ZEE JLF@The British Library
Karan Johar in conversation with Rachel Dwyer
Karan Johar, one of Bollywood’s most famous directors, laid bare his soul in his memoir An Unsuitable Boy. In a thrilling conversation with director Rachel Dwyer at JLF@TheBritishLibrary, he opened up even more about his work and his life.
The iconic director emphasised the need for films in Indian cinema to stay creatively brave despite the economic pressures of the modern film industry: “We celebrate every emotion with a song, we heighten emotion, we are melodramatic, but the soul that we represent is rare, and it’s rare worldwide. The moment that we are apologetic about it, it’s going to bite us. We need to go back to larger than life cinema. We need to go back to the era where filmmakers took big risks. We have got to bring abandon back.”
Johar discussed how he felt about his very different movies: “Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham was my company’s biggest success then, but it was also the biggest disappointment for me. Other films that came out in that year did so brilliantly and broke my delusions about myself. The only way you can be brilliant is if you acknowledge brilliance. Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham – 20 percent of it was showing off, and that showing off always gets caught.”
Johar took a different approach with Kal Ho Na Ho. The film used split screen direction and cutting edge storytelling. He admits he didn’t want to kill off Shah Rukh Khan but his father had insisted: he said I had to make it melodramatic and make him die or it would be like a French film. “My father thought everything off the beaten road was French,” he joked. “My father said, you cry and make people cry, you go laughing to the bank.” Shah Rukh Kahn himself said of the scenes in which he’s crying and dying, “Yaar yeh kuch zyaada nai ho raha?”
Of Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna, Johar said that Aditya Chopra had advised him that Shah Rukh and Rani Mukherjee shouldn’t consummate their love in the movie. “But I said I will push the envelope. People ask me how can I endorse infidelity, I said how can I endorse something which is already sold out? It questions your morality so people are afraid to like it. People asked me why didn’t Rani love Abhishek, and there is no answer to it. Just because he didn’t beat her or cheat on her doesn’t mean she would automatically love him. I thought there was a lot of hypocrisy in the reactions.”
Moving on to Ae Dil Hai Mushkil and love, the theme of all his movies, Johar said, “I think love is empowering, even unrequited love. Ae Dil Hai Mushkil is my most favorite film, it’s the film that I’m least embarrassed about, it’s honest. It was created within me and I executed it exactly the way I imagined it. You can look at it as a sad film or an exceptionally empowering film about emotional love.”
Dwyer observed that there are elements of sadness in his memoir. Johar accepted that there have been sad and struggling moments in his life: personal issues that he has combatted, as well as low self-esteem. He remarked that although he had days of anxiety and depression, mental health is something that is still ignored in India a lot, and brushed under the carpet, which doesn’t help.
On his children, Johar said,“The decision to bring children in my world is not just a selfish decision, to fill empty spaces in my life; it’s because I felt that I have an ability to love, and I knew that I could nurture someone with that love. Being a father is beyond overwhelming, it’s the most beautiful feeling in the world. ”
Johar’s movies have been accused of depicting homosexual characters in a stereotypical manner. “The concept of homosexuality is something that people don’t want to deal with or even understand. If we put homosexuality through the route of humor in a mainstream film, you begin a conversation.” Johar has been frequently questioned on why he hasn’t come out, to which he responds, “I don’t want my reality to amount to a headline and I think samajhdaar ko ishaara hee kaafi hai; why do I need to say it to enhance the reality? Everybody knows about me and my reality. Coming out is a technicality, but the evidence of my reality is out there for the world to see. I will say it not once but 377 times: this is the reality. ”
– By Srishti Chaudhary