I’ve never been good with numbers. In school, I could never remember when the Sepoy Mutiny started and the Battle of Panipat ended. Today, I find it equally hard to remember birthdays and anniversaries.
But there’s one birthday I never forget, since it falls on the day of my wedding anniversary. And this year, on May 25, Karan Johar turned 38. He was in one corner of the globe, I was in another and our worlds didn’t connect, not even on Twitter. But my thoughts inevitably turned to him. It seemed like only yesterday…
I was a rookie journalist in an easy-to-get-lost publishing house. He was the young friend of my editor who would occasionally drop by to accompany him to a movie. With a sunny smile he’d bounce into our department, be told to “hang on a few minutes” and casually perch on one of our desks to get an update on B-town gossip.
At that point I had no clue that Karan would one day become a headline-grabbing filmmaker. Sure his dad, Yash Johar, made movies like Dostana and Gumrah. But Dharma Productions was nowhere in the league of Yash Raj Films. So while once Yashji (Chopra) got to present a popular award, the other Yashji (Johar) felicitated a technician at the annual awards nites. Neither bargained nor complained.
Those days, Karan was still debating his choice of career. One day, he turned up for a photo shoot as Mandira Bedi’s self-appointed stylist. And he gave Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge’s behenji a young and trendy look. Now, when I see cricket’s first female brand ambassador on the telly, looking hot and happening, I’m reminded of that shoot.
Thereafter, I ran into him at other shoots, lining up Shah Rukh Khan’s wardrobe or fixing the runaway Kajol with a pair of classy sparklers. He even has a couture line in stores today. But Karan didn’t start out as a designer. He surprised us by becoming an actor. He was SRK’s tubby buddy in DDLJ. Whoa, how did that happen, I wondered, when his ‘surprise’ unveiled on screen.
Squirming with embarrassment he insisted he’d been a last-minute replacement for an errant actor. That didn’t stop me from ribbing him about winning the award for Most Promising New Face. With SRK joining in, Karan blushed a beetroot red. He was a Promising Debutant but as a director and not an actor. I’d caught him in the middle of a kuch kuch discussion at Mukesh Mills on the sets of Duplicate.
He admitted he wanted to direct a movie, and it would definitely have Simran aka Kajol and her dilwale Shah Rukh. The news surprised not just me but his dad too. And the movie, Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, took the world by surprise.
Yashji was no longer presenting only technical awards. He was collecting a few of his own too. Through his growing up years, Karan had passed off his dad as a businessman and kept his passion for Bollywood movies strictly under wraps. Now, under his direction, Dharma Productions became a best-seller in Bollywood. And Karan was suddenly, a star.
He no longer wandered into our office for a chat. But he always returned my calls for a chat. And whenever he spotted me, whether it was in a theatre catching a screening of Chokher Bali, playing hostess at an award function or interviewing one of his filmi dosts, his sunny smile always flashed bright.
Not all our encounters were amicable. Once, when I called him immediately after the award nominations were announced, I got an earful because Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna hadn’t featured in any of the major categories. “I’m upset for my friends, Shah Rukh deserved a nomination, so did Rani, and why not Abhishek and Preity?”
I tried explaining that the shortlist was compiled by our jury and got another earful on how the system needed to change. The tirade ended with another interview at the end of which he informed me that he was off to the US to research his next movie.
“Why? Is it a historical?” I asked. There was a moment’s stunned silence, then, Karan mumbled, “No, it’s not!” The film was My Name Is Khan. Last I heard, Karan was back in the US. Who knows, he could be researching another movie, may be this one will be a historical. With Karan, kuch bhi hota hai!