Imtiaz Ali: Romance through Rockstars, Ridicule and Roadways

Reviews for Love Aaj Kal ('09 & '20), Tamasha, Rockstar, Jab We Met, Jab Harry Met Sejal and Highway.

Imtiaz Ali: Romance through Rockstars, Ridicule and Roadways

Reviews for Jab We Met, Love Aaj Kal (2009 & 2020), Rockstar, Highway, Tamasha and Jab Harry Met Sejal.

Imtiaz Ali has received a lot of attention as one of Bollywood’s most innovative modern directors, finding ways to represent pure fairy-tale romances in today’s sometimes cynical society. Read my reviews for his films in the order I viewed them, and see how my writing style grew. Or skip to the bottom of the article for my ranking!

Love Aaj Kal (2009)

Premiered: 2009

Watched Feb 10, 2020

Great Bollywood movie on modern dating culture vs. classic love. Acting from 3 of the 4 leads was quite solid, and I definitely enjoyed the parallel storylines. Saif Ali Khan looks great with a turban! There were some strange and seemingly rushed/missing transitions between life moments and scenes, but overall the film was enjoyable and emotional. Definitely could improve the logic, but it's Bollywood and for me this was well above standard.


Premiered: 2015

Watched Feb 15, 2021

What an intriguing, if long-winded opening. Then as the initial fun wears off, marked by a great Micky Singh song Heer To Badai Sad Hai, the film devolves into a depressing, confusing bore! Whatever happened to the exciting introduction stuff regarding how all stories are the same? After I quite literally gave up on the film, it somehow redeemed itself and pulled it all back together in the finale. The acting from Ranbir Kapoor and Deepika Padukone is definitely prominent here, and while I do appreciate Tamasha's message overall especially in the current Indian and world climate, I don't think I'll be revisiting this one.


Premiered: 2011

Watched Nov 27, 2021

Ever since I first heard Kun Faya Kun, I have wanted to see this movie. Unfortunately, halfway through I made the connection that this was the same director as Tamasha, and it seems some issues I had with that film were present here.

When the storyline focuses on the weight and costs of Jordan's rise to fame from nerdy college student to global rock sensation, there is a truly amazing story being presented. Unfortunately... Heer exists as a character in this movie. This character and, tough to say, actress did not deserve the screen time given to them in this film. Let the awesome soundtrack from A. R. Rahman slay, actually flesh out the themes a bit more instead of using ambiguity and provide a definition of what your title is. I mean this film was entertaining and great, if not a bit frustrating, but man there were some awesome (almost mythical) connotations in the tough ending. I would keenly watch what Imtiaz Ali does next.

Jab We Met

Premiered: 2007

Watched Jan 12, 2023

Finally got around to finishing this, 3.5 years after watching the first half. Started from the beginning again and watched Jab We Met in very broken up form, across many meals and weeks. This felt like an old-school Bollywood movie with some modern parts thrown in. Kareena Kapoor turns in a great performance as Geet, and the Punjabi family in Bhatinda is great. Also, Nagada Nagada will always be a classic childhood dance song.

Jab Harry Met Sejal

Premiered: 2017

Watched Apr 24, 2023

The most straightforward but worst Imtiaz Ali movie yet. Harry and Sejal are unlikeable characters and the plot hinges on one of the most stupid catalysts I've seen in a movie yet... the engagement ring lost somewhere in Europe.

The very last section of the movie had some redeeming factors, but I wasn't sure of whether that was because it had been some time since I had seen the beginning (I watched this one in parts) or because I had disassociated the characters at the end from the ones in the beginning. Also Punjab will always get points in a movie... even if this one felt very extraneous to the story.


Premiered: 2014

Watched Oct 07, 2023

Somewhere between transcendent and tragic. With its premise, Highway really shouldn’t work. The night before her wedding, Veera gets kidnapped during a heist gone wrong. From here, the film should delve into something closer to a horror or thriller film, being at the least grossly uncomfortable to watch. Yet what the script and camerawork does instead defies those expectations. I found myself captured, stunned and then deeply moved.

Highway takes its time in showing us another side of India - not the dirty or clean stereotypical view of a Hollywood film, but a grim realness of its beautiful rugged parts. The film spends most of its time away from the big cities and crowded streets, with some higher frame rates and excellent wide shots for the sweeping landscapes. Imtiaz’s direction and the camerawork seem to constantly ask viewers a question - how far can a road take you? And what would happen if you were to really notice the nature of what speeds past around us? This mounting interrogation shows how journeys of the present can strip away the walls of our pasts, revealing the ugly and soft parts beneath.

This is only compounded by the acting, with Bhatt putting in a raw performance that still stands out amongst her steadily increasing works. Her diversity is played off against Hooda's simmering anger. All of this would fall apart if not for a deft script, which provides nuance to each character and culminates in some powerful moments. A.R. Rahman's soundtrack finds the melancholy words and charged playing that enhances the story being told. The road and these characters have you swinging from moments of entrancement and awe to grim fascination with the human condition and nature’s beauty.

Easily Imtiaz Ali’s best film, and one that cements him as one of Bollywood’s best directors in my opinion. He is pushing the dramatic boundaries of what a Bollywood film can explore, without losing the musical or “Indian” essence of the code.

Love Aaj Kal (2020)

Premiered: 2020

Watched Oct 25, 2023

And so my Imtiaz Ali journey ends where it began, with Love Aaj Kal. I really enjoyed the bulk of this film. I'm not sure why there were so many negative reviews, but I found a modern romance dissection that sensibly handled the notions of this clearly non-conformist director.

This is not exactly a reboot, but rather a second attempt at the same ideas from the original. I think it's interesting that Imtiaz Ali chose to come back to this concept, and he makes a real attempt at showing just how much modern dating has changed in just 13 years. I loved the filming of the two timelines, and the cutting between as both stories showed the development of the character's relationships. Even the odd post-intermission sequence and following commentary on plastic kept building this commentary on society's view of dating.

It was unfortunate that for me, the ending fizzled out after some great build-up. Otherwise, some great acting from the cast - Leena was appropriately restrained, Veer/ Raghu somehow made both himself work in both timelines and I was surprised to learn Zoe was played by SRK's daughter. Not a bad performance by any means, but I found myself enjoying her character less as the story went on. And why are Randeep Hooda's eyes so haunted?

Three of the four leads are flawed in ways that would get different outcomes in the real world compared to this Bollywood film's setting. But I enjoyed seeing a refined, and even restrained version of Imtiaz Ali's filmmaking style with mountains, music as a key part of the story and young people navigating romantic relationships.

Imtiaz Ali Films Ranked

  1. Highway - 5/5
  2. Rockstar - 4/5
  3. Love Aaj Kal (2020) - 4/5
  4. Love Aaj Kal (2007) - 3.5/5
  5. Jab We Met - 3/5
  6. Tamasha - 2.5/5
  7. Jab Harry Met Sejal - 1.5/5

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