Posted: 31 August 2009 at 4:07pm
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Karan Johar [28 Aug 2009]
Okay, I admit. I love the quintessential Karan Johar film – the opulence, the grandeur, the style, the setting, the song-and-dance extravaganza, the candy floss emotions and the lavish sprinkling of stars. It's my dose to escapism and to a happy world that's surreal and spectacular. And it bothers me that Karan won't make his signature films anymore.
It wouldn't be presumptuous to call Karan one of the most influential filmmakers of our times. He arrived on the scene at a time when the film industry was clearly divided between what the trade termed as the "classes" and "masses". A certain section of the audience actually looked down upon Hindi films. With his first two films (Kuch Kuch Hota Hain and Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham), Karan went on to create his own 'genre' of movies. And that was his greatest triumph. In a space where other directors had struggled for years to carve their own identities, here was a young man who actually succeeded in diminishing the class barriers among the audience. His films clicked just as well with the local cabbie, the white-collar professional, the snobbish socialite and the out-of-bounds NRI.
And just when every budding director wanted to be a Karan Johar, Karan Johar decided to go in for a makeover. According to the man, he cannot relate to "those kinds of films" anymore. The boy with a rose-tinted vision of the world has grown up. He embarked on a new challenge with his last film, Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna where he dared to change the stereotype. The film met with diverse reactions but that hasn't affected Karan's vision. In his new film, My Name Is Khan, he treads the same path.
When I meet him at his swanky Dharma Productions office, I realize how colossal the Karan Johar brand has become. There's a flurry of activity around – his staunch loyalists who've stood by him all these years form the company's pillars while the enthusiastic 20-year-olds offer new insight. Karan himself is, by now, playing multiple roles with enormous ease. He's giving final touches to the planning of the last schedule of MNIK. He's working on the various tie-ups and promotion of his new production, Wake Up Sid. There is also the creative material for the Saif-Kareena starrer, 'Kurbaan' to be looked into. And then there's a brainstorming meeting with his team on the title suggestions for his remake of Stepmom. Perhaps, the only interruption to the day is me – when Karan takes a breather and over mugs of coffee, he discusses his past, present and future. This is the story of Karan Johar's journey from boy to man – in his own words.
Karan, you were considered the king of floss. But over the last few years, you have changed your stance. Why are you doing this?
You know, I've actually tried to analyse that myself. When I go back, I think, in a sense, when I lost my father, my headspace just changed overnight. I think something happened to me; it's like I acquired a new personality. On the fourth day, when I walked into my office after my father's chautha and I sat on the chair, I just felt I was a new human being. Everything that happened after that is a reflection of that moment in my life. Until then, there was a certain element of innocence, rawness and even frivolousness in my work. Even love had a certain kind of dreamy hope to it; every emotion was just beautiful and pretty and nice and white – there was no black in my zone because black is something I don't believe in.
The loss of your father affected you that much….
After I lost my father, I started seeing a grey; I ventured into this grey zone. I think we all live in the grey; none of us really live in the black or the white. If you're fully black, you should be in jail and if you're fully white, you should have a halo around your head. But that doesn't happen, right? I felt responsible to my mom; I felt responsible to my company. These were things I hadn't felt before. I was always very protected and sheltered earlier. For every little thing – be it on the financial front, the economic front, the emotional front or the moral front – my father always shouldered everything I went through. He was my man; he was my superhero, and you know when you've lost that hand over your head, you feel like you're all alone. You start thinking of things in a very different way, which is what I did. So all my endeavours, my work and my passions – everything changed. It made me more politically aware; I actually started reading the newspaper's front page as opposed to reading the entertainment page. I started looking at my financial figures. I met my CA for the first time in my life after I lost my father. He walked into my office and said, "Hello, I'm your chartered accountant" and I was like, "I've never met you". I had never met my family lawyer before. I knew nobody because my father took care of all of that. I was always Karan baba to my father and I don't think I ever grew up for him.
As far as Dharma is concerned, you've taken it far ahead from what it was during your father's time. Was it tough?
It was tough because I didn't have my father with me. But everything I've learnt from him has helped me create this world within the company. At Dharma, we firmly follow all his policies – in fact, during every meeting, I write down on the board, 'It is good karma at Dharma'. It's been emotional for most parts of it because I've done it without the hand on my head, but I feel that somehow there's some kind of energy that's making me go forward and I think it's coming from my father himself. There were terrible times he had seen; there was a time when he saw five failures in a row. There were financial troubles we faced. I remember, at one point of time, we even had to sell our house. It was my grandmother's house and we had to pay up for a film that didn't work. I saw the failure in my house right through my upbringing. I was aware of it because film failure is always enhanced, it's always pronounced. I've been around when my father was not invited to parties or not invited to mahurats or given bad seats at a premiere. I've seen it very silently, very subliminally but I've seen it happen to him. Because he was basically a good man, he never became cynical and negative; he was always good and he always rose above it and that's why I wasn't cynical about it either.
The reason you became a filmmaker was to hit back at all those who treated him badly?
When I made my first film, it wasn't to fight back or give back; it was basically to make sure we had a happy existence. There were times when I could see it in my mother's eyes or in my father's silence that things were genuinely not happy. Everyone has this perception that I come from a South Mumbai background and I've always been from the movie business. But when you scratch the surface, you find that it wasn't easy for any of us; it was a struggle even for me. That's why I feel very annoyed when people go on and on and have tried to create rifts between Adi (Chopra) and Shah Rukh and me. Go back to the time when Adi inspired me to be a filmmaker and SRK agreed to do it. I can never thank them enough because I feel they gave my father and me so much respect at a time when we really needed it. So if I'm asked to wipe the floors of Yash Raj Studios or direct a movie for Red Chillies, I'd drop my company and do anything for them. It's not that I owe it to them but I feel as if I'm their employee in more ways than one.
After your father's demise, your vision towards your cinema also changed.
I grew up all of a sudden. And when you grow up, you're more in touch with yourself. When I did that, I realised I had so much more in me than what I was showing on celluloid. What I was showing was just the surface and I started scratching the surface after I lost my father. So whether it was the greyness of KANK or whether it was me wanting to make a coming-of-age film today or me wanting to tap the issue of global terrorism or the perception of Islam in the world – these are all things I believe in strongly and it's developed over the last five years. Yes, there may be a section that might want me to make another love story or make another KKHH but I don't know how to do that anymore. I don't know how to revisit innocent love anymore. I don't feel love like that; I don't feel that innocence or that rawness. I don't feel honest about those emotions.
Like when I write a love scene today, I feel it's very cluttered; it's very adulterated. It's not as innocent and honest as it should be. I saw Love Aaj Kal the other day and there were such innocent moments in that film. I feel I'm not capable of creating that now; it'll come across very synthetically if I attempt it. I feel as if I've lost the love for love. So I don't know how to write a happy love story anymore. There will always be some amount of greyness and cynicism that is in me right now. There is some amount of maturity and reality, which is in all of us that we sometimes address and sometimes not so. So when someone just throws that at me and asks why I don't make another KKHH, I can't. What is a happy film? I mean, you have to feel that happy to make that happy film and maybe I'm not that happy right now. My cinema is a reflection of my inner self, which may not be completely content, glossy or happy as it used to be.
Generally, directors change genres when they aren't as successful. You shifted when you were at your peak making the so-called 'happy' films.
I totally believe that I was far more business-centric and commercial-friendly when I was making those films because I was celebrating Indian cinema as a cinema-goer and I was thinking of all the things I had grown up hearing and watching. Like I knew that a particular scene would be great for the Delhi and Lucknow audiences. I knew the masses would clap on those scenes so I would add them in. I used to have all those calculations – be it the girl reading namaaz in KKHH or the boy singing Jana Gana Mana in K3G – these were commercial manipulations and calculations. This is because I have been in the cinema halls when things like this have happened and I wanted to do that. I wanted my father to get that call from the Delhi-UP distributor saying that the film's opening is mind-blowing and the film has broken all records. I wanted this as a young child. I wanted to make a space for me and my father in the mainstream movie business. Because I felt that my father had never seen commercial success. And when I had those business figures, it was like winning the first prize that I always wanted. It was a child-like desire that just died later. Today, I'd rather make a film that I feel personally proud of in every which way. It may not do the business of Ghajini; it may not have the figures but I should feel satisfied by it for whatever reason even if it doesn't achieve that mainstream business.
But as a business, isn't that a risk you're taking?
When I made KANK, the film was entirely released on my risk; I didn't sell it to anybody. It was a 52 crore movie on infidelity where Shah Rukh Khan was the lead player cheating on his wife, and he's an iconic father and husband in real life. Rani Mukherjee who was the darling of the masses was cheating on her husband and I took that risk entirely on my own. It was given to Yash Raj Films on commission; I didn't sell that film. Because I feel if I'm doing something like this, I dare not put someone else's money at risk. So every film I make that is slightly risky will always be priced effectively or be released at my own risk. That's what I've learnt from my father. Whenever you're taking a risk, make sure you're shouldering that risk much more than anybody else. I feel that a lot of filmmakers are delusional. They feel they're artists and craftsmen and are painting on celluloid. But my father once told me, "Depending on what you make, either you'll feed homes or starve homes. There is a whole chain of people who are suffering because of what you're doing, or gaining because of what you're doing." And I keep that very strongly in my head and heart. So yes, I think my business model has also changed now. I no longer have the desire to deliver the biggest box-office earner of the year. I have the desire to make a film that I can step back and not cringe while watching. A film that I can be proud of even though it may have unusual content. Of course if the film is the biggest hit of the year, I would be thrilled and ecstatic but it's not my main desire anymore. I don't have that as my primary passion.
When every budding filmmaker wants to be Karan Johar, Karan Johar wants to be someone else…
I hear that often from people – that this director is modelling himself on me and things like that. I take it as a compliment that people want to emulate me. But honestly, I think whatever I did beyond my cinema is what perhaps they want to emulate. Like I came out of the director zone when I hosted an awards show; then I did a talk show; I was associated with brands; I went out and spoke on public platforms. Before that, I think directors were cocooned; they were supposed to be taken seriously. I kind of made it a little more external. So people turned around and said, "Oh! We can't be as business and media-savvy as Karan". It was not my media-savviness but my personality that was translated.
You've directed only four films and you've managed to create your own genre. Was this the dream you had for yourself?
I had no such dream. I never imagined that this would become a school of thought. As in there would be something like a 'Karan Johar film'. I did what I knew. I had a sensibility that I put forward. And I think I got clubbed really soon. After KKHH, I used to read statements like "films like KJ makes" and I'd made only one! Then I made one family film, K3G, and it was like "the family movies like Karan Johar makes". I wondered which family movies I had made except K3G. I guess because they were slightly cult in the way they looked at that point of time, even though I'd made just three-four films, it looked like I'd made 30.
Actor, producer, director, compere, host and model – you've played many roles. What's your favourite?
Being a director undoubtedly; everything else is just a hobby. I mean, if I host a talk show or an awards ceremony, these are just things I do for fun. I have no problem facing the camera or facing the arc lights; I love it. If you want me to wear a black suit and walk on a red carpet, I'll have no problems with that. I love it, I enjoy it and I'll do it. Anyone who says he doesn't is either lying, acting or hasn't had the opportunity. But if you ask me what excites me on a day-to-day level is the fact that I can make a film; the fact that I can actually create a world and have the world see it. I feel it's an honour and a privilege. I feel really bad for people who don't make movies, because I feel that the only time you're God is the time that you're a filmmaker, because you really create a world and have everyone watching it. I mean, when else can you be God; you can only be God when you're a filmmaker.
Your production company has grown multi-fold since the time you took over. But with the corporate world entering the business, things are getting tougher for single producers. What's your survival plan?
I knew I had a brand and if I wasn't going to leverage that brand then that was a stupid thing to for me do. I'm in a zone where I have an established brand and I'm in a place where I can launch new talent. Everyone used to tell me, "You don't launch newcomers" and I say I do something far greater than that – I'm launching directors, which is far greater than launching a newcomer. I have six assistants who are making films for me now and I've put them out there and that's what I wanted to do. I knew quite clearly that I didn't want to be or run a studio; I want to make movies and the only way to do that is to be a leading production house, which can be attached to a studio and which the studio can distribute. I have no interest in sitting and running an auditorium or a stage or a music room. It doesn't drive me right now but I don't know about tomorrow. I never thought I'd be producing three films at the same time but I'm doing that. Now who knows what is in store for me? Right now, I'm enjoying the fact that there are new energies, new films and new people in my life making those films.
The film industry requires new acting talent too. The business is run by a handful of stars and production houses like yours can change that by introducing new faces. Why don't you do it?
You're absolutely right and I think that's the next stage for Dharma; we will definitely bring in new talent. If you look at the Hollywood model, the star system is completely failing. They're either displacing that with the younger kinds of films, which have the newer talent or they're replacing that with CG (computer graphics) films, where you can take anybody and the computer graphic is the star. Just see – a film with Johnny Depp will not open as big as a film created by a studio which has this new concept or a new CG trick. And I totally agree that here also, we get too dependant on the five stars who lead the country in terms of stardom. We are a very star-driven nation and that is great and those stars are worthy of the stature that they have. But I firmly believe that it's all about creating a film and you can create a star with that film. You don't need to depend on the stars because by doing that, somewhere the content is suffering. There is a high dependency – which is what happened to us even in the 80s. We depended so much on one man – Amitabh Bachchan – at that time that somewhere, quality took a dip. My new endeavour with every director in Dharma is to bring in new people, work with new technicians and new actors – just bring in new energy because my conscious belief is that it's the way forward for even Dharma in the next two years. We want to move away from working with just the big names.
The corporate culture also ruined the industry and that's what had led to this slowdown. They escalated prices and eventually had to face closures. Did you feel threatened by their presence at that time?
In the year 2007, things just went haywire and we're suffering from that. All the prices were fictitious; there was a fictitious rise in people's heads. We're back to where we should be. We were doing really well in 2005-2006 and suddenly in the year 2007 actors were being paid ridiculous amounts. I mean, ask for that amount if you can guarantee that opening. But you're never assured; you're as good as your film. At the end of the day, no matter how much you market or package a film, if the film doesn't have it in it, it's going to drop on Monday and then it's going to drop drastically. As a production house, I feel that I can pay only so much – if you want to do it, do otherwise please mat karo. Why should other people suffer because you feel you're a star in your head? I feel delusion is a very big disease in this industry. Actors have it; directors it; producers have it; everyone is delusional. Sometimes, I feel you should go on the Internet, type your name and read what's written about you. That day would be therapy for you. I do that sometimes, and people write such awful things about you that it's the best way to bring down your ego and morale at times. People need that because everyone is flying; you may be a semi-success but you feel like you're God's gift to the industry. You're not; no one is. You're as good as your film and you're as good as the work you put into your film. So I really feel that more than any virus and swine flu, delusion is the disease that needs to be addressed. And if there was some kind of vaccine to prevent it, I wish we could acquire it.
Coming back to you company, most of the people working with you are your close pals. Does it become difficult for you at times to be ruthless when it comes down to business?
It does; a lot times it does. I share personal relationships with the people I work with so yes, I can't operate in a corporate, professional and ruthless way, as you put it. It always has to be on a level of compassion, trust and love.
What happens when you have to take that drastic step?
I don't take that step. There are many things I haven't done, because I can't. And of course it becomes difficult. But I guess that's the flip side of being in a relationship with someone or being in that zone with people that you're working with. There's always an upside and a downside to things. But my upside is that I have the kind of access that others may not have. So definitely things also work in your favour because of that. You can't have it all.
You're handling a mature subject again in My Name Is Khan. The expectations are high and it's also your most expensive film. With a sensitive issue like this, aren't you worried about mass acceptance?
I think the gut of the film and the core of the film is very emotional. It's not an experimental film in that respect; it's a sensitive film that's been put on a very large canvas and it needed to be because the emotion was so strong that I couldn't treat it small. I had to treat it large for it to resonate loud and that's why it is on this canvas. And when I look back, maybe I could've scripted it in a way that I could have made it slightly cheaper but I didn't. I've done it this way and now I have to be true to what I've written. I can't say how it'll turn out but I do know that it is the one film I have worked the hardest towards. So if at all that counts then my input on this film has been 300 percent more than otherwise. I'm a firm believer in input equalling out so I feel very strongly about it.
You're exploring new frontiers with My Name Is Khan. Fox Searchlight Studios has bought it for a whopping price and it'll be the first time that a commercial Indian director will have a big release in mainstream Hollywood.
Well, Searchlight is planning over and above the diaspora. Which is like trying to stretch the mainstream, but it will have what is called a platform release. It'll start small and then depending on the product, we'll see how it goes. The fact that Searchlight is involved is a very big deal. It's a first; it's not just a tie-up with their Indian conglomerate. It's with Searchlight directly.
Will there be a separate cut of the film for the international market?
I don't think so. What the diaspora cut is should be the film's final cut, I hope, but I don't know actually. See, I told them clearly that I know the Indian domestic business and diaspora. They know beyond it so if they feel the need to cut it, they can go ahead and do it. I will not come in their way because they know their business like I know mine.
When your last film, Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna, received mixed reactions, did it bother you?
Some reactions were extremely acidic…
I'm so glad that I made that film. Because I love the fact that I made men uncomfortable about the fact that wives lie to their husbands about what they think. Today, honestly, most of the e-mail feedback I get is always about KANK. You know, couples have told me individually that they couldn't tell each other they liked the film because it was a reflection of what they were thinking. I can tell a marriage really from people's reactions to KANK. If they can say confidently that they liked the film, then you can say they have an open communication between them. You cannot walk out of KANK and say you hated the film. Because if you hated it that deeply, it means you have so much to hide from each other and from yourself. One day, a man told me he hated the film and I said, "How can you hate the film? That means you have so much to hide. What have you done wrong in your marriage or what are you doing wrong?" He looked at me stumped and I said, "Are you with another woman, or another man? You obviously are with someone or have been with someone to have this adverse reaction towards it". Because it's not a film you can hate. I cannot believe anyone can hate it unless it's connected to you in a way and upset you in a way. There are women who say it has reminded them of their sorry marriages; of the weakness in their marriages. It makes them aware of the fact that they can't walk out on their husbands for various reasons. I'm proud of that film more than any of the others because I feel I made a social statement with it.
People just couldn't digest some of the characters.
For weeks after is release, there were dinner-table conversations about the film. Why does Rani not love Abhishek was the big question. But she doesn't and how can you question that? That's what life is all about. She's not attracted to him; she's not turned on by him; she thinks he's a child and she just doesn't find the passion in the marriage, which she finds with another man. That's the problem with hundreds of women in this world; they just can't say it. Just because he's a good person and a nice human being doesn't mean that you have to be sexually attracted to him. Passion and sexual energy has nothing to do with goodness; it comes from other places and you have to realise that it's the age of that kind of expression. And I wish we realise that and are in touch with ourselves. I think the worst lie you can tell is the lie to yourself. And a lot of us tend to lie to ourselves. I feel proud of KANK because if I could make a film that makes you question your existence in a relationship, it means I've come home with it. And yet there were men who walked out; who refused to acknowledge that they'd liked the film. They refused to see it again, and were angry at their wives who liked it. That's because it was a reflection on them as people. We all know that monogamy is really an extinct emotion; I mean in this urban existence, fidelity is a dinosaur. It doesn't happen anymore. And a film, which is actually talking to you about this content, with mainstream stars, is going to cause a stir. And I'm glad it did.
Today, you may get bouquets for it but I remember when the film had released, you were shattered to a point…
Oh, I was completely shaken. Because I couldn't realise how absolutely two-faced the world could be in terms of how much they could brush under the carpet. I was shocked. I was not amused then; I was amused a month later. But that time, I was like, what is happening; why these debates and these discussions? Why can't they just watch it for the emotional graph of the film? There were angry messages, angry people… How can a film make you feel so angry? I was in shock – people coming up to me in coffee shops, at hotels, filled with anger. Like mothers walking up to me with their daughters and being just angry. I was just so shocked that I left the country for three weeks, because I could feel the negative vibes. When I was leaving for America, I could feel people at the airport just judging me – you know like when someone comes out of jail and people are staring at you – it was like that. I could just feel the piercing eyes thinking, "You used to be our person; the family man and look what you've done to us now." Now when I look back I'm really amused but back then I was in a tizzy! I suppose anything you do that is extreme is going to get you an extreme reaction.
Is it difficult for you to handle failure?
I don't think I can handle failure. I'm not equipped to handle failure. I don't know how to but I know I will have to. I keep saying all these expressions – like failure is a stepping stone to success and failure makes you stronger – all these are great in a book and look lovely to read and are lovely as text messages to forward. But when it hits you, it hits you, it bites you and it kills you. But I do know when it happens I will emerge because emerging is what I know. I have emerged on various situations in my life before too. But I know that I'm not equipped to handle failure; it will break me.
The only film of yours that flopped was Kaal. Were you broken then?
No, I wasn't because I didn't feel so attached to Kaal. It was a bad film so I couldn't blame anyone. Also, Kaal didn't do that badly because it got a good opening and we actually made some money on it. So when you're commercially safe, it doesn't pinch you as much. Now I can look back at it and say it wasn't a good film; it didn't deserve to run. But I have felt personal failure in every film. As I was telling Adi (Chopra) the other day – I have built a career based on disappointments. After KKHH, we had to leave the country because something had happened. I didn't enjoy its success because I wasn't here. When K3G, they said it was old wine in a new bottle. That was the year of Lagaan and Dil Chahta Hai and I was the filmy one who had come that year. So it never got the awards and recognition and I was upset. During Kal Ho Naa Ho, it was tragic because my father had cancer at that time and when it released, Koi Mil Gaya was the bigger hit that year so we got subdued. Then KANK happened. So I have never had a release where I've sat on the weekend with a smile on my face. Okay, Dostana made me smile. But the one thing that really made me smile after KKHH was Koffee with Karan. That was my biggest hit after KKHH, and it was a success from day one. Plus there was no critic writing badly about it.
Does criticism also affect you?
Yes, I get very affected. I read every review. I also go online and read every written word because I must read it. Every person who writes badly about my film bothers me. In a lot of ways, I'm a competitive person – I once fought with my teacher to give me half a mark more and that, in a way, encompasses who I am. She gave me eight marks and I felt I deserved eight-and-a-half because she circled one spelling, which was actually right and I fought with her. I took the dictionary and showed it to her and she had to give me that extra mark. So that child has not grown up into anything beyond what he was. I will fight for that extra half mark or that extra half star in the review; I will fight for it and I will want it.
Even in the films that you produce, your creative inputs are unmistakable. Don't your directors feel short-changed because of this?
See, Dostana was all Tarun (Mansukhani) but he's worked with me for 10 years, so obviously there's a certain level you imbibe; you put in the aesthetics of the people you've worked with so there's a lot of all that. But now with the new wave of directors, the films are totally different. If you see the Wake Up Sid promo, it has nothing to do with me. Kurbaan, directed by Rensil D'Silva, is on global terrorism so there can be no chhaapa of mine. In My Name is Khan you might see a little bit of me because I'm directing it but even there you might not. So now with the new crop of films, you will not see the Karan Johar-ness as you might call it. But yeah, previously it was because they were so much a part of me, living and breathing with me for almost 10 years.
There was a time when the social crowd in Mumbai looked down upon Hindi films. You grew up in those surroundings.
Yeah, I used to lie in college that my father made movies. Today, the coolest place to be is the film business. It was different then. I grew up in Malabar Hill in South Mumbai. No one knew about movies; no one spoke about movies. I lied to most of my friends that my father made films. I feel sorry to say this but I was not proud of what my father did then; it was an honest emotion and I feel bad about it today because I feel I should have been proud of him no matter what he did. I used to come down and play with the other Malabar Hill kids and I couldn't tell them that my father was shooting for a film with Prakash Mehra called Muqqadar Ka Faisla so I used to say he was a businessman. I went to college and then things changed a little. Now, in the last three-four years, everyone wants to be in the movie business. It's no longer cool to say you don't watch Hindi movies because it's not true anymore. I mean you go to Inox (a multiplex) in South Mumbai and you can never get tickets. Because everyone is watching any movie you can think of and everyone only writes about movies, talks about movies or is just watching them.
Today, you mingle with the same set of people. Do you ever discuss work with them?
Yeah, whenever I have a premiere, I call them; they're all friends of mine. Most of them have some connection with movies. Parmeshwar Godrej who's a very dear friend and I love her passion, but she's always had an association with the movie business. Or Tina and Anil (Ambani) who I'm very close to and Tina's fond of movies. You'll be surprised how many industrialists of prominence have preview theatres in their homes. My print goes to all of them because I know them personally and I feel happy that they want to watch my film.
At one time, a lot of people said you're too dependant on Shah Rukh Khan. How did you cope with it?
I took it in the right way because I was. He is really a big reason for my career's start. He agreed to do my first film – he set the ball rolling. I am dependant on him both emotionally and professionally. When people ask me why SRK, I look and them and say that I think I need him more than he needs me. I need his support on a set; he makes my moments in the films enhanced with his presence and he adds tremendous commercial viability to my film. Plus, he's so accessible to me. If people say I'm dependant on him, I am and that's the God-honest truth. A large reason for my success is him, so why shouldn't I be dependant?
Have you ever found any other actors being a little less comfortable with you because you're so closely associated with SRK?
Not the actors that I've worked with – they're not uncomfortable. Whether it's Abhishek, Saif or Hrithik, I've had equations with all three of them as well; they're all friends of mine today. I've had great conversations with Aamir and Salman too; I'm socially friendly with them.
Shah Rukh and you started out as friends; then you worked together; now you're business partners. They say you should never mix business with friendship. Are you cautious because of that?
I agree with that. But it also depends on how you are as a person. I have always mixed business with friendship and it has always worked for me. Be it with Adi or with Shah Rukh – they are both my closest friends today and they are both people I have done business with. And the emotions and the relationships are at their peak today even more so than they were before. Adi and I are not working professionally together anymore but today, we are even closer than we were last year; I can feel it. Time and again, one of your magazines ('Stardust') has split us up a million times but actually that has only been on paper. I really think that I'm very fortunate not to have been born with an ego, beyond a point. I don't have one. I feel very strongly that I would be nothing if it wasn't for these two men. I would not be a filmmaker if it wasn't for Adi and Shah Rukh. To me, Shah Rukh is like a father – he screams at me all the time. He picks up the phone and fires me twice a week. And Adi is firing me everyday. I mean, it's like I lost one and found two more fathers. If you read Adi's messages everyday, there will be something nasty – 'read your stupid interview, when will you shut up?' Everyday there will be something like that – 'stop talking like this; stop doing that; why are you going here?'…it's like I'm being policed and parented by two people, so there can be no problem. How can you have a problem with your parents? Sometimes I really wish people would come into our conversations; walk into the room when we're together. The day before yesterday, I had called Adi to get his inputs on Wake Up Sid. UTV is distributing it and Adi is going to come and give inputs, but that is how we operate. He calls me to read his scripts. If I like something, I tell him and if I don't like it, I tell him. Both he and Shah Rukh are very important pillars, guiding my professional existence. When I have a problem with both of them then I go to my mom.
You're also very friendly with Gauri; not many people know that.
I'm actually closer to Gauri than Shah Rukh. She's my friend; Shah Rukh's not my friend because like I said, he's always firing me. I'm scared of him. It's a completely different equation. People feel we're buddies, but there's a lot of respect. Anywhere in the world, if he walks into the room, I'll stand up and I don't sit unless he asks me to sit. I'm like that around him. But actually my friend is Gauri – she and her kids.
You're always sounding confident and upbeat. Is that just a veil to shield your insecurity? Do you often feel insecure?
Every morning; every day; every moment and every time. I'm a very insecure man. I'm insecure and I'm scared. I'm very complexed about so many things. I always feel that I'm in a temporary zone, and my permanent zone is not this. I feel all this happiness is temporary and one day I'm going to mess it up. Everyday I wake up with this fear. I stare at myself and I feel it's all going to go away and what will I do when the flowers stop coming? I fear growing old; I fear losing the people around me; I fear losing a fan base; I fear losing a cine-goer's support; I fear it all every moment. I fear compliments, because I feel they'll stop coming. That's why whenever you see someone praising me, I'm awkward; you'll never see me agree with them; I'll always nod my head in embarrassment. I don't know what to do with it; I get so worried that I'd rather not hear it. Not to say that I enjoy hearing criticism because that also I have a problem with. I'm just a bundle of complexes and insecurities. Also I am a Gemini, so there are two of me at every point of time.
Koffee With Karan was a huge success. It also started a trend, with other directors like Farhan Akhtar, Sajid Khan and Farah Khan also having their own shows. But none of them were able to do as well.
I'm really happy that none of them have been able to match up to Koffee With Karan. I'm happy that KWK, in that respect, is iconic. I'm happy I did it; I feel proud of KWK because I know that I was the only one who wanted to do it. Everyone advised me not to – they said a director should maintain a mystique and it would cheapen me as a person and dilute my brand. But all it has done is enhanced it. I was always dying to sit on that chair. See, I was always dying to be a part of the media; one of my various career options as a child was journalism or being a film critic and I think KWK satisfied that urge in me.
Are you open to a third season? Even with this genre being really cluttered now?
You tell me… I think KWK will always have an audience. It's what you do on the show that matters. I'm glad to know that there are new enemies, new lovers and new controversies. It's not the same people; there'll be different people on the couch now; it'll be interesting to revisit them. I might do it; I might not; I don't know. But I know that I enjoyed doing television thoroughly. If someone asked me what my hobby in life is, I would say hosting a talk show. That was my best hobby ever.
You're suddenly being called the industry's favourite peacemaker. People fight and then you come and resolve their differences.
I think I've been attributed with much more than I may have done. Maybe I have a vibe around me; there's positivity around me and when people come together, they feel like they can connect because they come to one space. They may have problems with each other but because I know all of them individually, they've arrived in one space. Whether or not it's me instrumental in doing this, I don't know. I was asked if I have patched up Aamir and Shah Rukh and I have done no such thing. It was the multiplex association that required two iconic men to be on that platform; they met at my house a couple of times but that's it. At my party, people met and if they felt that vibe and energy and if they came up to each other, I can't help it. I didn't get them together and do it. The next day, I read that I have done this patch-up; I haven't done anything. But yes, I never take sides. If I'm close to two people, I'm close to both of them; I'll never take a side. Because I believe you shouldn't. If they're fighting, it's their problem.
Has that ever put you in an awkward situation?
Yes, of course. When two people who you like closely are not talking to each other and have problems and issues, it's awkward; it's going to be awkward. But what do you do? You don't take sides; you just back off. And I think backing off is the only thing people should learn and do instead of entering the frame trying to resolve. It's not in my place to resolve people's differences; it's in my place to be there when both of them need me and that's what I've done.
Karan, a few years back, you were a total party animal. You used to be going out every night. You've mellowed down now.
It's age, my dear. I don't feel like I need to do it anymore. I feel like meeting people in my home or their homes. I don't know; maybe I should start going out like that again. But I feel very happy with meeting friends and catching up and just having dinner with them. I almost feel exhausted by the idea of stepping out a lot. I don't know whether it's got to do with me growing up or the fact that I have an early morning the next day but I just don't feel like I can do that now. I've lost my energy to party and go out on a nightly basis. Sometimes I go mad, once in a month or once in two months.
Do you ever get lonely?
All the time. I feel very lonely.
Does the thought of you being alone at 50 scare you?
The idea of growing old itself scares me. Being alone is even worse. I think about it a lot. I'm very moved by old age because somehow I feel that it's reflective of what will happen to me one day. I feel very scared of growing old alone. Whenever I fall sick, I think of it much more because I feel like it may be okay now but what happens later? Also I feel like the most important thing for a filmmaker or anyone in the creative field is to share their level of work or their passion with someone. Right now I have my mom and I have my really close friends. But friends can never really substitute a spouse or an immediate member of the family in the larger way of functioning. So today, when I have a film poster or a music song, I go and make my mom hear it and her appreciation or her criticism is something I like to hear or interact with. But when that stops, I wonder what will happen? Sometimes I've thought of this and just the possibility of that makes me feel very lonely. And sometimes even now, I'm surrounded by 50 people but I still feel a certain level of loneliness. If you're lonely, it's in your DNA; you know you're always going to be lonely. That's why I've tried to clutter my life with work. Sometimes people tell me to take a day off and I never do that. Even on Sundays, I'm in the office every morning. I make sure I create some work for myself so I can be here all day. Because I can't just lie in my bed and watch TV; I'll go mad. Sometimes, even your own thoughts are scary. Your loneliness and being on your own makes you think of things, which you don't want to think about. So whenever those moments do arrive in my life, they're bothersome. There's no solution right now in my life that can help me combat that loneliness and emptiness barring the fact that I'm happy doing what I do. There's nothing I can do to address it. But hopefully there'll be a solution; something always comes up.
You also keep your personal life very personal.
Yeah, that's why it's called personal.
Is your personal life really that boring or are you just very discreet?
I would like to say it's a bit of both. Yes, there's nothing great happening; there aren't too many skeletons in my closet. It's not like I have a very exciting personal life. But it's not that boring either. There's definitely a life I have that I don't show to the world. I choose not to because it's my prerogative. That's how my personal life has always been; there's a reason why there's 'personal' attached to it – it's yours. It's a large part of me and I don't wish to talk about my personal life and I will never do. I talk about everything with regard to my profession because I feel that a film personality or a person in this field should be an open book. So if I'm making a film why should I hide what it's about?
You've been sporting grey hair of late. You feel wiser and older compared to the 20-year-olds in your office?
I try very hard every now and then to put colour in my hair. But I feel that this is more me and it's going to be me eventually. I'm pretty settled; not that I'm over-the-hill still but I feel more mature in my head now than I ever did. So I feel this might be the order of the day. I'm still very young and spirited in my heart but I feel tired of colouring my greys after a certain point in time. I think it's okay to be fit and you work towards being in a certain shape for yourself, but I think vanity is not a virtue anymore. I'm not giving it the kind of importance I used to earlier. The word 'distinguished' is now what I'm working towards.
-- Super Administrator
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