The unstoppable showman
Karan Johar – the name itself signifies superlatives. Everything he does is grand, opulent and larger than life. And that’s why we whisked him off to the luxurious playground of the rich and famous; Principality of Monaco, for this exclusive cover shoot.
The magnificently multi-faceted Karan Johar experiences the luxuries of Monaco
There is something about Karan Johar. His unapologetic candour instantly makes you take a liking for him, that is, if you can handle someone who has opinions and is unafraid to voice them. His company; Dharma Productions has produced more than 35 films including a series of blockbusters and is the most sought after production house in the country. Recognised for dishing out movies with soul-stirring storylines that feature never done before megastar casting, which in turn results in record box office collections, Dharma Productions is known to create new benchmarks in the Indian film industry. From making his directorial debut at age 25 to being someone who has mentored numerous successful directors, Karan Johar
traversed a long road that has been dotted with many significant milestones. Addressing himself as a team-player, Karan attributes his success to the collective efforts of his team. What sets him apart from the others in the film industry is an inherent awareness of his strengths and weaknesses juxtaposed with a knack being able to adapt to changing circumstances. His business acumen, astute observational skills, ability to keep up with people of all age groups and an EQ that is at par with his IQ, give him the cutting edge to make movies like no one else does.
Please tell us a little about your journey into films
One way of looking at it is that being the son of a film producer, it was natural for me to get into films. But it was not as simple as that. Mumbai is geographically divided into south and north. North where the film industry is based. All the film families lived in the suburbs of Juhu, Bandra and Andheri. I, on the other hand, grew up in Malabar Hill in South Mumbai, because of which I was very distant from the world of movies and the movie fraternity. People in our neighbourhood didn’t know what was happening in the film industry and were quite elitist, snobbish and snooty about it. My journey started with this love for listening to old Hindi film songs. I was the only child and we lived in a tiny apartment. I grew up listening to songs of Mohammed Rafi, Kishore Kumar, Lata Mangeshkar and Asha Bhosle. When the VHS phase started I wanted to see the visuals that were attached to the musical memories. At the age of 8 or 9 I watched films such as Pyaasa and Kaagaz ke
Phool – when kids my age were watching all kinds of cartoons. I knew I was passionate about films, but, as a spectator and not necessarily as a film-maker. It was Aditya Chopra, who made me realise Hindi cinema is my calling and that I should actually do nothing else but work with him on his debut film; Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge.
Dharma Productions Pvt. Ltd. had been established by Yash Johar; your father. Did you ever feel the weight of a legacy being carried on your shoulders?
No, he never carved or paved the way for me to take the helm. It was I who felt the need to enhance and empower Dharma Productions. When I lost my father at age 32, I could have shut shop and just been a director and not taken the burden of a production house as I was never business inclined. But on the 4th day after he passed away, I remember coming back into an empty office and staring at his photograph and realising that if I wouldn’t take on additional responsibilities, I would not be justifying all those years of hard work that went into the creating of Dharma.
You, with your fresh and modern outlook towards Indian commercial cinema, have brought in a breath of fresh air. Was it a conscious decision to do so or is it something that happened organically?
Kuch Kuch Hota Hai is the result of my love for vintage Hindi cinema and my new age sensibilities, which today may not seem very fresh or new. Shah Rukh in the movie wears a cool chain which is far from cool but at that time it was considered cool. We incorporated sports brands I thought were designer brands such as Polo Sport and GAP. I brought in a sensibility of a new age look and packaged it with vintage pre requisites mainstream cinema such as songs, dance, drama and even melodrama. Aditya Chopra in 1995 and me in 1998 ushered in a new way of looking at mainstream commercial cinema which had a balance of sensibility, aesthetics and narratives of storytelling.
What were the challenges you faced while directing your first movie? How did you overcome them?
The challenges were the fact that I was very young and inexperienced. I was only 24 when directing it 25 when it released. Fortunately I was working with friends; Shah Rukh and Kajol. Aditya Chopra, who was my mentor and my guide was very supportive all through the journey. Even his father, Yash Chopra was looking over me creatively and even otherwise. Also, my indulgent father gave everything I could have asked for. I would love to tell you a struggle story but there really wasn’t one.
How do you think your style of filmmaking has evolved since you started?
I think I would say that I have adapted over the years,
am not sure if its evolution. We have gone from high melodrama to drama to now subtlety. From lip sync songs to storytelling songs. There’s also a change in tonality of characters to make them more real. It’s very important for me as a mainstream entertainer to constantly be relevant which means I need to listen to the voices of the younger generation without thinking of myself as superior, more experienced or more evolved.
How has the business of entertainment evolved since your first film; KKHH?
Totally. We have gone from being completely ad hoc to streamlined, from being all over the place to being disciplined, being a bunch of individuals a corporate identity. Those are the enhancements. But on the flip side, there’s also loss of emotion and
loss of intimacy that we had as a unit. Now, it’s all about managers, publicists, corporate energies, formalities and emails. We were much more of a fraternity. Now, I’m sorry to say we are an industry. There was a time when people would watch movies for the joy of doing so. Now, it’s about how many stars did
film get and how many crores did the film make. I personally feel that crores are not for audience to worry over. The one question that needs to be asked but nobody does is that ‘What did you think of the film?’ When people disregard a film because a certain critic gave it two stars, I do feel disappointed. I feel people must watch films for themselves as it is possible that they may find a connect that the critic didn’t.
I think a lot of these issues crop up thanks to social media which, otherwise, is a boon. Everyone has an opinion and everyone exercises it. I do feel let down when people, mid-way through the movie, post on social media that the first half isn’t good or hashtag epic fail.
Has the shift towards digital media affected films in India yet, how so?
Netflix and Amazon churn out some amazing content. I am a big fan of so many of those shows and am sad to say that I am now watching lesser cinema succumbing to the digital wave myself. Reality is that things are changing, the landscape is shifting and one needs to adapt. We at Dharma are enhancing our digital energies and will definitely go digital soon.
What are the biggest challenges you see today in the business of film making and how do you plan to overcome them?
I think cinema is definitely going through a crisis. Cricket and films used to be the only source of entertainment, which is no longer case. Now, as film makers, we are combating television as well as digital media, because of which we are rapidly losing footfalls in cinemas. We are going through a major crisis and if we don’t take heed right now, it will definitely collapse on us. The biggest challenge is to up our game by making quality films. We need to empower writers who can put out great content.
What according to you are the major milestones of your journey as an entrepreneur?
I think the one moment where I decided to take on Dharma Productions as a regular production house not just me as a director was major milestone. Every time I launch new director or a talent – I look at it as a new milestone. We have launched 15 newcomers – 11 of whom have been successful. We have launched 3 actors and are going to launch 4 more. In fact, every time that I put out a film out there – I look at it as a milestone.
Now that you are a father to Roohi and Yash, how do you maintain a balance between different roles and responsibilities in life?
I have to admit that it’s not easy, but luckily for me, my mother and I co-parent Yash and Roohi. I divide time between the house and the office. The only glitch is that my office is an hour away from my residence – I lose out two hours of the day just to traffic snarls. But balance it on weekends.
What advice would you give to a newcomer who wants to make it big as a director?
Be aware, not deluded. Know your level in terms of
I personally feel that crores are not for the audience to worry over. The one question that needs to be asked but nobody does is that ‘What did you think of the film?’
skill set. I know my level and I expect people to know theirs. If you feel there is space for growth and expansion as a creative energy – do what it takes to get to that point.
Who or what inspires you?
While Yash Chopra inspired me as a film maker, my father inspired me as a human being. Mr. Amitabh Bachchan inspires me as a creative energy. My mother woman of value and as a woman of substance. Gauri Khan inspires me home maker.
What are some of life’s lessons that you would like to share?
Try to level your expectations. Don’t do something for a reaction. I know it’s really difficult not to, but, if you can control your level of expectations you will reach some sort of a Nirvana.
What has been your most extravagant indulgence?
I indulge on a daily basis. Every time I shop online, it is an indulgence. The problem with traffic in Bombay its that is co-related with my online shopping. If I am stuck in a car, I shop.
Tell us about your hobbies/interests?
My best friend – Kaajal Anand tells me I am a man of two interests – talking and shopping. If that sounds frivolous, so be it. I personally think
people are my biggest hobby. I like to absorb their energy and put it into my work. If you don’t catch me with a person then you will surely catch me shopping.
What is your take on luxury?
It’s a necessity for me. I love to fly well and stay in the best of hotels. In fact, I am obsessed by hotels! My alter ego wants to live in a hotel.
What are your thoughts on wealth?
Wealth, I think is not limited to money, it extends to knowledge, relationships, emotions and love.
What are your thoughts on this beautiful place where we have been shooting the cover?
Monaco is an amazing experience. It has luxury, beauty, culture and even tranquillity. Monaco has everything that one might want when on a holiday.
What are your thoughts on success?
Success is doing your job well and loving what you do. When you are happy with what you do, you are successful.
What makes you successful?
I would say it is the three As - affability, awareness and accessibility that make me what I am.
What is the one thing that you would like to be remembered for?
The one film that I still haven’t made. I feel I have made films that have contributed to pop culture, but not genius culture. And the moment you go to create – you fail. It has to come from some broken place in your inner self and I hope I am enough to make something great eventually.
What is the one thing that you would like Dharma Productions to be remembered for?
For consistency, storytelling, quality and supremacy over the other production houses in those departments.
Where do you see Dharma Productions in five years?
In a hopefully bigger place than it is today.
Favourite holiday destination:
I am a concrete jungle man. I love New York, it’s my soul city. It has irony and huge dichotomy. While it’s a buzzing city there’s an intrinsic loneliness. It describes me in a sense.
Is there anything that you like to collect?
I am an art collector. I have 100 pieces of art. Whenever a piece of art it talks to me – I buy it. My first painting was the blue Raza bought it for ` 5,75,000 in 2001. My father thought I was mad. Unfortunately, he didn’t live long enough for me to tell him its ` 2 crores now. Favourite cuisine? Parsi food. I just love dhansak.
Fred’s at Barneys New York and Nobu Matsuhisa’s Nobu restaurants across the world.
Jacket, Wooyoungmi; Knit, Canali; Sunglasses, Kuboraum; Backpack, Gucci Location: Port Hercule de Monaco