‘Jab We Met’: Imtiaz Ali On Making His Most Memorable Film Yet

10 Years of ‘Jab We Met’: Filmmaker Imtiaz Ali looks back at the Shahid Kapoor-Kareena Kapoor film.

13 min read
Shahid Kapoor and Kareena Kapoor in <i>Jab We Met.</i>

Shahid Kapoor and Kareena Kapoor have done 5 films together and only one amongst them remains an evergreen favourite. No prizes for guessing - the magic of Jab We Met continues to charm even 10 years later. This Imtiaz Ali film released across the country on 26 October 2007 and after several reruns on TV over the years, the romcom finds itself still drawing a repeat audience on Netflix.

Here’s Imtiaz Ali looking back at arguably his most adored film a decade after its release:

Imtiaz Ali talks to <b>The Quint</b> about making <i>Jab We Met.</i>
Imtiaz Ali talks to The Quint about making Jab We Met.
(Photo: The Quint)

I heard you saying that the germ of the idea of Jab We Met came when you put your head together with a friend who was depressed?

Imtiaz Ali: So my friend told me that he was looking for work, and I told him why don’t you write a story and then you can direct it and then do something about it. As an exercise he and I sat together to find a story. So I said, you give one idea, I will give one idea and we’ll put it together. So he said - a man who wants to kill himself and I said - a girl in a train. Now we decided to put the two ideas together and brainstorm, nothing happened as a result. But, this idea stayed in my mind and after months, perhaps years I found myself thinking more and more about it and one day I just wrote it, that is how Jab We Met began.

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So you had developed the characters of Geet and Aditya, before you figured out the plot of the film?

Imtiaz Ali: For me it is not a well-crafted decision, it happens when it happens. It normally happens without my knowledge or permission, like subconsciously in my brain. You know it keeps working on its own and I keep talking about it or telling people that she does this or he does that, it is not like I sit down and say today I am going to work the character out, tomorrow I am going to work the plot out, it is not like that at all.

<i>Jab We Met</i>: Shahid and Kareena’s chemistry was crackling.
Jab We Met: Shahid and Kareena’s chemistry was crackling.
(GIF Courtesy: GIPHY)

You’re saying it wasn’t pre-decided that the girl on the train would have the traits that Geet eventually comes to have.

Imtiaz Ali: No, it comes in when I was thinking about what she does, I found her talking a lot, you know being Punjabi in her ways and being very accustomed to the train, chatting with everybody, not knowing the peril she is getting into, being naive in that way but also having the energy to get out of every situation and so on and so forth. It is not like I thought now I have five options for character, chatter box, silent, girl next door, hot bombshell, aisa kuch nahi hota hai.

It is just that she is on the train and she is already talking like this and then you feel like you have already met people like Geet before. But all of that is usually when you are being interviewed and then you realise why you did what you did but before that you don’t realise, it is just like going with the flow.

Did you narrate your first draft to friends? I remember Anurag Kashyap was cheering for the film in those days, was he one of those who got an early narration?

Imtiaz Ali: Anurag Kashyap was more cheering Socha Na Tha and he was more cheering his friend that is me, just so that I could get recognition but we would have done that for each other at that point of time and still do even today in some ways. There was a time I narrated Highway and so many of my other scripts to many people and one of them definitely is Anurag. I narrated it to my brothers, I narrated it to Preity, I narrated it to Rajesh Tibrewal, I remember I was narrating it on a bus during a journey, Rajesh was my assistant in those days, so he enjoyed it. But then these narrations are for me to figure or for the people to figure if they want to make the film but then I narrated it to many people who refused to make the film.

Then I narrated it to Preity Zinta, who is a very important figure to Jab We Met because she was the first outsider who really liked the film. Then I narrated it to Sheel Kumar, who is again a friend, who was supposed to produce it, he really liked it. It is because of Preity Zinta that I realised that there is something good in it because I never had any confidence in this story.
<i>Jab We Met</i>: Shahid and Kareena shoot for the <i>Nagada </i>song.
Jab We Met: Shahid and Kareena shoot for the Nagada song.

So how did Kareena Kapoor come on board Jab We Met? Who connected you to her?

Imtiaz Ali: See, it began at a point where somebody introduced me to Shahid, saying that I had a script for him and telling me that he is interested in working with me. Neither was true maybe, but we were set up together, and we are thankful to the gentleman who did it. We just started talking and Shahid said you have a story about a train journey and I started telling him off handedly, then he said do you think I am suited and I said no, the reason I didn’t approach you was because I think you are very young for this part. But then after meeting him I realised, he was more mature than his looks and his age. So then he wore spectacles and all that to suit the look and then he asked me, who will be the female to play the role?

I said, look my first choice was Kareena, at that time I tried to speak to her but I hadn’t been able to get across to her when I was trying to get to her. So then, I kind of narrated it to Shahid and Kareena together, they liked it. I was about to make it with Bobby and I didn’t know how to work it out. It had been dragging with Bobby for years and I was sitting at home, so ultimately I went ahead then and made this film. There was a time when I was making it with Bobby Deol and Preity Zinta.

Were there any changes that Shahid and Kareena demanded of the script once they signed up for it?

Imtiaz Ali: No, the reason why they did the film was because they liked it and I think Shahid was the most positive person about the film. He had more confidence in that film than me. Kareena loved the film and she is not the person who will say yes to something and then quarrel with it. Shahid also was doing everything, trying hard to make it good.

I think at some point there was a question about the music because there was Aaogey Jab Tum O Saajana... which was such a slow song, which the unit hated at first because they thought - what is such a buddhha gaana doing in our film, which is so young and so on. Some of us who liked it were very scared to play it on the sets but there was no discord.

Now of course, Aaogey Jab Tum O Saajana... which is composed by Sandesh is the longest sustaining song of Jab We Met. If now on a radio a Jab We Met song is heard then it is Aaogey Jab Tum O Saajana... not Nagada... or Mauja Hi Mauja..., I mean those songs are also heard but this song is heard a lot more.

Imagine <i>Jab We Met</i> with Bobby Deol and Preity Zinta. Can you?
Imagine Jab We Met with Bobby Deol and Preity Zinta. Can you?
(GIF Courtesy: GIPHY)

I was watching Socha Na Tha recently and though it was a very engaging plot and refreshingly made - I felt there was a huge growth in terms of technique and shot taking that had taken place between Socha Na Tha and Jab We Met - so was there a lot of learning that had happened between these two films?

Imtiaz Ali: See, Socha Na Tha for me was like a film school to which I have not been and neither have I assisted anybody. I was that person who was directly made a director on a television fiction set, that was the Imtihan series that I had made. This was my first film, I didn’t know how a film was processed, I didn’t know what you can do with a film camera and what are the various lenses you can put on, what happens when you put a block lens or a zoom lens and so on and so forth right? I really didn’t have any idea.

What happened with Socha Na Tha was that it took 4 years in making, in these 4 years people who worked in the film moved on. For example, the cinematographer wasn’t around when we were doing the colour correction. I being the director, not even the cinematographer had to go to the lab and do it as in learn it over there, and take all the decisions which a director or a cinematographer who knows the process had to take. So I learnt not only about that but production and various other aspects of filmmaking.

I was learning all of this while making Socha Na Tha, so I knew it all when I was making Jab We Met, so maybe that is why you see a difference.

Socha Na Tha wasn’t seen by many people, on the other hand Jab We Met was seen by a lot of people, of course Shahid and Kareena were popular stars, it wasn’t like they were on top of their game but they were popular stars. Socha Na Tha was seen by a lot of people after Jab We Met. I did a poll on my FB page asking which film is better - Socha Na Tha or Jab We Met and the poll said Socha Na Tha. Perhaps, the other thing is a lot of people like Jab We Met, so people must have voted for the underdog. But Socha Na Tha had a better plot than Jab We Met. I think Jab We Met had a positive spirit, which I think is the reason it got as much love as it did.

Here’s something that I’ve been wanting to know for a long time. There are these jarring shots of that miniature train and car in the first half of Jab We Met during the journey sequence. Why did you use something so tacky?

Imtiaz Ali: It is a big embarrassment, see there are a lot of things in my films which are big embarrassments to me but none as prolific as the miniature train in Jab We Met and some other special effects. I was coming with a background of working in a couple of visual effects companies and I was expected to know more about these things.

The embarrassing miniature train and car shot in <i>Jab We Met.</i>
The embarrassing miniature train and car shot in Jab We Met.
(Photo Courtesy: Screenshot)
It just happened, it was not because the producer wasn’t giving us money, it was not because of any other reason, it just happened because of our own incompetence. I would blame myself or the cinematographer and the time was short. Time is always short in life, we couldn’t manage it. But now it is out there in the open for everybody to laugh at. We could have done without it, in retrospect a lot could have been done and not just with the miniature train but in a lot of other places. Even if I had knocked the shots off it would have been okay.
Everyone’s favourite line from <i>Jab We Met.</i>
Everyone’s favourite line from Jab We Met.
(GIF Courtesy: GIPHY)

“Sikhni hoon main Bhatinda ki” “Main apni favourite hoon” “Meri life ab bilkul boring kar do ji” “Nahin dekhne mujhe ganne ke khet” - the film had these terrific lines and moments - and you say that you wrote the film in 2 days? Does that include the dialogues?

Imtiaz Ali: It includes the dialogues. So what I did is, I wrote the screenplay in two days, in my screenplays mostly the intended dialogues are already there in English and Hindi whatever way it comes in. Now, the rest of the dialogues were written in half a day because we were locked inside the Span resort on the way to Manali because of the excessive snowfall when all the roads were cut. I was desperate and had nothing to do so I finished writing the dialogues then.

Were there any major improvisations on the sets while you were shooting or did you more or less stick to what was your shooting script?

Imtiaz Ali: The only improvisations that were happening in Jab We Met were more to do with the locations, it was the most ill pre-production I had ever worked with. I had exactly 21 days from the day we decided to make it to start shooting. There was no time for pre-production. So those 21 days would mean writing the dialogues, making all the music, selecting all the locations, doing all the casting, costumes, hiring the team, all in 21 days.

For instance, if I was in Punjab and shooting today, I didn’t know what I will be shooting tomorrow, which actor is available, which is not - all this was happening while we were shooting. So we would be sitting in Manali, we would have nothing to shoot tomorrow but we can’t waste time because time is money. So, what we decided to do was we started shooting the Ratlam scenes in Manali. Toh wo gali toh lag hi rahi hai na, woh jo scene hai Ratlam ki galiyon me ghoom rahi hoon, that is actually Manali. The Hotel Decent scene that happened was supposed to be in Ratlam but that is another place in Manali. Something else is in Lonavala, something else is some place else, so much improvisation happened. See, improvisation isn’t changing the script, we improvise the script to make it come to life to shoot it, we were not changing the script.

<i>Jab We Met</i>: Kareena and Shahid’s biggest hit.
Jab We Met: Kareena and Shahid’s biggest hit.

Which was the most difficult scene that you encountered while shooting Jab We Met?

Imtiaz Ali: I remember only one scene being very difficult to execute that too because we saw a honeycomb of bees on Kareena’s head. That was the last scene which is the most romantic scene where Geet comes to Aditya and she wants to be with him, hugs him in that final cathartic scene. The light was going and we could only shoot it then and there.

The bees had already bitten 2-3 people from the unit and Kareena obviously didn’t want to be bitten by them. At the same time we knew if they bite Kareena or Shahid then we can’t shoot anymore because we wouldn’t be able to show their faces. It was okay if it had bitten me, I could have suffered in pain. But we took the chance, the light was making it hot and the bees were coming out, but we managed it.

Kareena of course gave a terrific performance as Geet, mostly remembered for being the feisty, adorable motormouth but what was equally or more powerful were the scenes in which she appears heartbroken after Anshuman dumps her. She looks so broken and vulnerable.

Imtiaz Ali: See one thing that happened in the second half where she is supposed to be broken hearted is that there is no make-up. There is actually no make-up. When you have been seeing the actor with make-up in other films and even in this film, and then you look at her suddenly without the make-up, she will look different. Kareena agreed to do it, I had thought she wouldn’t because she is an actor, but she did agree and she looked most amazing. She looks so amazing that everybody’s heart just melts seeing her, she looks very vulnerable. Anyway, that was a big step, she had never done this before. That is one aspect but rest is performance, costuming, shooting, lighting and other things.

Shahid Kapoor and Karisma Kapoor in <i>Jab We Met.</i>
Shahid Kapoor and Karisma Kapoor in Jab We Met.

So the famous Shahid - Kareena break-up happened during the last schedule of Jab We Met, did that affect the shoot in any way?

Imtiaz Ali: Actually, we all were extremely tense about how it will be done because there were some scenes left. And immediately after the breakup it is hard but Shahid and Kareena did it very professionally so there were no troubles.

How do you feel when most people still regard Jab We Met as your best film yet?

Imtiaz Ali: See Jab We Met is perhaps more of my film than any other because it was at a time when I didn’t have so many collaborators. Second is that you forget now that I have made seven films, one will be someone’s most favourite and least favourite and they will tell me about it.

Sometimes I felt why are they talking about just Jab We Met and why not Love Aaj Kal but luckily for me at this point most people are not talking about just Jab We Met. My other films have also got recognition, like there is a set of people who think Rockstar is the film to be most talked about.

I did a poll recently in my ex-college, Hindu. I asked them to raise hands and tell me which film of mine they like the most. They said Highway - it was unexpected, it’s a small budget film with newcomers but that is the film that those people like. And the thing about opinions today is that everyone thinks that his opinion is the gospel truth. Fact of the matter is, there is nothing like that.

Most critics charge you with making the same film again - a hero on a journey which is both internal and external, in search of himself. I’m sure you’ve read about it. How do you react to this?

Imtiaz Ali: To begin with, I don’t read critics. From the second or the third film I realised that they are not helping me, they are just putting me down. Everyone has their own agendas and concepts, so I just don’t read them for my film or someone else’s film. All of them are my personal friends but it just doesn’t work for me. And I don’t even claim that I do each film differently, I do what comes to me. I don’t want to give any explanation or want a certificate from any critic ever.

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