlation they could have with my own films but I couldn’t find direct ones. But it’s true that these are movies that have influenced me,” he says.

The Godfather (1972)

Director: Francis Ford Coppola

Streaming on Amazon Prime Video

The world of this film is so real and dramatic and the people are so relatable. It’s a thriller, but it has so much to do with characters and people and heritage and legacy. Although it’s about a mafia don, I like the fact that it’s a family film rather than a gangster film.

Prisoner Of The Mountains (1996)

Director: Sergei Bodrov

I always recommend this film to people. It took me to a place I’m not likely to visit – somewhere in the Chechen mountains where two soldiers are captured and taken hostage. The film transported me to a land which is so different from the land that I live in, and yet I could relate to it. I love it when movies transport me to a geography that I’m not likely to visit on my own. This film really did that.

Bemisal (1982)

Director: Hrishikesh Mukherjee

Streaming on Amazon Prime Video

I saw this in the theatre when I was a kid. At the time, Amitabh Bachchan was a very, very big star. This film was so realistic – he was playing a character that had shades of grey and I was quite tense while watching it. I kept thinking, ‘What is he doing? How can he be doing this? How can he be bad?’ I was also intrigued by the relationship he had with Rakhee in the film because a hero and a heroine usually have a straightforward relationship. Here, she was like a bhabhi to him, yet there was some sort of a different attraction between them. All this was really fascinating.

Junoon (1978)

Director: Shyam Benegal

Streaming on YouTube

Junoon had the most romantic ending I’d ever seen. It was a very dynamic world and a very unlikely story of affection between two people, with so much violence and so much tenderness in it.

Sholay (1975)

Director: Ramesh Sippy

Streaming on Amazon Prime Video

Sholay is the most entertaining film that I’ve seen. I’ve seen it multiple times. It’s just so entertaining and energetic. Every dialogue and every nuance has so much gusto.

Madhumati (1958)

Director: Bimal Roy

Streaming on YouTube

Madhumati is extremely intriguing. I couldn’t believe that Dilip Kumar was actually acting. He was talking like how my dad talks, like how people talk in general. I was really amazed by him and I still think that he’s the best actor I’ve ever seen.

Lawrence of Arabia (1962)

Director: David Lean

Streaming on YouTube

I love this movie for its vastness of scale. This man, in the midst of all that large-scale action, has a subtle deviation of sexual behaviour. I thought it was such a delicate thing to see and they set in such a large canvas. That was fascinating.

Sommersby (1993)

Director: Jon Amiel

Streaming on Amazon Prime Video

Sommersby is a movie I watched very early, once I came to Bombay. It was a film of character. I was interested in the goings on of the village it is set in. There was this man denying his reality, which would have otherwise helped him save his life. But he sacrifices himself for the honour of a woman. That character was fascinating and Richard Gere played him so silently.

Do You Remember Dolly Bell? (1981)

Director: Emir Kusturica

As a contemporary, Kusturica is the most talented director I’ve seen. The film captures the thrills or the throes of early adolescence and with that, the strange circumstance of having a woman secretly enclosed in a space. It’s a very, very beautifully directed film.

Underground (1995)

Director: Emir Kusturica

Streaming on YouTube

This is such a deeply political film but the whole storytelling is done a circus-style way.

Talk To Her (2002)

Director: Pedro Almodovar

Streaming on Disney+ Hotstar

It’s an extremely relatable story of affection between two people. I was very impressed by the direction of this film. It’s an example of great filmmaking. Almodovar has a very cutting-edge way of shooting, editing and directing.

Chungking Express (1994)

Director: Wong Kar-wai

 Imtiaz Ali's movie picks

Chungking Express is an unexpected and beautiful love story, in which hardly a word of consequence is spoken between the two prime characters and yet such a strong statement of affection and belonging is made. It’s not really known as a ‘romantic film’ but I feel that it’s one of the most romantic films ever.

In The Mood For Love (2000)

Director: Wong Kar-wai

This is just brilliant filmmaking. The lensing and the shooting of this film, also the shot taking and editing is brilliant. You never see the story being told, you never see the script moving. It’s all just flowing. That’s just a characteristic of all Wong Kar-wai films. When you finish the film, you realise, ‘Oh! There was also this massive script effort to it’.

Y Tu Mama Tambien (2001)

Director: Alfonso Cuarón

Y Tu Mama Tambien is a bold, honest and naked film. The age the boys in the movie are at – this confused, hypersexual age – is very well portrayed.

A Separation (2011)

Director: Asghar Farhadi

Streaming on Amazon Prime Video

I saw A Separation while I was making films. I felt so much in that film and I thought about why. There was nothing different that the director showed me in the movie. It was not the most tragic film. It was a very subtle message, but it hit me so strongly. This film, and other Iranian films too, are so practical. People are never dramatic in those films. They are not saying anything out of the ordinary. And yet it touches you in such a way that you feel trapped in that film.

Pather Panchali (1955)

Director: Satyajit Ray

Streaming on Eros Now

Pather Panchali is very, very touching. It has a strong hold on you and you never ever flinch once while that movie is on.

The Deer Hunter (1978)

Director: Michael Cimino

I loved the atmosphere of this film. It’s an American film but show you a different kind of America. I had not seen that community and I had never seen a film that jumps time like that. Somehow, there is no ‘pre’ or ‘post’. It’s just a chunk of time that is shown and then, without any correlation, you jump into the Vietnam War. You don’t know what the hell is happening, and then you see some characters from the earlier part of the film over here. I loved this film for this sort of screenplay writing, in which you just see four different chunks of time with common characters. You have to fill in the blanks and every moment is engaging.

Seven Samurai (1954)

Director: Akira Kurosawa

Imtiaz Ali's movie picks

It’s fun and entertaining. You enjoy the characters, you enjoy the setting. Kurosawa is one of the best filmmakers of all time. I think the cinematography, the editing, the way the dialogue is, the way the characters are, it’s all fantastic. Although it’s a so-called commercial film, you can’t really challenge the logic of anything.

Shree 420 (1955)

Director: Raj Kapoor

Streaming on YouTube

I was amazed by the politics of this film. It was such a forward-thinking film and it was talking about housing societies in the city. I was not living in Bombay then, so I didn’t really know what a housing society was. But it was just so modern, so progressive in thought and so realistic. I was amazed by Raj Kapoor. He was so ahead of his time. The heroes of his films weren’t necessarily heroic. They were not always doing good things.

Trikal (1985)

Director: Shyam Benegal

Streaming on Netflix

It had the natural and the supernatural. The world of these people was exotic and kind of alien to me but I could understand it. I was also very taken aback by the way it was shot. I later read that Ashok Mehta had used a completely different light metering for this. They used something called foot candle (a measure of light), which is how earlier films were shot.

The Good, Bad and the Ugly (1966)

Director: Sergio Leone

Streaming on YouTube

It’s extremely adventurous and full of great characters. It also talks about being a mercenary during a war and having lateral thoughts.

A Fistful Of Dollars (1964)

Director: Sergio Leone

A Fistful of Dollars is one of those Spaghetti westerns I used to love. I was very influenced by Clint Eastwood’s character. He would hardly ever say anything and yet be so bang on. He was heroic but also extremely realistic. I loved the the slowness of the pace and the anticipation of action. I used to feel like eating the kind of food that they eat in the film and I used to admire the way he smoked.

Picnic At Hanging Rock (1975)

Director: Peter Weir

The film follows a girl from a convent school. I was of that age when I saw it. I watched the film on Doordarshan. I was fascinated by the sequence in which the flute plays and Miranda, the principal character, is being followed at a distance by this shepherd boy who’s fascinated by how beautiful she is. I have been in a Jesuit school so I could relate to the world of this film. The film was also extremely realistic. I’m sure that it was an incident that really happened and they just took it and made a film without any exaggeration.

Amadeus (1984)

Director: Milos Forman

Imtiaz Ali's movie picks

Amadeus is by one of my favourite film directors, Milos Forman. It’s the story of Mozart and it’s done in a no-nonsense way. He’s not trying to make you sad or happy. You never see an effort to entangle you with the emotion of the film. I remember when the film ended, for the longest time I was just thinking about Mozart and the other characters. I thought about how they were and my judgement was reserved only for their characters. It’s only much later that I thought of how the film was. It was so good that I didn’t realise I was watching a film. I remember being struck by that thought.

Cinema Paradiso (1988)

Director: Giuseppe Tornatore

Streaming on YouTube

I saw this again recently, using a projector. The storyline is dynamic and it depicts a large passage of time. Sometimes you have a lot of background in a film, a lot of subtlety. But the viewer can’t really enjoy it or see it. In this film, every small nuance of a character, of the setting, of the passage of time, touches your heart. It grabs you, actually. You see how the town has changed with time, how people have changed with time, how people actually become something different from what they started out as.

Bicycle Thieves (1948)

Director: Vittorio De Sica

I saw this movie when I was a small kid. My father had taken me to watch this in the theatre. It’s an extremely moving film with a tragic ending. It destroys you, but at the same time you feel the sentiment of this boy and his father. I came out hating the film actually, because it really affected me.

Il Postino (1994)

Director: Massimo Troisi, Michael Radford

It’s such a sensitive and poetic film. It’s about how innocent people do so much for a cause without even knowing what it is completely. This is about the life of a very common person.

Map Of The Human Heart (1992)

Director: Vincent Ward

I had seen this film on Doordarshan. It was completely weird. It shows the life of some people in the Arctic and how one of the Eskimos gets out of it with the help of this man and comes to Europe. It’s about a relationship between him and a girl during World War 2.

The 36th Chamber of Shaolin (1978)

Director: Lau Kar-leung

Streaming on Netflix, YouTube

I saw this as a kid. It had the classic story of this no-good kind of guy getting into the temple of Shaolin and having to cross 36 chambers through all these trials and tribulations. It was very thrilling.

Enter The Dragon (1973)

Director: Robert Clouse

I used to be a Bruce Lee fan. I remember having these discussions on how Bruce Lee could kick an iron bar and break it into five pieces. I remember watching all his films in the theatre and then shutting my room and trying to practice nunchaku on my own, with my belt.

Geethanjali (1989)

Director: Mani Ratnam

Streaming on Voot

Imtiaz Ali's movie picks

I saw it around the same time Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak released. This is a Telugu film and I saw it with a friend who knew Telugu, at his house. There were no subtitles, so it was just him telling me what was going on. I’ve seen this film about 25 times. I can sing the songs even now, although I don’t know what the words mean. I got into Mani Ratnam after this film.

Arjun (1985)

Director: Rahul Rawail

Streaming on YouTube

When I was in school, all the boys would hire video players for the night and have a sleepover and watch films together. This film sent us into a violent rage. In the morning, we were actually looking to pick up a fight with anybody. It was the classic anti-establishment and young-man-fighting-the-system kind of story. I was highly moved and influenced by this film.

Kaala Patthar (1979)

Director: Yash Chopra

Streaming on Amazon Prime Video

I love Kala Patthar for its heart, for its dialogue, for the flair of its characters like Shatrughan Sinha, Amitabh Bachchan and everybody else. It’s hugely entertaining and I especially loved the way dialogue was written. Salim-Javed would never use big words but they’d impress you with the construction of their sentences. It’s so beautifully done.

20,000 Leagues Under The Sea (1954)

Director: Richard Fleischer

Kirk Douglas was the hero of this film. This must be the oldest film on my list. I was a small kid when I saw this and was so fascinated by how a submarine took you under the water and the action and adventure that happened out there in the sea.

Three Colours Trilogy (Red, Blue, White)

Director: Krzysztof Kieslowski

I love European films because they keep it so subtle, yet drive home the point so nicely, while also talking about a million other things. These films brought me to other European films.

Hero (1983)

Director: Subhash Ghai

Streaming on Zee5

Hero is a film that was like my childhood fantasy. I’m a true fan of Jackie (Shroff) dada. He is a true philosopher. I think I could just follow him. When I saw Hero I only wanted to be like him in the movie.

Ghulami (1985)

Director: J.P Dutta

Streaming On YouTube

I’ve seen it multiple, multiple times. I think that J.P Dutta was very leftist in his thoughts and, as a kid, I was always attracted to his style of filmmaking. He was one of those directors who also influenced me with the places he shot in. When I came to Bombay, the first holiday I took was to go to this place called Fatehpur Shekhawati in Rajasthan because I had seen the Fatehpur Shekhawati railway station in Ghulami. I then I stayed at a place called Mandawa and some other places where the movie was shot. These locations made an appearance in Jab We Met and then in Love Aaj Kal.

All Quiet On the Western Front (1979)

Director: Delbert Mann

Streaming on YouTube

It’s about the sensitivity of a young officer who shoots somebody in war. It’s a very sensitive film which makes you feel very repugnant towards war.

A Streetcar Named Desire (1951)

Director: Elia Kazan

It really felt like Marlon Brando was going through the emotions of his character and the relationship this man was in. It felt so strong and passionate.

Naya Daur (1957)

Director: B.R Chopra

Streaming on Amazon Prime Video

I love it for just the exuberance of the character. Again, Dilip Kumar seems like a real guy who is living that life. In so many of his films, everybody else seems to be acting in an old-fashioned way, but he doesn’t even look like he’s performing.

Closely Watched Trains (1966)

Director: Jiri Menzel

It’s an old Czech film. It’s very real and dramatic in a way that fiction can never be. It has a feeling of being candid, which is amazing.

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