Karan Johar
Nayandeep Rakshit (DNA; February 12, 2018)

It’s hard to ignore Karan Johar. When the filmmaker is not directing movies, he is producing films across various genres, judging a talent show on television, and doling out love advice on the radio. As he manages to sneak out some time from his frenetic schedule, we catch up with him at his plush office. Over the next half hour, Karan discusses how his definition of love has evolved in his films, breaking stereotypes on celluloid and making peace with people not taking him seriously anymore. Read on...

Very few filmmakers like Yash Chopra had their own language of love. You make love stories a certain way. Did you take after him?
I’m not too sure whether I have ever made a film with a certain thought. Eventually, the movies that you write are a reflection of your own emotions, thoughts and ideologies — whether in love or in any other aspect of life. When I penned Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, which was my directorial debut, it was more of an innocent take on a commercial cinema. I was adding all the elements — be it songs, comedy, emotions, manipulations as well as the scale and drama. At the same time, I was trying to be clever and saying things that I felt strongly about at that time, as an innocent bystander at 24. So, I was balancing the mainstream elements of films with my aesthetics and feelings. I believed in things like, ‘Ki hum ek baar jeete hain, ek hi baar marte hain aur pyaar ek hi baar hota hai, shaadi bhi ek hi baar hoti hai.’ Though within the movie, it’s contradictory (smiles). But it was just what I thought. The next story that I wrote was Kal Ho Naa Ho, but it was more about love, loss and living your life to the fullest. The third one was Ae Dil Hai Mushkil (ADHM) which was again a one-sided love story. It’s about what everyone has been through in life. Even I have faced these bouts of unrequited love. I felt it was a relatable and heartfelt film as nobody had taken it as a topic right through. I don’t know if I’m trying to change the language of love but my cinema has certainly evolved as per my life.

Even the definition of love has changed over the years, vis-a-vis your movies...
(Cuts in) So, from innocence, it has gone into a proper evolution to cynical, which is Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna (KANK) and now, it’s into like abandon.

Is it because your perspective on love, too, has changed over the years?
Yes, it has. And it will always reflect in my films. I went through deep innocence to ‘yaar, nahin hone wala kuch’ to cynicism. Then, it was ‘So what if I didn’t get my love? Let me celebrate the feeling I have,’ which is what ADHM was about.

Talking about KANK, it was a bold move on your part. Do you think it was way ahead of its times?
I don’t agree that films are way ahead of their times. They are just reflections of a filmmaker’s soul at that moment. Today, I don’t feel like I would have wanted to make it. I made it then and I was happy. Yes, people had diverse opinions on the films but who knows, maybe even today people won’t accept a movie like that. After all, it’s not that moralities have changed, just the time has.

Would you attempt at making something like that again given that the audience is accepting different films today?
Is it? Really? (Smiles) I don’t think so. I think we are still very deep-rooted and judgmental about most things. Don’t go by what you read on Twitter or what’s posted on social media about evolution and progression. Even today, we are an exceptionally traditional country and brush emotions under the carpet. We are rather hypocritical by nature when it comes to admitting our flaws. It also comes to a stereotypical version of a perfect household, no matter what the chinks in our armour or grey areas in our life are. I don’t think we’re still ready to accept infidelity, homosexuality, or even anything which we immediately get judgmental about.

The way homosexual characters have been portrayed in your films recently, like Kapoor & Sons (K&S) and Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Padmaavat, they aren’t caricatures anymore...
I think it’s an extremely bold move by our filmmakers to put it out there. I’m proud of Kapoor & Sons and how Shakun Batra handled the entire story. I think it was told beautifully. But anything in your face, which is extreme like I mentioned, is going to meet with a storm in our enormous teacup. Everyone’s running afraid of putting things out there. Because then they become ‘less commercial’. K&S was also understated for a reason because we were afraid that if it’s too in your face, then it would bother an audience, which I find, is quite unfortunate. I feel as a filmmaker, we must tell stories with abandon. It was liberating for me to direct the first Bombay Talkies short because I spoke about repression in a marriage and homosexuality.

Sometimes, you succumb to societal pressures, get married and end up ruining lives. It was an important story to address. Like the second omnibus film, which I’m making for Ronnie Screwvala, is called Love and Lust. Again for that, a bunch of filmmakers are helming different films on diverse issues. It’s liberating to make such movies in that format. But will one make a multi-star cast big-length feature film on any of these topics? I’m not sure if anybody is interested in it.

So many actors turned down Fawad Khan’s role in K&S. Do you believe it has to do with image?
Yes, I had offered Fawad’s part to six different actors and no one did it. No matter what reasons they gave, I felt they were afraid of playing a homosexual man on screen. Having said that, they had a reason and I didn’t judge them for it.

When an actor refuses a film, do you take it to heart?
No, because I think an actor is a creative entity. Whenever you go onto a film set, you need to have complete love for what you’re about to do. So, if you’re going to succumb to a film because of all the external pressure or strategies, it’s going to affect your performance. I’ve approached many actors a couple of times who have refused, but I would still go back to them if I feel the need. I never take it personally because it’s professional.

But today, you have created a brand of your own and everyone wants to work with you. What’s your first reaction when they decline your offer?
It’s disappointment but never anger. I never hold it against anybody. I think most lead actors in the country have said no to me at some point of time, but eventually, I’ve worked with all of them. When they refused a role, they just didn’t connect to the material at that point.

Everyone expects a certain kind of entertainment from you and your films. Does it bother you?
Absolutely! I think I’m a victim of perception and I pay the price for it as well. It’s unfortunate that just because I’m in your living space on a daily basis, I’m not taken as seriously as I should be and the fault is mine. I’m so accessible, affable and amiable that everybody thinks they can take me for granted — say and do what they want and I’m supposed to take it rightly because I’m this jolly fellow who is happily around. So what should I do? Distance myself from everyone, get stuck up in a room and pretend to be arrogant in order to be taken seriously? I can’t do that because that’s not who I am.

I don’t carry the Karan Johar tag with me anywhere I go. Because it’s not who I was raised to be. I was brought up to be someone who would be loving, accepting, affable and respectful of the environment. I cannot be this uppity filmmaker who just sits on his laurels. If I’m at 300 events in a year and on television, it’s because I like it.

Today, I judge a talent show, I host a talk show and give love advice on a radio show. I don’t mind it. So, are you going to take me less seriously as a filmmaker because I do all this? Then, that’s your problem. Am I going to get upset about it? I used to but now, I take it with a pinch of salt. I don’t get taken as seriously as Sanjay Leela Bhansali or Rajkumar Hirani because they’re intense filmmakers who just do their work and nothing else.

Is it also more about being too honest and unabashed?
No, I don’t think it’s about honesty. It’s about perception and I can play act perception. All I need to do is stop going out of my house for a year, living in my office, screaming about five times a month, going off social media and giving intense close-ups when the paparazzi arrives to click pictures of me in a driving car. Then, I’ll be taken seriously. But if I wear my Gucci jumpers, high heel shiny shoes, and I’m grabbing headlines on Twitter or on the newspaper every day, how will you take me seriously? I’m all over the place and don’t blame anyone for that.

Perhaps, sometimes I don’t take myself so seriously. But at some point, it pinches. I’m like, ‘S**t ya, I have done this. So, give me credit for it.’ But I won’t get it because my last name is Johar!