Karan Johar: Bollywood’s Quick Change Artist
"I Like Attention, I Like To Perform"
He’s a man of many avatars – all at the same time. Is there nothing the director-designer-TV host-mentor will not be?
Karan Johar entered Bollywood as a director with Kuch Kuch Hota Hai (KKHH) in 1998. The film became a big hit and launched Karan the candyfloss filmmaker.
In 2004, he became a TV host with Koffee With Karan on Star World, in which he chatted with his celebrity buddies as an eager nation tuned in. In 2009, he teamed up with fashion designer Varun Bahl and the two of them had their first couture showing in the HDIL Couture Week in Mumbai. Now he’s turned film producer and mentor with a vengeance: his banner Dharma Productions has launched at least nine new filmmakers.
And how does he do it? In his words..
There is no logical explanation as to how or why I decided to do Koffee With Karan. It was a childhood dream to be in front of the camera asking questions. I’m an inquisitive person, a curious cat. I always thought of myself as sitting on a leather sofa chatting with friends with a tongue-in-cheek irreverence, intruding in their lives – within boundaries. I was surprised by the success of the show. I didn’t realise how voyeuristic our nation is. Everyone liked peeping into a living room conversation.
I was not nervous. I’d always done theatre, elocution, etc, in school. Performance is something I can do. Being a moderator at a conference, or talking in a TV studio – I’m comfortable with that. I like the attention to be on me. I’m a closet actor and I’m open to acting in a film. I’ve done three seasons of Koffee With Karan so far and it’s not a problem keeping the show fresh. In every season, there’s a new controversy, a new lover, a new affair. Friends have become foes and foes have become friends. There are new bitching issues, jealousy and envy issues. Everyone, including me, is in a line for a therapist!
Everyone knows they’re on a ride when they come for the show. Being on the show is cool. You know you’re going to be watched. They all come ready to be clever. That’s why even people who sound brain dead in most interviews sound so sparkling on my show. Also, the level of intimacy they have with me makes them relax. And I bring up only those things in the public domain. Journalists can’t ask the way I can ask if they’re having an affair. And if they say, ‘No, I’m not,’ I can get away with saying, ‘Shut up, you’re lying!’ And even their denial is fun. The trick is to pad them with compliments. They’re all so puffed up that when the deflation comes, it’s not so bad. Also, there is a trust issue. They know I won’t project them in a bad light.
I’d done costumes for films like Veer-Zaara, Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge and many others. This was another childhood dream. When I was 16, I was more interested in films and fashion than anything else. As a child I was fat. When I was 100 kg I was excited by nice clothes that could never fit me! I read magazines like GQ and Vogue. I used to watch Fashion TV. I was the biggest fan of Anna Wintour. I choreographed fashion shows in college. (I also once did a six-month course in fruit and flower arrangement. Me and a Gujarati lady teamed up and won a competition. I was 20, she was 40. She went back to Ahmedabad and made a business of it! Our last arrangement was with oranges, strawberries, cherries and flowers.)
So venturing into fashion was very natural. Varun Bahl and I struck a chord – our sensibility for men’s clothes was the same. We teamed up and had two couture openings which went off very well. Soon we’ll be opening up flagship stores in Delhi and Mumbai. I give this less time than Varun would like me to give, but what can I do?
With Shakun Batra who has just made Ek Main Aur Ek Tu, we have now mentored nine young directors in Dharma Productions. Some came through destiny, some we sought out. Shakun, for example, is a close friend of Imran Khan. The two came to me with a ready script. All the others worked as assistants with Dharma. I want to launch all the people who worked with Dharma as full-fledged directors. I see my role of a mentor as part parenting and part monitoring. With the former, you take care of their fears and through the latter, you help them creatively.
The role of a producer is to be a guide, supervisor and emotional support. You have to build up a film with good energy. Because I have no personal life, I have the bandwidth and time to do this. At Dharma, we are boutique in our way of operating. In that sense, we are not like some big studio. Our office is informal.
Koffee with Karan
When I decided to do Koffee With Karan, I was making a hobby out of a fantasy.
I was shocked at the global impact of the show. Everywhere I go, I’m asked about it. I get off a plane and get into a new city and somebody will spot me in a coffee shop and come up to me and ask, can I have coffee with Karan? It was funny the first time I heard it but now I’ve been hearing it for five years!
Next change: Acting
I’m open to acting offers. I want to win an award for an acting role. I never want any saturation in my work. I want to constantly feel a sense of achievement
"I Want To Push My Boundaries"
It’s Never Too Late to Break the Mould
Rishi Kapoor’s phone has not stopped ringing. The reason for that is his outstanding performance in Dharma Productions’ Agneepath.
"It’s humbling how many congratulatory messages I’ve been getting for my performance. I think the shock value of Rauf’s character has impacted the audience. The funny thing is that I haven’t even seen the film," says Kapoor.
He should! Where loud mannerisms and mean machines usually define a villain, Rishi Kapoor played the shudder-evoking Rauf Lala in a simple kurta pyjama, kohl-rimmed eyes, a scar and that deadly sneer.
The Big Switch
Kapoor never wanted to play Rauf Lala. “I felt I wouldn’t be able to do the role justice. I did not want to let Karan Johar (producer) and Karan Malhotra (director) down. And I was scared of embarrassing myself,” he says. He shouldn’t have been. The scene where his character Rauf holds a girl by the scruff of her neck and peddles her to hungry flesh traders left the audience uncomfortable but awed. So evil was his character that the Censor Board clipped many of his scenes. “In one, I had to sell a girl by showing off her teeth,” he says. “That is how goats are sold. The Censor Board objected and rightly. It was too offensive to women.”
New in every role
Even in this ‘tame version’, as 59-year-old Kapoor calls it, he shocked his fans but they are not complaining. Because this is a side of Kapoor that’s never been seen before.
For the first 25 years of his career, he was the king of romance. Still playing the romantic hero in his forties, he quit. Later, he returned as a character actor, and had a breakthrough performance in Do Dooni Chaar. “I am trying to push the boundaries with the roles I choose,” he says.
The role of Rauf Lala was a huge boundary-push. It’s being talked of as one of the most convincing and hard-hitting performances of the year. “I am experimenting with myself, which every actor should do at some point,” he says. “With Agneepath I have reinvented
myself as a character actor.”
It took great persuasion by Karan Johar – and a screen test – to get Rishi Kapoor to accept the role of the villain Rauf Lala in Agneepath.
“In my 45-year career, I have never given a look test. But I wasn’t convinced I could do the role, so I decided it was necessary. My makeup man, Karan Johar, Karan Malhotra and I created this look. Only after I saw it did I believe I could pull it off.”
Next change: H e’s gay
In Karan Johar’s Student of the Year, I’m playing a dean who is gay. I want to do something different in every film. Directors who cast me should remember that.
From HT Brunch, February 19
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