Director: Imtiaz Ali
Cast: Shreya Chaudhry, Pavel Gulati
Imtiaz Ali might never run out of ways to tell the same story. But I fear he has now run out of ways to make a film. Not ironically, this crisis of craft emphatically surfaces in his new short titled, “The Other Way.” On a brisker level, The Other Way advertises the usual Imtiaz Ali tropes – a bride gets existential on the eve of her wedding (Jab We Met, Highway, Rockstar, Jab Harry Met Sejal), she sets off with a good-looking stranger who has fought his family (Rockstar, Jab We Met, Jab Harry Met Sejal, Socha Na Tha), he is a drifter unlike her fiancé (Rockstar, Tamasha, Jab Harry Met Sejal, Highway), they flirt in a very self-aware manner (Tamasha, Jab Harry Met Sejal, Rockstar, Love Aaj Kal), and one or both of them come of age (all films).
However, owing to the short-form medium, this broad journey is given a device to compress it into a tenth of its cinematic length. This is where Ali tries too hard to be different – and ends up doing little more than intellectualizing the concept of a hookup. Unfortunately, he doesn’t have the scale or space to execute it in the language of a personal adventure. Every phase is compartmentalized into a low-budget, two-day pocket, without songs or brooding montages, with the aid of some dreadful elevator music: travel is denoted by an impulsive car ride and (sanitized) sex session in a jungle, “freedom” is denoted by her choppy monologue that essentially romanticizes the notion of infidelity, their forbidden chemistry is fragmented into scattered shots of her winking at him or him blushing at her in the hotel accommodating her reception. There is no time for more. Hence, by using “time” as the gimmicky peg (“unlike life, films can go backward”), he constructs the events of their short journey in reverse, from end to beginning.
And as is the case with most directors who run out of ideas, Ali equips the film with the loud metaphor of filmmaking itself. Worse, there is an over-smart voiceover (sounds like Kunal Kapoor) that constantly attempts to remind us of the story’s self-referential and its maker’s self-reverential genius. But sportingly identifying one’s flaws rarely absolves an artist of his/her datedness. Within the first few minutes, there is a nod to production designing (“why do we need a huge grandfather clock to denote time?”), Bollywood stereotypes (a kid asks the pandit to utter the famous movie line, “Dulhan ko bulaiye, samay nikla jaa raha hai”); the voice explains to us that “if this were a normal picture” the narrative would never backtrack, the heroine (Shreya Chaudhry) considers imparting her ‘dirty secret’ only in good-natured flashbacks to her future granddaughter, and the drifter dude (Pavel Gulati) wonders if her introspection deserves equally heavy ‘dialogues’ from him. Not unlike artificially intelligent satirical comedies, this becomes a drama that tries to justify its own unoriginality by openly addressing it.
Perhaps the most obvious sign of Ali’s misguided millennialism lies in a scene where the personality of the guy is supposed to be established. As he walks across the lobby with a female receptionist, a few giggling girls skip by after calling him a ‘maal’. Only half-mockingly, he asks the receptionist if a man’s modesty isn’t worth outraging about. “Tum karo toh chamatkar, hum kare toh balatkar?” he inquires, and she smiles shyly in response. Here, he sounds like a young character written by an older man trying to capture youngness – an illness that is most rampant in ‘modern’ Subhash Ghai and Sooraj Barjatya productions. As Hindi cinema has repeatedly seen, today’s blockbuster director might be tomorrow’s Ram Gopal Varma; success doesn’t age very well here.
I wouldn’t want to jump the gun on basis of a 14-minute film. But The Other Way is debatable proof that Ali, a creator stuck in time and tale, might have to change his ways to be relevant again. Especially to his admirers, like myself, who insist there has always been more to his films than a single feeling. Because, as of now, there is no more tamasha left to explore – irrespective of when, if, how and why boy and girl meet.