By Subhash K. Jha, Indo-Asian News Service
Mumbai, Sep 1 (IANS) Having earned flak for endorsing infidelity in his latest "Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna", director Karan Johar is now trying hard to mend the damage and says his film tries to convey that nobody should go in for a loveless marriage.
"I haven't been irresponsible towards my audience. The message, if any, is marry for the right reason. And if you're in a miserable marriage you're wronging two people."
He says audiences are free to interpret his film, which boasts of big names like Amitabh Bachchan, Shah Rukh Khan, Rani Mukerji and Preity Zinta, the way they want to.
"You can look at my take on marriage positively or negatively. The characters have their own point of view. Rani's father-in-law wants her to leave. Shah Rukh's mother wants to stay with his wife even though the wife throws Shah Rukh out. There's poise, dignity and class in all the characters."
In spite of all the criticism, Johar is not ready to return to candyfloss.
"I've changed. At 25, I made 'Kuch Kuch Hota Hai' because I felt mushy. At 29, I did 'Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham' because I felt reverent towards my parents. At 31, when I wrote 'Kal Ho Naa Ho', it was a manifestation of my fear of death. I felt I was going to lose someone dear, and I did (father Yash Johar). At 34, I'm a quiet silent observer. That's why I've made KANK."
Q: Are you endorsing infidelity in "Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna" (KANK)?
A: I don't claim to be an expert on marriage or anything else. I'm not endorsing anything. KANK is my take on what happens when people marry for the wrong reason. The true foundation of an enduring marriage is tremendous love. If that love isn't there, things can go wrong any time in a marriage.
That's what happens in KANK. My characters behave in a particular way because they are my characters. You don't have to agree with what the characters do or say.
Q: People are reacting vehemently to the Shah Rukh-Rani extramarital affair.
A: Every married person sees a bit of him or herself in the characters. They're reacting to the characters. KANK is like watching an experience rather than watching a film.
Everyone wants to know why Rani doesn't love Abhishek's character. But she doesn't! That's it! There're millions of women who go on being miserable in passionless marriages. I'm not telling those women to go out and have an affair. But you don't need to be in a loveless marriage. That's what KANK says.
Q: Surely there're obligations in a marriage that go beyond self-gratification?
A: I agree. But children shouldn't be made an excuse to keep a dead marriage going. Preity says, "I'm not one of those who accept defeat in life by making children their weakness. I'm not that weak." You cannot question why. That's the way these characters are.
Q: But a Johar film influences a large section of people.
A: And I haven't been irresponsible towards my audience. The message, if any, is marry for the right reason. And if you're in a miserable marriage you're wronging two people. Amit-ji says in the film, "By carrying on an incomplete marriage you're denying love to yourself and your spouse."
Incomplete relationships are of no value to anyone. I'd love our women to become much more independent-minded and career-minded so that they could've a life of their own after a broken marriage.
Q: But you aren't married, so how do you know the dos and don'ts of marriages?
A: I'm not married. But I'm an observer of human relationships. And it's my right to use those observations as and how I wish. I know there will be various debates and discussions on KANK. And I welcome them. I'm overjoyed at the level of participation that the film has provoked. I'm so happy I've a job that can touch people.
You can look at my take on marriage positively or negatively. The characters have their own point of view. Rani's father-in-law wants her to leave. Shah Rukh's mother wants to stay with his wife even though the wife throws Shah Rukh out. There's poise dignity and class in all the characters.
Q: Rani's character has no motivation for leaving her husband.
A: Hers is the toughest role. She rebuffs a loving husband. But her character Maya feels maternal towards Rishi. She marries for the wrong reason. KANK is a film about very unhappy characters.
Q: I see a lot of Yash Chopra's "Silsila" in KANK.
A: Where? Not consciously. I love "Silsila". It's a super take on the cult of infidelity. But I think KANK tells its own story. My admiration for "Silsila" may have subconsciously crept into the film.
Q: What was the need for Kajol, Arjun Rampal, John Abraham and Riteish Deshmukh, who was finally cut out?
A: Kajol is my lucky mascot. Arjun is an important character. He was someone Preity's character could've settled down with after her failed marriage. But she chose not to. John was a fun thing. Why not have a good-looking deejay? You can't get anyone cooler for the job.
As for Riteish, there was a whole chunk with Rani in play school, which had to be cut off. Stars are important to a film. But you must understand I took a big risk by casting these stars against their images.
Q: Why cast Shah Rukh as a cynical and bitter man?
A: He's unhappy because of his failures. When I projected him as the ebullient Rahul and Aman in "Kuch Kuch Hota Hai" and "Kal Ho Naa Ho" everyone said he needs a change of image. I'm going to get very upset if now people complain about his change of image.
What do you want me to do? I think Shah Rukh gives one of his best performances in KANK. He plays a grey, complex character and he has pulled it off with absolute conviction.
Q: What's the deal with Amitabh Bachchan?
A: Abhishek's father in the film is a flamboyant character. And who better equipped than Amit-ji to play him? He'll be called 'Sexy Sam' for a long time. He trusted that I'd handle his raunchy role with a certain class and dignity. Of course, Amit-ji is full of class and dignity.
Q: Were you prepared to open up a Pandora's box?
A: I did anticipate it. People say I've shown a mirror. And no one likes a mirror image. I know many Devs, Mayas, Rishis and Rheas and Sexy Sams. Each is a work of fiction but they're based on real life.
Thirty percent of the audience is shocked. But seventy percent identifies with the characters. This time I've given no candyfloss. It's more like a slap on the face.
Q: Can you ever go back to candyfloss?
A: I can't! I've matured. I've changed. At 25, I made "Kuch Kuch Hota Hai" because I felt mushy. At 29, I did "Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham" because I felt reverent towards my parents.
At 31, when I wrote "Kal Ho Naa Ho", it was a manifestation of my fear of death. I felt I was going to lose someone dear, and I did (father Yash Johar). At 34, I'm a quiet silent observer. That's why I've made KANK.
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