Filmmaker, explorer, and Travel + Leisure India & South Asia A-List member, Imtiaz Ali likes to be spontaneous in his travels. From exploring offbeat destinations to interacting with locals, Ali’s personal expeditions often find themselves woven into his inspiring film plots. By Priyanka Chakrabarti
What role does travel play in your creativity?
I discover a different personality of mine each time I travel. And that new persona looks at stories and people in a new way. Many of my stories have come to me while I’ve been on a journey. In fact, that’s why my films always have an underlying element of travel in them. It’s not a coincidence.
Tell us about your most memorable travel experience.
It was a trip that I took when I was in the seventh or eighth grade. I had to take my grandmother from Kolkata to Jamshedpur. It was the simplest of trips, but we got on the wrong train, which was going only till Kharagpur. It was the middle of the night when we realised this blunder. My poor grandma! I got her out of the train on the tracks because the Steel Express, which went till Kolkata, had incidentally stopped next to our stationary train in the middle of nowhere, and I thought it was a good chance for us to switch trains. The moment I got her onboard the right train, it started moving and she started screaming— all our luggage was still on the tracks. I somehow put everything up and jumped onboard. As I say this, I realise there are so many shots in my films that have been inspired by that moment.
Were there any other personal travel encounters that made it into your films?
In my previous film (Jab Harry Met Sejal), I shot in Portugal a lot, and many of those places were ones that I had visited as a tourist. I had gone there for the first time with a group of friends—to a small village near Sintra. Similarly, before I was to start shooting Rockstar, I visited Kashmir with family. I had originally planned Heer’s wedding shoot in Rajasthan. But after going to Kashmir, I realised that I had the unique opportunity of showing the wedding in Kashmir, so I made Heer a Kashmiri girl. I changed the storyline so that Kashmir could come into the frame, and I’m very glad I did it.
Destinations on your bucket list?
I want to go to Samarkand, Tashkent, and Bukhara in Uzbekistan. I also want to explore different parts of Turkey, because I’ve been to just Istanbul and Cappadocia. Apart from these, I feel a certain calling from the desert. An interesting desert that I’ve seen apart from Rajasthan is Wadi Rum in Jordan. I also want to travel from Northern Africa to Andalusia.
What are your favourite destinations?
Kashmir, Jerusalem, Czech Republic, and Russia.
Do you remember your first holiday?
I don’t really remember it, but my parents have told me about it. I was a baby, and we had gone to Gopalpur in Odisha. My family has a house there, and I remember being very fascinated by the vastness of the ocean.
How do you like to spend your time on tour?
I don’t really refer to any guide or itinerary. I like to stay as unplanned as possible. Of course, there’s always something to do on my list, but I opt for freewheeling; sometimes I end up seeing so much in just one day, and at times, I see nothing for many days. Sometimes, I end up going to the same cafe every day, and that’s just the end of it.
Any memorable impromptu holiday?
Many of my travels have been impromptu. Back in the day, my family used to go only on spontaneous trips. When we first went to Kashmir, I was in the ninth grade and my father had taken us there without any reservations. Many years later, I did the same with my daughter in Scotland. We were in London, and we just went to Scotland without any bookings whatsoever. We hired a car, drove around, and discovered new places.
Any particular book that you love re-reading while travelling?
I like re-reading A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway.
Your favourite movie?
It’s a Russian film called Prisoner of the Mountains.
What are the five things you never travel without?
A journal, a pen, my passport (of course), good walking shoes, and some Darjeeling tea.