W Power 2024

'If I had to make My Name is Khan or Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna today...': Karan Johar at FILA 2024

At the Forbes India Leadership Awards 2024, the filmmaker spoke about being on anxiety medication, Bollywood being a soft target, and how the filmmaking universe has changed after the pandemic

Published: Mar 11, 2024 05:49:47 PM IST
Updated: Mar 11, 2024 06:00:16 PM IST

'If I had to make My Name is Khan or Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna today...': Karan Johar at FILA 2024Filmmaker Karan Johar Image: Forbes India
Filmmaker Karan Johar fielded a range of questions—and of course, a rapid fire—at the Forbes India Leadership Awards 2024, held in Mumbai on March 7.

Dressed in a dapper black-and-white ensemble, Johar, who celebrated 25 years in filmmaking recently, sat down with Palki Sharma, managing editor, Firstpost, at the glittering awards night.

Since the Covid-19 lockdown, there’s been a marked change in the way people watch films, and in the kinds of movies that draw people into theatres. Johar, who heads Dharma Productions and straddles the worlds of big-screen cinema and OTT, spoke about ‘The New Order of Cinema’, among aspects of his own journey.

Edited excerpts:

Q. What does cinema mean to you?
Cinema is everything to me: It’s my identity, it’s what raised me, made me dream, and eventually, fulfilled so many of those dreams. The first film I watched in a cinema was Roman Holiday. My mother took me to an early morning screening at Eros Cinema at Churchgate. I was mesmerized by the moving images, what I was seeing on celluloid, the beauty and romance of that film. I fell in love with the community experience of watching a film. From then on, it went on from one moment in cinema to the next. That’s when I discovered Indian or Hindi cinema.

Q. Between Karan Johar the producer and Karan Johar the director, who calls the shots?
I’ve been a producer’s son. My father, Yash Johar, was a producer in a very different environment, where I don't think a producer was given the kind of regard and respect that they are today. Today, they are heads of studios, and there’s a whole different regard. In those days, producer was the lowest hanging fruit.

One has heard dramatic stories of houses and jewellery being sold if a film failed at the box office. They were individual financers back then. So while I’ve seen art being made, I’ve also seen my father and the industry go through turbulent times commercially. I have an understanding of both, and so my own preference has always been a blend of commerce and art.

Being mainstream is part of my DNA. It’s not something I have to inculcate or cultivate. When I design a film, by default, by design or desire, they are mainstream in texture. As an artist, you express yourself through the stories you tell, but as a studio head, my eye is always on the box office ball. That’s how I believe a producer should be, because we have responsibilities. If you’re asking for top dollar from the market, you have to deliver the goods.

Q. You’ve had many commercial successes, and also made films like My Name is Khan or Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna, which had themes that were perhaps ahead of their time. Would you be able to make these films today, and would you change anything about them?
When I directed My Name is Khan, I believed very strongly in talking about the misinterpretation of a religion worldwide at that time. This was post 9/11. And I felt very strongly about telling that story.

When I wrote Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna, it was about emotional turbulence in many households. Infidelity is a reality and monogamy is a rarity, but many people told me, ‘How can you endorse infidelity?’. So I said, ‘How can you endorse something that’s already sold out?’. It’s out there for the world to see and witness.

People were polarised in their reactions—some acknowledged them as home truths, others didn’t want to watch the reality of life. They didn’t want to see their biggest movie stars in shades of grey. They want to see the model son, the model parent. It takes a whole lot of evolution for them to understand those shades of grey.

But as a filmmaker and content creator, you want to dabble in all kinds of themes. Coming back to your question, given a moment in time where I believe in something stongly, I will be able to tell that story. If it comes through with conviction, an audience will definitely look into it at some point of time. Maybe not at the time it releases, but somewhere down the line, it will find acceptance.

Q. Since you’re talking about the audience being divided, a recent example that comes to mind is ‘Animal’. The film was very successful, and also controversial. The movie was violent. How do you think such movies impact society?
There’s been a lot of debate on Animal. People have expressed opinions, stood for it or against it—the filmmaker himself has been very vocal about his feelings.

Personally, truly honestly, I saw it as a character film based on a character who was deeply dysfunctional, inherently violent, who had many emotional issues—and I loved the treatment. I didn't go deep into the moral communication of the film—I was so swept by the narrative and the way the filmmaker told the story of it through sound design, screenplay dialogue, character development, that as a filmmaker, I loved it.

There are people who have called me and expressed their opinions—and agreed or disagreed with me. I have to be honest about my emotion attached to a film I’ve seen, and if it comes with criticism or flak, then I have to accept it with open arms. And if it comes with an embrace, I have to accept that as well.

Watch Karan Johar talk about anxiety, nepotism, and the new order of cinema, here.

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