Thursday, February 25, 2010

interview with KJo

Chaya Unnikrishnan Posted: Feb 26, 2010 at 1759 hrs IST
Karan Johar for the first time speaks out on the MNIK controversy, the challenge of realistic cinema and going global Filmmaker Karan Johar, fresh from the success of My Name Is Khan visited the Screen office for a candid chat and bowled everyone with his charm and inimitable style.
Dressed casually in a black and grey T-shirt paired with a blue jeans, a Louis Vuitton bag, sneakers and a Blackberry, the ace director looked ready to take on the world, literally, what with MNIK opening new markets worldwide. MNIK, said Johar, has been the most creatively satisfying film for him. “It has challenged me and made me think out-of-the-box.”
From the pre-release controversies surrounding MNIK, his vulnerability during the release of Wake Up Sid to Kurbaan’s failure at the box-office, he patiently put to rest all queries we had. What’s more, he delighted us with info on his forthcoming film I Hate Luv Stories, which has Imran Khan playing an assistant director, Sonam Kapoor as a production designer and Sammir Dattani playing Karan Johar. Then there’s his popular chat show Koffee With Karan coming back with a third season on STAR World. And the juiciest bit of all, he conceded that with some persuasion from the Twitterati, he is ‘thinking’ of casting Shahid Kapoor and Deepika Padukone in a Dharma Production film, adding that the pair has a huge fan base on the social networking site, which calls it ‘Shahika’.
A lot of ground was covered and an hour and a half went by in a jiffy courtesy his ready wit and loads of self-depreciating humour. For a snapshot of the fun and informative session, read on.
New age cinema
Karan Johar opens up on his changing perception of movies

“Everyone thought I had lost it when I said I wanted to make My Name Is Khan,” says Karan Johar as he begins the conversation. “I am all for bubblegum and candy floss. I have moved on. I shall be 40 soon and for me to do bubblegum and mush is a bit too much. I just feel that I can’t be bored while making my own film.”
Johar, in fact, wishes his audience to cry a bucket with the remake of Stepmom, which he admits, “is a chick flick.” “I do not have an understanding of horror or sci-fi so I won’t make those films. I am open to doing films about people in the real world be it edgy, alternate or anything else,” he offers by way of explaining the kind of cinema Dharma Productions aspires to make.
MNIK which is a step in that direction. But he defends his definition of boredom by saying that a little bit of ‘Karan Johar feel’ will always be there in all his films. “I can’t change my core self even if I try because it’s me. My influence will come up in the film. An SRK-Kajol mush moment will come only from me because that is what I am. But the chemistry between them is unusual. He is a man with a disorder and she is a divorcee with a six-year old kid. A lot of their chemistry has been taken from a real life couple who dealt with autism. We also borrowed an instance about two real life women who were the best of friends all thier lives and the repercussions of 9/11 on their lives. This film was everything I didn’t know and I had to be accurate with my research. Of course within that realm I will show off as a film maker.”
Going back to MNIK, which Johar claims is his “most creatively satisfying film”, he says people didn’t believe him when he said he wanted to make a film dealing with an issue like this. “Assistants used to come to work with me thinking there would be huge chandeliers, beautiful sets and picturesque locations. When I narrated the script of MNIK to them, I could see the disappointment in their faces. I remember Manish Malhotra’s disappointed face. He is so used to shopping for beautiful clothes for a month before the film starts that he was heartbroken there were just 22 changes. When Sharmishta Roy, my production designer and I were doing a recce in a lane at Kandivali we both burst out laughing when she said, ‘Karan, I don’t believe I am standing here with you.’”
Johar also believes that Aditya Chopra and he have been the only people (directors) who have witnessed the transition of the industry. Back in 2001 when his film Kabhie Khushi, Kabhie Gham was up for release, he wasn’t prepared to compete with Farhan Akhtar’s Dil Chahta Hai and Ashutosh Gowariker’s Lagaan, two films that altered the meaning of cinema in the coming years. “When I was making K3G, I felt bad for Gowariker and Farhan because I thought who would want to see Aamir Khan in a dhoti playing cricket and a film about three friends, which apparently had no story. It was only when I came out of the theatre after watching Lagaan did I realise I was doomed. I was royally assaulted by both commerce and art. After that Anil Sharma’s Gadar came which again went on to become a huge success. That year was great in terms of different kinds of cinema. It gave more freedom to film-makers to portray whatever they wanted to on screen and get away with it.”
Sneha Mahadevan
Our conviction gave us courage
Just as MNIK was to hit screens worldwide on February 12, it got embroiled in a controversy. Karan Johar shares his views on the incident …

For Johar, “it was the toughest 10 days of our life.” Having worked on the film for three years, he says, “When the film lives with you for three years it literally becomes a member of your family. It consumes and absorbs you completely. And at the brink of the release of the labour of your love; when you see a roadblock of this magnitude, it was obviously very disheartening and sad. For us, it was emotionally tough.” Since Johar has only directed MNIK, he says monetary losses may not be his priority but he always looks at a project from the producer or a filmmaker’s point of view. Always one to go for the best irrespective of the cost, for Johar, it is all about creating that best moment “that is what leaves a legacy behind and so yes it was really tough for Shah Rukh Khan and me.” He however believes that there has to be some pay back for what the universe gives you, for trying to do something noble and human. “Today I am just happy that is over,” said the young filmmaker. His jovial mood reiterated this.
Johar applauded Shah Rukh for sticking to his stand. “It was very brave of him, for a lead protagonist of such a mainstream endeavour to play this character. It was a big film on a big scale, shot on a big budget with the lead character that has a disorder. And then everything was working against us. Eventually it was our conviction that gave us courage.
At a time when nothing was going right for the film, Johar says the support that they got from unexpected quarters was phenomenal. He even got encouraging phone calls and smses. This incident has brought the film fraternity closer, he reiterates. “However, there is a section that comes together and some that remains silent so we have to take it in the spirit.”
The young filmmaker recalls how, during the moment of crisis, both he and Shah Rukh stood by each other. “I was standing there holding his hand throughout. That was support enough. Now enough has been spoken about the issue, if we get into it further, it will be misrepresented. I don’t think we expected anything to get to this monumental level and we are happy it is over.”
Reflecting on how business affected the film during the release week, Johar stated that there was a definite loss of business in Mumbai and Maharashta. Looking at the scenario in Mumbai, many did not go to the theatres fearing political ramifications. “We lost the weekend. We lost out on a tremendous amount. People even did not venture to catch the paid-previews.”
Talking about the Wake Up Sid controversy, Johar said that after leading a sheltered life, he was suddenly exposed to the atrocities of the outside world. “When it happened to me the first time, I took an immediate call about the situation without thinking about the circumstances. The maker is more vulnerable and weak on a Friday. He just listens and follows what people around him tell him.” The filmmaker is of the opinion that he may have reacted differently today if faced with the same situation. It was the first time his film was embroiled in a controversy and he did not think objectively as ‘in the moment of crisis, one reacts impulsively. He however didn’t want to comment on whether what he did then was right or wrong or may be that the repercussions of that was the second event (MNIK controversy) happened. He however stated that, “They are two different circumstances. Two bad experiences and within a short span seem to have taught him a lot. “I am a different person today. It can be said that I am an older and wiser person post My Name Is Khan. I understood so much about the machinery, the industry and the people. I felt like I grew up 10 years in those 10 days. Now I have become more aware. My father was a crisis man. In such circumstances, he would know what to do and how to speak to people. I lost him when I was 32 and at that time I didn’t even know who my chartered accountant was. If my father was alive, it would have been a great emotional support for both Shah Rukh and me. We would have turned to him for everything and would have been more protected.”
Namita Nivas
MNIK, opening news markets
Apart from box office history, director Karan Johar’s latest directorial venture has also broken all geographical boundaries

The release is phased, each territory having a different release date, allowing the publicity storm to gather pace before releasing in a new area. MNIK, which premiered at the Berlin film festival “is the first global film to open up new markets across the globe,” according to Johar.
MNIK is reportedly being distributed in over 70 countries, presenting new distribution, and commercial opportunities for further releases.
MNIK met with astounding audience response in Germany. Germany has the third highest population of international migrants worldwide. Johar believes that “NRI people are far more Indian, far more traditional and far more conservative than any of us living here. It does not mean they are evolved and take anything that is modern”.
For Johar, “The diaspora audience is different in USA, UK and UAE and they react differently. You never know how things will work where. It has been fantastic. I see a lot of non Asian people venturing into cinema hall and it has been great.”
MNIK had its world premiere in Abu Dhabi, a decision taken by Fox. “When you have a big studio with you, you go with the flow,” said Johar. In the East, Bahrain has six prints, Qatar four, Kuwait four, and Egypt eight, although reports abound that 30 more prints have been ordered for Egypt, marking significant breakthroughs for Hindi cinema.
If replicated globally, this could secure Bollywood cinema in ‘non traditional’ reception areas. The film opened in Oman, on February 18. Previously, Bollywood films were released midweek before a weekend opening in India. It is to release in nine theatres in Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon, from March. MNIK will be dubbed into German and Turkish, and released with subtitles on 50 screens in Poland, ten times the amount for a Bollywood release previously. Johar previously called his work ‘a handshake’ between east and west and with the backing of Fox Star Studio. “It is opening many doors and windows. This has been possible because of Fox who has offices all across the world” said Johar. He said that the real impact of the film’s success will only be known by the end of 2010 after it releases theatrically across countries like Poland, Oman, Germany and Russia.
MNIK is the first Bollywood film to be carried by a major Hollywood studio for global distribution.
MNIK is cited by Johar, as an example of new age Indian cinema. MNIK is potentially a shift away from what those in the west tend to perceive as being a format of singing and dancing ‘escapism’, and is accompanied by an industry shift in distribution. MNIK was bought by Fox Star Studios for a reported Rs. 90.2 crore. “We wanted to put Indian cinema on the map and which is why we teamed up with Fox. I wanted people of all cultures and communities to understand that the film resonated the new age Indian cinema”, says Johar, “we are not the frivolous singing and dancing nation of movie makers. We are somebody who can project cinema soulfully, emotionally and relevantly”.
Ed Vollans
Music with a difference
Song and dance sequences, especially the hero-heroine lip-syncing to songs, are a quintessential part of Hindi films. Karan Johar on the changing role of music in today’s cinema

However, the concept is gradually changing and instead of lip-syncing, songs are now increasingly being played in the background. Even My Name Is Khan, that comes from Dharma Productions has few numbers in the film and that too in the background. Song and dance sequences, especially the hero-heroine lip-syncing to songs, are a quintessential part of Hindi films. Says Johar, “A man with autism can’t sing a song. You and I do not sing to each other. When we are talking about a film that is highlighting such a rampant, relevant problem we can’t break into songs. The first sequence of a film sets the tone. My film has the hero walking into an airport followed by his interrogation. When you have set this tone, you can do everything you want within that. I cannot have 100 dancers during Sajda dancing to choreographed steps. I cannot show a grand wedding and perfectly dressed people. Yes, the films of Guru Dutt and Hrishikesh Mukherjee in the past were also about real people and there would be lip-synched songs, but in that era it was a given thing that the lead artistes would sing. But now cinema has travelled beyond.
In fact, Rang De Basantiwas the best film that used music so well without a single lip-synced song. I think that this is the new way music will be used in Hindi cinema and though it is unfortunate, I definitely think that it is better in the long run.
“Frankly I do not see myself shooting a party song like in Kabhi Alvida... or a song in the mountains between the lead pair. Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy, the music directors of the movie, were definitely surprised and disappointed when I told them that neither Sajda nor Tere naina will be filmed with lip-sync. But even Kajol singing to Shah Rukh would have made people laugh.”
Rajiv Vijayakar

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