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Karan Johar: What's It Like For Industry Newbies

Producer-director Karan Johar says, younger actors will have to constantly reinvent themselves to keep fans engaged

Published: Feb 7, 2013 06:07:49 AM IST
Updated: Feb 11, 2013 02:02:58 PM IST
Karan Johar: What's It Like For Industry Newbies
Image: Dabboo Ratnani
“Young audience are watching movies [from]across the globe, they’re watching sports stars, they love too many people. So their love is also divided”

Forbes India Celebrity 100 No. 37

Bollywood is no Hollywood. We’re still a star-driven industry, contrary to what has been happening in Hollywood, where studios have taken over; where computer graphics films, franchise films, superhero films, iconic pop and pop iconic books are drawing in the opening weekend. But ours is a very star-driven market. Creating a movie star has become a resource factor for a studio or a production house.

For that to happen—to control and leverage new talent—you have to first create that talent. That’s what everyone has suddenly realised this year.

Present-day stars are still going strong, be it Shah Rukh, Aamir, Salman or Akshay.  Their age doesn’t matter. They will go strong; they will go on as lead [actors] for another three to five years. Movies will be written with them in mind.

If you think about it, while an audience who saw [these actors] when they were really young still loves them, they still do movies that appeal to youngsters. So, in a family you have a young kid of four dancing to a Salman Khan song, and her father who grew up loving Salman Khan. The stars have managed to bridge a gap, which normally does not happen.

They are extremely talented but they are also lucky. They had a scenario that played a big part in their longevity. When I was growing up, I was a loyal fan and I was loyal because I didn’t have other verticals to turn to and I did not have options. I was loyal and I will be loyal to that movie star in my head and heart for years.

Things have changed. It’s like in the West. Every two years there’s a new teen icon in the West. Today it’s Channing Tatum, tomorrow it’s somebody else. They’re a very shifting audience; they’re not going to remain loyal if you don’t keep delivering something.

The younger generation [of actors] will not have it easy because there will always be too many options breathing down [their] neck; they will also have to combat Hollywood, because the young audience are watching movies [from] across the globe, they’re watching sports stars, they love too many people. So their love is also divided; the intensity of love is much less; that mad fandom that you see is not that hysterical because it is divided.

They get that [hysterical fandom] in a burst, in a two- to three-year window. So, you have to constantly reinvent, re-evolve. Managing the younger generation and their career is much tougher today than it has ever been because we’re combating too many options, and too many hurdles.

But, if they [audience] stick to you and like you, you are on your way to stardom. That’s what has happened with Ranbir Kapoor. When I saw Ranbir deliver in Wake up Sid, I felt he had the making of a star. He started and he took off, and now he’s inching towards that superstardom bracket.

He’s been here for five years and he’s already in the Rs 100-crore club. Not only has his repertoire of work been fantastic in terms of acting, but he has also had commercial success. Barfi!, an alternative kind of film, crossing the Rs 100-crore mark just shows he has the eyeballs waiting for him and those eyeballs will give him any movie today. He is at the [threshold] of mega stardom, and now he has to choose the right films that will take him there.

And it’s not because of lineage or nepotism. It has to do with the fact that he is a genius artiste. Lineage is not necessarily an audience factor as it is a media and industry factor. Audiences don’t go by the history of a movie actor, they have a different perspective.

Which is why, outsiders have gone on to become legendary stars, whether it is Dilip Kumar in the beginning or Amitabh Bachchan in the 1960s and 1970s or Shah Rukh Khan in the 1990s. They have been outsiders who broke the mould and emerged as stars.

But lineage plays a role within the industry; it’s a large part of how we function. It has to do with recall factor. Everybody has a resonance point in their head: “Oh, he’s David Dhawan’s son, or he’s Rishi Kapoor’s son.” We tend to welcome our own, just like you do your family members. If you are somebody’s son, the industry warms up to you.

But that also has a flipside. I’m sure for David Dhawan’s son or Boney Kapoor’s son it’s like walking on eggshells because you have so much to deliver expectation wise, in an industry that nurtured and cultivated your family’s career. Your relationships can come in your
way because you are bound to certain equations and connections. You have to do certain films for certain people because of the baggage you carry.
An outsider is not awestruck by anyone. No one was part of his journey, he has not grown up in the lap of the Hindi film fraternity, so he doesn’t owe anything to anyone.  

The younger generation—in either case—comes much more prepared. They are much more confident. They’re self-trained to an extent. They come prepared to face the camera, they’re not self-conscious, scared or in awe. They’re ready to deliver. They’re braver, they don’t have any kind of preconceived notions of audience beliefs, they have a new etiquette that helps tremendously.

If a film flops, they are not stressed much. It’s just the DNA of the young. They get over things much faster: There’s something else to look forward to, there are fun interactions, there’s another relationship, there’s so much happening in the day. They’re on to their next film, giving that film all their energy.  
But how viable [these films] are comes from the content. If I’m giving a boring, dead-dull film with a great new talent, it’s not going to work. So, I have to find that synergy—of a great new talent in a fun, energetic happy film, which has the potential for great music and is attractive to a young audience. Then you’re on the right path. I can’t take Siddharth Malhotra and Varun Dhawan and make an intense court room drama. It’s not going to work. I have to make something fun and fabulous for it to work and make them resonate with the audience.  

When I shot Student of the Year, the raw material was all there. I didn’t have to hold their hand and place them in front of the camera. They walked with great confidence to that mark and delivered. Your job is to use your resources and talent to make them better. That comes from your intelligence. I’d say for me, who has only worked with stars before this, it was a liberating experience. I felt free from my own self.

I feel very strongly about cinema because it’s cinema that brought me up. I remember what my first film was like. I remember when I was 10, kids my age were reading comics and I was watching Guru Dutt. I think I was always an old soul. At nine or 10 I discovered these vintage film-makers that gave so much to my life. So when I made my first film, it was an ode to Raj Kapoor.

I feel very passionate about people’s work in the past because that’s what trained and moulded me to be who I am. So, I get shocked when I meet young kids who don’t know what Raj Kapoor made or Guru Dutt made or what Bimal Roy made; they just don’t know what happened.

When I hear an old song, I tell them this is a great song. But, they just don’t know it. And then I realise, I’m 40 today and there’s a generation that has grown up on Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge and they don’t know anything before that. Then I’m like “Ok, this is the way it is”.

(As told to Team Forbes India)

(This story appears in the 08 February, 2013 issue of Forbes India. To visit our Archives, click here.)

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  • Archita Rai

    A well-scripted article. Bollywood is still growing as well as developing

    on Jun 5, 2013
  • Archita Rai

    Bollywood is still growing as well as developing but a very well-scripted article

    on Jun 5, 2013
  • Naveen Perumal

    A well-written article! Goes well to show that beneath all the creativity and the show, there is a lot of strategy, brand-building and marketing research involved. Thinking about this, I feel that our film-makers and Super-stars would give any MBA guy a run for their money and the cinema industry has turned out bigger brands in India than any top corporate company. May be Karan could write a column in the Forbes on marketing and brand building in cinema!

    on May 17, 2013