Expectations scare Karan Johar
Ace director Karan Johar says the three months spent in New York shooting for his latest Kabhi Alvidaa Na Kehna were the most difficult phase of his life.
"Those were the toughest three months ever. It was traumatic. There were production problems, locations issues and a hurricane, plus everyone away from home," says the hit maker of films like Kuch Kuch Hota Hai and Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham.
The film, he says, is about marriage and other man-woman relationships, but is definitely not a remake of Silsila as is being made out.
Karan rubbishes rumours about animosity between Rani Mukerji and Preity Zinta on the sets of his film that stars Amitabh Bachchan, his favourite Shah Rukh Khan, whom he describes as "god, my hero and brother", and childhood pal Abhishek Bachchan.
"Problems happen when the navigator is weak. I don't see myself as a weak captain of the ship. Rani and Preity share very little cinema space in my film. And they got along very well. And I mean that... There was no problem."
Karan describes Kabhi Alvidaa... as a Hindi film like any other. "I have just fine-tuned it differently," he said in an interview.
There is a lot of curiosity about your new film?
What for? I am just an ordinary director making an ordinary film. I guess the curiosity comes from my making my first film since 2001 too, has a huge cast. So there will be a certain expectation.
Films involving Shah Rukh and me are talked about. They have been very successful in the past. People's expectations are scaring me. I am not getting much sleep. But, yes, I have tackled marriage, an institution I am not familiar with. Now that I am 33 and greying, I have stopped seeking the support of hair-dye. I was more than ready to take on a mature theme.
I was quite tired of being counted among the new generation of filmmakers. I am not young anymore. I am 10 years into the industry, and quite qualified to tackle a mature subject.
So no research?
None. Except emotional research! My cinema is always a result of personal observations. I don't read, listen to current music or run to see every film in town. My education comes from past Hindi cinema and music. I observe strangers, or friends at parties...
But let me tell you Kabhi Alvidaa... is not about real people. It's a complete piece of fiction. It comes from a space I don't know, but understand. I created the characters for various reasons. I hope to God no one connects personally with the characters.
Most of the film is shot. Does it look as unconventional as people think?
I think people will connect as well with this film as they did with K3G and Kuch Kuch Hota Hai. Kabhi Alvidaa... is a human drama. It's about marriages and other man-woman relationships. Last time when I directed, they said it was Yash Uncle's (Yash Chopra) Kabhi Kabhie. This time I am supposed to be re-making Silsila. It's also supposed to have elements of the film Closer. But it's not!
I admire Yash Chopra more than any filmmaker. That's why I would never dare remake his films. Silsila is one of my favourite films. But all of us filmmakers are perfectly capable of doing original work. Don't you think? We just need to apply ourselves.
So what's Kabhi Alvidaa... about?
I don't want to say much. Anything I say can and will be held against me. So let's just wait for audiences to see the film and let them form their opinions. All I can say is, it's a Hindi film like any other. I have just fine-tuned it differently.
Is Shah Rukh presented differently?
Who am I to even try to present him differently? There has never been an actor like him. Personally, for me he is my god, my hero and brother. I don't have to think about how he'll play a character. He does all the thinking on his own. The character comes from my heart. And then Shah Rukh takes over.
He needs no presentation. His presence is enough. He gives a sub-text, graph and everything that a character needs. He understands what I want from his performance. And he gives that extra bit by himself. I feel I fail Shah Rukh. When will I give him that one film where I'll write a role that would do justice to him? In Kabhi Alvidaa... he's done everything on his own. I wrote a simple character. He gave it the right nuances and complexities.
And Abhishek Bachchan?
You know to direct someone whose birthday party you have attended as a child, is an emotional experience. Working with Abhishek is like working with someone I have known all my life. Those birthday parties I attended continue on the sets. For Abhishek shooting is a party. We just have to agree. He is a super-brat. He's a combination of man and child. I think I have captured that quality in Kabhi Alvidaa...
And Amitabh Bachchan?
Just working with him is an honour. I have worked with Lataji (Lata Mangeshkar in K3G) and Amitji, the two legends. I'd say Amitji's character is flamboyant - a very unusual character compared with what he has played so far. And he is looking like a rock star. He's cool in Alvidaa....
What about Rani Mukerji?
Rani Mukerji is someone I appreciate for various reasons. I love Rani as a person and a performer. Her Black is a landmark performance. I don't think she can ever do it again which is so unfortunate. She stood by me when I was just starting out. And after Kuch Kuch Hota Hai she did a special appearance for me in K3G when she was going through a career -low.
All these years she has been in touch with me nearly every day without expecting anything in return. She's like my kid sister. I feel that much more for her because her love for me is unconditional. That eclipses her other equally important ability as an actor. Her strengths as human being will always be more important to me. Today she's a rock-solid professional. She did everything right to get her character in Alvidaa... right.
What about her animosity with Preity?
Totally untrue. Problems happen when the navigator is weak. I don't see myself as a weak captain of the ship. Rani and Preity share very little cinema space in my film. And they got along very well. And I mean that... There was no problem.
Just because there were a whole lot of stars in New York doesn't mean there will be problems. Why can't people understand that? There doesn't have to be a fight if you put two actors and two actresses in the same room. This isn't the Stone Age. Catfights between actresses are passé. Everyone works for the best interests of a film.
How was the New York stint?
Let me put it this way... it was the most difficult phase of my life. Those were the toughest three months ever. I thank my cast and crew for seeing me through them. The conditions and crises were tackled, thanks to my online producer and my CEO. It was traumatic. There were production problems, locations issues and a hurricane, plus everyone away from home...
Are you and Yash Raj Films joining hands?
We have been together in every way for a long time. I am still structuring my own production house. Yash Raj distributes my films worldwide. To me Dharma and Yash Raj are the one and the same.