Turning 40 seems to have done Karan Johar good. He’s a calm, mature man today, unlike the KJo we knew a few years ago who held deep and abiding grudges and sometimes came across as an adolescent.
An almost unequalled success in the film industry for 15 years, he has established himself as a brand, leveraging every aspect of his personality. He’s a talk show host, a brand endorser, a writer, a director, a producer, a judge on a reality show, etc, etc. Now as Student Of The Year, his first film without big stars, is set to hit the theatres, I meet KJo at his office for an exclusive tete-a-tete.
You seem very confident about Student Of The Year (SOTY) though it features only newcomers. Is it because it’s a Karan Johar directed film with star kids in the cast?
It’s not confidence, it’s excitement with a mix of anxiety and nervousness! It’s a first for my company and a first for me to launch new talent. I played part director, part therapist, part parent. I am shouldering the responsibility of the three kids and I hope I live up to their expectations and their parents’ who have entrusted them to me and my company.
Secondly, I don’t think the star kid element plays any more these days. I guess it’s partially the brand equity attached to the work I have done in the last 15 years in the industry. So there’s already an audience that invests in you not as a filmmaker, but as a product. But I have always been attached to movie stars. So that’s the catch 22. So while they (the audience) are coming to the theatres for me, to win them over without a big star cast is a big challenge. So yes, they will come because it’s my film, but after ten minutes, they’ll forget that and the movie will take over.
With so many marriages falling apart these days, do you feel disillusioned?
Not at all. I believe there are some really beautiful and immaculately solid marriages still! In fact I know how much my father meant to my mother. What a beautiful marriage they had and I am blessed to have grown up in such a marriage. I feel what a spouse can do for you, no child or parent can. Just that if you get the right connect with your spouse, you get it going right.
Your father, filmmaker Yash Johar, left you a legacy to take forward. Who will carry forward your name?
I may adopt. I love children and I do feel the need to take the legacy forward. I am open to it, but emotionally you have to be ready for it. Raising a child is really a huge responsibility. And I should have that time and emotional energy to give to child. How and when is a decision my mother and I will take a few years from now. My father has given me this company that I have built up, and I cannot see it dwindling into nothing.
You’re 40. Don’t you feel the absence of a spouse and children in your life?
Right now I am not ready for any kind of relationship as I am too used to my independence. Marriage is a definite no-no. I am totally married to my company. Emotionally, my mother fills up the void in my life. So there it is. My company is a spouse I will never cheat on, and my mother completes me as a son. I think I have a full family unit of my own. I am happy probably because I am single. Let’s face it, how many married people are really happy? Just kidding (laughs)!
‘Aryan and Suhana will be in my will’
Have you ever considered making a Hollywood film?
Hollywood doesn’t excite me, I am not interested. I am a happy viewer and a big fan of their work. But I don’t want to be one of three million there when I am one of three here!
Yes, I want to walk the red carpet at the Oscars. I am in awe of the ceremony and winning an Oscar would be the most magical moment of my life. I want to make that speech and hold that trophy and say, ‘This is for you India’. That’s the line I have rehearsed for God knows how long. But that has to be for a Hindi language film.
So you may make a film with the Oscars in mind?
I will never create a film for awards. You cannot plan brilliance; it’s a result of too many factors! You just have to make a film with conviction, the way Aamir Khan and Ashutosh Gowarikar did with Lagaan (2001). They didn’t have a plan. And I believe that conviction is king.
Is this the most creative phase of your life?
The last eight years have been, I guess. The odd part is that I have taken my company forward. And it wouldn’t have been
possible without the support of my CEO Apoorva Mehta. I am very proud to have launched 10 filmmakers. I don’t want to build an empire, but I want to build a creative den; a movie house that makes wonderful and different kinds of movies. I am not here to put a crore in the bank; I would rather spend that crore in a shot. For me, money is not that important. I am 40. Where am I going to take all this money?
You are Gauri Khan’s best friend and equally close to Shah Rukh. Are you sometimes torn between them?
They are not two separate people for me, they are one unit. I live by, stand by, and love them. They are the first people I call in a crisis and vice versa. Theirs is the only home that I can walk into at any point in time, and the same applies to them. So there’s never a divide. One is my brother and the other is my best friend. To me, they are my only family, apart from my family; and of course, other than the Chopras (Yash Chopra and family) and the Bachchans.
Shah Rukh and Gauri are people I am deeply connected with. So Aryan, Suhana, Gauri and Shah Rukh are one solid unit in my life and will always be there. I always tease Aryan that he and Suhana are in my will.
Why and how did you make up with Priyanka Chopra after that famous fight?
I called her up and told her that whatever happened, let’s put it behind us and invited her over for my 40th birthday. See, the same thing had happened to me and Bebo (Kareena Kapoor) a decade ago. That time I felt I was very immature. When it happened again with Priyanka, I felt I had displayed the same immaturity and I was not happy with myself. At 40, I cannot have problems with people.
My mother told me, if I was my father’s son, I would not have any problem with anyone in the industry. And that hit me like a bolt of
lightning. My father, in his 50-year career, never had a single skirmish in the industry. He always said, forgive, forget and move on, because there are always two sides to a story. He always said the two phrases that should be on your left and your right are ‘sorry’ and ‘thank you’. These are the two pillars I live by. So I called Priyanka and sorted it out. Today the status quo is great.
Any plans to work with Salman?
He is a mega star. I need the right film that warrants his presence and his brilliant stardom. It would be my company’s honour to work with him. Yes, we have been discussing a few projects, but Salman has to feel it’s right and I have to believe in it.
What about a film by Karan Johar starring SRK and Salman?
I make movies, I don’t make projects. It has to come to me organically. I am not here to bring together two forces or energies, nor am I here to create confusion or make peace.
I am here to make movies I believe in. First, I think of a story, then I cast it. As I said earlier, I am not interested in other people’s dynamics. My priorities are my mother, my company and then my movies.
Do you have a dream cast in mind?
I made a film with my dream cast and I am happy with it. It’s called Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham (2001). Now I want to cast new actors.
Now you are close to Salman Khan as well. Is there any stress because you are also close to Shah Rukh?
Why can’t people believe that you can have regard and reverence for two people? Not many know that Salman’s dad, Salim Khan, was very close to my dad. I grew up hearing wonderful things about Salim uncle and his family. I have known Baby (Salman’s sister) very closely for a long time. I am close to Seema, Sohail, Arbaaz and all.
And Salman worked in my first film, Kuch Kuch Hota Hai (1998). I have deep respect for him. He’s always been gracious. He need not have done my first film. I remember him telling me that he did the film because of my dad. I have a deep regard and respect for the Khan family. I have a deep connect with them. Every time I walk into that family, Salim saab has a story to share about my dad. He sees every film of mine and I keep a trial show for the khandaan (family).
Sohail once shared that my dad bailed them out of a problem they faced while shooting Hello Brother in Mauritus. That’s interesting.
And Shah Rukh nicknamed my father ‘Tom uncle’ and everyone in the industry addressed him as that. So how can I not honour my father’s relationships and why should I make a divide? Aryan, Suhana, Gauri and SRK are like my family. In fact, Aryan marked the beginning of my career. I remember he was born right after my first schedule. And he is the only child, apart from Suhana, who I have paternal and maternal feelings for.
5 favourite directors
For being the most versatile filmmaker, other than being the king of romance.
For his silent intensity and brooding brilliance.
For his drama, opulence and sheer passion.
Raj Kumar Hirani:
For his writing brilliance. He is the best filmmaker in the country today.
Ram Gopal Varma:
For making the finest underworld drama, Satya (1998). He has a certain way of storytelling and I hope he taps it again. I believe Satya, Company (2002) and Sarkar (2005) make a brilliant trilogy. It doesn’t matter what he thinks of me, I have always regarded his work highly. He has the capability to make great films and I am waiting to see more of them.
6 fave actors
The two words spell it all: Power
Genius on camera. Mesmerising romantic appeal and he epitomises stardom.
His mannerisms and magic are out of the world!
For changing the tide of Indian cinema and making it profound, thoughtful, intense and intellectual.
For his intense eyes that speak volumes. Most magnetic!
New age phenomenon and for making brave decisions and getting rich dividends.