Chit Chat

Karan Johar: It’s a huge risk to make a movie with newcomers

By his own admission, this is the first time Karan Johar is travelling to “promote” his film. “As a producer, I never travel to promote my film! And when my last directorial venture My Name Is Khan was to be released, I didn’t get the opportunity as the film was embroiled in controversies.

Before that, city tours were not that common, it’s a recent phenomenon,” says Karan as he settles down with TOI for an exclusive chat on his maiden visit to Nagpur. Waxing eloquent about the city, the ace director says, “On landing here, I felt as if I was up in the hills; the greenery really struck me. I loved the airport as well; it was indeed much bigger than what I had imagined. It was then that I thought how insular we Mumbaikars have become in our approach; our city becomes our world and we are oblivious to other parts of our state or country. But fortunately, because of the promotions of my new film Student of the Year, I’ll be able to explore other cities as well. I’m so happy that these young kids (pointing at Alia Bhatt, Varun Dhawan and Sidharth Malhotra, who were sitting with us) are getting the sense of the country and its varied demographics.” Excerpts:

Do small centres like Nagpur still hold any importance in this age of 100 crore club?
Every part of the country matters where there is an attraction for Bollywood. Every audience matters. Of course, one preferably targets high-density areas, but every ticket contributes to a huge success at the BO.

After Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, K3G, Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna, My Name Is Khan… this is your first directorial venture sans Shah Rukh and other established stars. Isn’t it one element in your films that your audience expects?
Of course, it’s a huge risk to make a movie on such a monumental scale with newcomers; but I feel nothing ventured is nothing gained. If established filmmakers like us won’t leverage our hold in the industry to launch the newcomers, who will. I know as we don’t have an established star cast in this film, we don’t have a hallmark of expectations and we are shooting in the dark. But, then what’s the fun in doing what everybody is doing.

But, what could be the motivation for such a huge risk?
I wanted to take on the challenge of making a film with newcomers. It would have been much easier for me to make a movie with a big, ensemble star cast, but then it would have been yet another film in that genre. It would have been uninspiring for me, at least at vis-a-vis training the cast. Here, it was a new challenge to not only launch the new talent, but also to nurture it. It’s very enriching to groom the greenhorns, sharing you experiences with them, and then make them translate their learning into performance on the celluloid and capture the heart of cinegoers. It’s very easy doing good numbers with a big star cast film, but the real task is to generate big numbers with a completely new star cast. And I hope we set a precedent! For I’m sure if we pull it through well, the rest from the industry will follow, as we all are driven by the ‘me too’ attitude; herd mentality is the way forward.

If I ask you hypothetically, what would give you more satisfaction – a successful product or making successful stars out of newcomers?
I think their success graph would give me more pleasure than what my film achieves. It’ll be extremely gratifying for me, if the talent created and nurtured by me is accepted and loved by the audience.

Talking about your cinema, you have earned flak for being repetitive in your style…
(Laughs) Since the advent of my career, I’ve been criticised for creating an “unbelievable” world in my movies, but for me, cinema is a combination of two – connect and escapism. I think both go hand-in-hand. And I like to strike a balance between the two. I was panned for creating an unreal world in Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, but even after 15 years, the characters still breathe and live for they were real; one could connect with them, touch them and go along with them on their emotional journey. As per my school of thought, escapism is the most paramount aspect of cinema. If I go real on celluloid, it will make me appear vague because for me, cinema has to be larger-than-life, ostentatious and opulent.

You are touted as a snooty person…
I don’t know how I earned this image. I’m very people friendly. I love and adore the industry; I love where I’m today. I always cherish relationships – professional or personal – and that is the legacy I’ve inherited from my father. I always go out of the way for relationships much more than my career. To me, a crore in the bank doesn’t matter, but a great relationship, a great moment or a great scene definitely matters a lot.

You just praised Anurag Basu, saying you felt limited as a filmmaker after watching Barfi…
I actually felt inept when I saw the film; I felt I’m not capable of this level of brilliance. While the film completely swept me off my feet, I felt limited as a filmmaker. I think we are very low on positivity when it comes to appreciating somebody else’s work within the industry, but I’m absolutely comfortable appreciating my contemporaries’ work as it makes me a better professional. I wish to channelise that feeling in the best possible way as I believe if you can’t acknowledge and appreciate somebody’s brilliance, you can’t achieve the same yourself.

What’s the mainstay of his cinematic orientation that actually impressed you great deal?
Not only is his story narrative skewed in different parts, but he’s also handled the story in the best possible manner. His each visual is like a painting, but handled with reality. I don’t think Priyanka and Ranbir were aware of how brilliant they’ve looked in the film until they watched it, and that’s the mark of a director.

Given a choice, whose style of cinema, you would like to replace yours with? Who’s the best among your contemporaries?
A lot of them are great; but I don’t think anybody has made five great films in a row, everybody has stumbled in-between including myself; so it’s hard to point out the best. But, undoubtedly, the best writer in the industry today is Rajkumar Hirani. According to me, he’s a genius; his connect to India is unbelievable, I would say unattainable!

On Simi Garewal’s show, you had said vis-a-vis your love life that you’ve always tried to attain the unattainable; so are you following somebody unattainable in your life now?
(Laughs) I am into a relationship with my career and my work space; and my office is my marriage!


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