Nikkhil Advani on 20 years of Kal Ho Naa Ho, and why he'd never direct a rom-com | Bollywood - Hindustan Times

Nikkhil Advani on 20 years of Kal Ho Naa Ho, and why he'd never direct a rom-com again

ByDevansh Sharma
Nov 27, 2023 06:17 AM IST

Nikkhil Advani may have helmed films like D-Day and shows like Mumbai Diaries, but his training ground remains rom-coms like Kal Ho Naa Ho.

Nikkhil Advani made inroads into Bollywood with a very different genre of filmmaking than the one he's dabbling in now. From being an Assistant Director on the sets of Karan Johar's Kuch Kuch Hota Hai to producing shows like Rocket Boys, from jumping into direction with Kal Ho Naa Ho to now helming upcoming shows like Freedom At Midnight, Nikkhil has found a voice of his own. (Also Read: Nikkhil Advani on his 'very public fallout' with with Karan Johar: 'I didn’t have work for 3 years')

Nikkhil Advani completes two decades as a filmmaker
Nikkhil Advani completes two decades as a filmmaker

In an exclusive interview, as his directorial debut Kal Ho Naa Ho completes 20 years, Nikkhil talks about his journey, turning producer, and what he learnt from his mentors, Karan Johar and Aditya Chopra. Excerpts:

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You have directed critically acclaimed films like D-Day (2013) and shows like Mumbai Diaries. Does it ever pinch that your primary identity is still that of the director of Kal Ho Naa Ho?

No, why? Why would anybody who's made or has been associated with Kal Ho Naa Ho disown it? It would be very silly of me to say that I don't appreciate what Kal Ho Naa Ho has brought to me. For a debut director to be given Shah Rukh Khan, Preity Zinta, Saif Ali Khan, Jaya Bachchan, Anil Mehta as the DoP, Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy as music composers, Javed Akhtar as the lyricist, New York City as the canvas to play with, I think it's a dream, right? I'm extremely honoured and grateful to every moment of Kal Ho Naa Ho. I wouldn't be here having this conversation of having completed 20 years, had it not been for Kal Ho Naa Ho.

Karan Johar once told me he never physically wrote any of his scripts. He used to narrate and record them, and you, as his Assistant Director, used to convert them into bound scripts. How did your training ground at Dharma Productions shape you as a filmmaker?

Working with Dharma Productions for the seven years I did, and then working with Aditya Chopra and Yash Raj Films, definitely allowed me to become a more astute producer. When I'm working with younger directors at Emmay Entertainment, it allows me to helm, guide and steer their projects in a direction that's required in terms of production, music, wherever they need my assistance and support.

The biggest learning I got from Karan and Adi was how to assess a script in terms of characters, moments and beats. When I do a Mrs Chatterjee Vs Norway or an Airlift, I always think of how Karan and Adi would approach it from a production point of view. When you're working with Akshay Kumar, John Abraham, Kiara Advani or Sidharth Malhotra, my dealing with them is informed by how Karan and Adi dealt with their cast, technicians, and filmmakers.

When you started Emmay, what part of work culture did you want to replicate that you picked up at Dharma?

Exactly what I was talking about. Yash Johar was known in the industry for how he would respect every single person working on his film. He'd give them the dignity that they deserve. To acknowledge that they're bringing the same effort to the film set that a star is. That feeling of making everyone feel special is very prevalent at Dharma and YRF. That's a very valuable lesson that I have imbibed, lived with, and promote within Emmay also.

And what did you want to do differently at Emmay that probably Dharma or YRF wouldn't do then?

In 2013, after D-Day was appreciated the way it was, I realised I'm good at telling stories in this semi-real, semi-fictional kind of way. Or taking a real character and building a story around them. That allowed me to be more liberated and have a louder voice in what I wanted to particularly say.

You recently reunited with Rani Mukerji for Mrs Chatterjee Vs Norway. It's been 25 years of Kuch Kuch Hota Hai now, where you served as an AD. Did you get a moment with her to discuss how long you guys have come now?

Ya, of course. Rani and I were in Estonia shooting for close to 2 months. So there were times when we spoke about how we were all kids when we worked in Kuch Kuch Hota Hai. There were so many mistakes we made then. But the lovely thing about shooting 25 years ago was that we were all a family and we were making films with that particular intent. Lots of times, when Karan and I meet, we talk about those days. Or even when I was working with Adi, Karan remains an integral part of everything Aditya Chopra does. He was always there, even when we were shooting Mohabbatein.

How do you decide as a studio head the project you want to only produce vs the project you personally want to direct?

Usually, when I'm directing, it needs to come from inside me. Very rarely do we get a script from outside that I say I will direct it. Usually, it's something I have thought about or a subject I want to work on. But we're producing a lot. I'm grateful to Madhu Advani and Monisha Bhojwani for being a strong producers team so I can direct on the side too. They've earned their stripes as producers over the last 12 years.

Your directorial debut was one of the most popular romantic comedies of India. Yet your last romantic comedy was Katti Batti in 2015. Do you feel the inclination to return to that genre or are you done with it?

No, I haven't gotten past it. I'm not sure if I'd like to do a rom-com per se. But I'd definitely like to do a mature romance. Yash Chopra defined it very well with the Amitabh Bachchan-Rakhee track in Kabhi Kabhie (1976), even with Kaala Patthar (1979). I have a yearning to tell that kind of a mature love story, but definitely not a rom-com.

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