Friday, August 17, 2007

Interview with Karan Johar

Karan Johar speaks on a variety of aspects, ranging from his equation with his ex-assistants to his so-called NRI obsession to why Anurag Kashyap must not talk out of turn…and of course Chak De India

'Soham didn't exactly make a Ben Hur for me that I should miss him'

There’s been a lot of speculation about your forthcoming ventures, can you tell us something about it?

In keeping with my aim to promote young talent, two of my assistants, Taran Mansukhani and Siddharth Malhotra will be starting their films soon. My own film (yes, I’m looking at Kajol and SRK) will start next year. I’m also co-producing an animation film on Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, with Prana Studios in Mumbai. Basically, we’re looking at turning Dharma films into a boutique production, where a variety of films can be made.

Some would opine that Dharma Productions hasn’t expanded the way it should have, given its phenomenal past successes.

No, but you must understand that mine is not a giant production house like a Yash Raj or UTV. I’m under no pressure to keep coming up with four films a year, nor do I have a distribution network in place. These external pressures don’t apply to Dharma at all. I make whatever I feel like.

Unlike Yash Raj, you haven’t really managed to retain talent, both your ex-assistant director Nikhil Advani and Soham chose to leave the very banner that gave them such mega launches.

I did not sign any contracts with them. I chose to place love and trust beyond these considerations. Today, I realize my mistake and all the directors who are working for Dharma right now are under contracts. As for Nikhil and Soham, well, they chose to succumb to external pressures and move on. Nikhil is still a very good friend and inspite of Salaam-E-Ishq, I find him very talented. I’m sure, we will have some professional connection at some level in the future and it will be good. Most certainly, Nikhil can work for me again. When he left, well, yes, there was some emotional upheaval but we’re over with it now. I mean, how long can we keep holding grudges. I’m 35 now, and Nikhil’s a year older at 36.As for Soham, I never had any emotional attachment with him. Even professionally, I did not feel his loss. He made Kaal.

You’re saying that

(straight-faced) Yeah, I mean he made Kaal, not some Ben Hur that I should miss him.

You’ve come under constant criticism for setting your stories in New York and other foreign locations. KANK, being your latest. Some would think it’s an attempt to please the NRI populace, who form a major part of your target audience. But from what I feel, ironically, a lot of NRIs are now quite tired of seeing their own streets covered in films…there’s a larger market for desi films among them I feel…

Oh, but I never set KANK in New York because I wanted to please the NRIs. That story could have easily happened in a city like Mumbai, Delhi or Pune but the problem is that an extra marital affair can’t go unnoticed in India. I wanted my characters to be lost in their own world and that was only possible if I shifted the story abroad. You know, when I started out in my career, I didn’t even now what the NRI audience was all about. It’s just that their tastes collided with mine –I like big stars, music, glamour, emotions and they like that too. There’s no NRI recipe that I have. And in any case, we must stop treating them like aliens. They are one among us.

Recently, Vishal Bharadwaj made a statement to the effect that the NRI market was corrupting good cinema and the audience there is stuck in a time frame

So don’t make those kind of films, simple! Vishal Bharadwaj is a fantastic director and he should make exactly the kind of films he believes in. But I’m all for variety. If there’s a Partner, there’s also a Namaste London...all kinds of cinema must co-exist. Which is why I find people like Anurag Kashyap writing on some blog about me very amusing. He even talks about people like Yash Chopra. Please, at least, leave out a legend like Mr. Chopra. And why does he feel the need to write these things? I mean, he’s made like one film, which finally got released. Now, I loved Black Friday but that’s exactly my point, about allowing all kinds of cinema to co-exist.

You’ve already said that all your films will star SRK and you’re also very friendly with Kajol, Preity and Rani, which means, they too will be in most of your films. Doesn’t that bring a sort of fatigue to your projects, repeating the same actors?

(nods) I feel stars cannot make a film look tired, only a bad story can do that. The star cast is generally the least of my concerns. There are more important things for me to be worried about like the film’s screenplay or execution. If that doesn’t work, nothing else will. And I feel having good actors, who are known so well to me, can only help my film.

After making Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna, you said you would never go back to your earlier films?

I have never looked back in any case. When I started out, cinema was like a toy to experiment with. I was young and my own thoughts at that time translated on screen. There was innocence, dance, glamour, love in my film. Then, with Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gam, I wanted to impress people by my creating huge sets with big stars. Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna was also made when I was in a particular mind-set. Ultimately, I’ve decided that I’m going to make the kind of films I want to, because I’ve realized that everyone cannot be pleased at the same time.

Anything you’d like to change about KANK today?

I would make the film shorter by 20 minutes and edit out some of the comedy scenes and the opulence. That’s it, otherwise I wouldn’t like to change anything about KANK.

You’ve never made bones of the fact that you love media attention and the result has been that you are a director, anchor, chat-show host, fashion designer…all rolled into one. And now, suddenly everyone from Kunal Kohli to Farhan Akthar to Mahesh Manjerekar to Sanjay Leela Bhansali are part of the spotlight, acting in films, judging shows and what not. What do make of this trend? Does it take way anything from the director’s ‘halo’

(laughs) See, I started it first? I believe Kunal (Kohli) and Farhan Akhtar were judges on some television shows. Personally, I love everything I do and shows like Koffee With Karan has greatly my brand equity. See, just because you’re a director doesn’t mean that you should be intense, isolated, dictatorial and keep quoting Bergman and grand Chinese films at every given opportunity. And in any case, it’s wonderful that directors are getting noticed because of the media. Otherwise, how many people know how V Shantaram or Bimal Roy looked.

Koffee With Karan still remains a popular show but one suspects it’s not as popular as its first season. Are the TRPs satisfactory?

KWK is an English chat show and I’m thrilled that you are even talking in terms of TRPs, which means it’s popular enough to be judged by numbers. I mean, how many would ask Vir Saghvi about his show’s TRPs? But honestly, the first season will always appear more special because the concept is fresh and there’s a certain curiosity value. As far as I know, the show is appealing to its target audience. Who was my most interesting guest? Himesh Reshammiya. I really didn’t expect him to be so good but he carried all the five segments of the show on his shoulders.

One believes this is your last season with Star?

Yes, this will be my last season of Koffee With Karan…I don’t know how Star plans to continue with the show, unless they take on Karan Thapar. But seriously, I’m moving on to NDTV and will be starting a new show with them.

Any thoughts on Chak De India?

I saw the film Friday night; I had missed its preview show. I completely loved the film and was clapping all through it. It’s easily one of the finest films ever made. People are saying now that SRK is a terrific actor, but I always knew it.

-Sandhya Iyer


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