Celebrity Interview: Karan Johar

By Subhash K. Jha, IndiaFM

Your year was filled with celeb interviews and shooting ads.
I'd agree with that. In 2007, I directed no films. But did many ads including the latest Alfred Dunhill. I'm the ambassador for their clothes lines. Then there was ICI paint where I shot with Kareena and Brew, the coffee, which I've just tied up. And Timond watches.

Wow that's quite a lot of you being visible.
I am sure somewhere ads enhance your brand value. People look at you for things other than your core profession. You just have to balance it out and make sure you don't burn yourself out. I'm cutting down on my chat-show activity in 2008. However, I will continue to do live chat shows. I'm now the official interviewer for ‘Dubai Lifestyle’ where I interviewed Maria Sharapova recently. My journey from a director to a member of the media has been interesting. I like to be interviewed as much as I like to interview. Who knows, I could be the next newsreader?

You started the cult of celebrity directors in Bollywood.
I apologize for that. It started with me walking into people's homes with my chat show ‘Koffee With Karan’. Everything else was an offshoot of that. Now, I've a parallel existence besides a filmmaker, as a talk-show host. Everything else followed.

Has Koffee With Karan enhanced you as a filmmaker?
To even pretend that I've grown as a filmmaker because of ‘Koffee With Karan’ would be stupid. I've always been a people's person .I love talking to people. And it's great fun when you're paid for your hobby.

And now you are an integral part of a new entertainment channel
Yes, ‘NDTV Imagine’ takes off in January 2008. I'll be physically part of just one show ‘Say Shava Shava’ Otherwise the creative head Samir Nair is a very capable man. I'll be there whenever he wants me to step in.

Does the channel get the stars through you?
Why just me? There're lots of credible people, Prannoy Roy and his team, Samir Nair and his team. And then there's me. We definitely make a multi-star cast. I think everyone associated with the channel has the clout to get the biggest names from showbiz.

Did you miss making a movie in 2007?
Of course! But I've been so much part of brain-storming, structuring and planning that I had no time to miss my true vocation. My Dharma Productions will go into action in 2008. Tarun Mansukhani, our new blue-eyed boy at Dharma with a strong sense of loyalty, is directing our next production from March to be completed in July. He’s a rock-solid support to our production house. But my biggest support is my CEO who's also my best friend, Apoorva Mehta. He handles the entire financial structuring of my company. I wouldn't know what to do without him.

Please state more details about the Mansukhani film.
This film will star Abhishek, Priyanka Chopra and John Abraham. Bobby Deol has a very special role in the film. This will be our only release in 2008. During 2009-2011 we hope to release at least three films per year. 2009 will see the release of our first animation film Coochie Coochie Hota Hai and the film that I'll direct which starts at the end of 2008 but will also release in 2009.

Do you miss a larger support system?
I've a great support system. People who've been with from my father’s (Producer Yash Johar) time. But I don't think a single day passes when I don't miss having him with me. I can never be the man, producer and leader that he was. I just wish to follow in his footsteps. For him generating goodwill was far more essential than making money. The biggest hit for him was a unit that said we want to work with you again.

2009 looks like a busy year for you.
Yes, because Siddharth Malhotra who worked with Sooraj Barjatya on Vivah and also assisted on my production Kal Ho Na Ho and Renzel D'Silva who wrote Rang De Basanti will also direct films for us.

Your favorite films of 2007?
I was bowled over by Chak De India and Om Shanti Om. It has truly been the year of Shah Rukh Khan. I also liked Anurag Basu's Life In A Metro. And I loved Mira Nair's The Namesake. I felt a strong sense of catharsis watching it. I'll always be grateful to Mira Nair. I remember hugging her tight after seeing the film.

Do you think 2007 was a rewarding year for Bollywood?
I think 2006 was a watershed year. 2007 was a decent follow-up year. There're so many exciting things happening. New actors and filmmakers are born every week. I loved Ranbir Kapoor, Sonam Kapoor, and Deepika Padukone. When I saw then I couldn't believe it was their first film. They're masters of the craft already. I think in 2001 Hrithik Roshan raised the bar for newcomers.You just have to be brilliant in your first film. Daunting, but true.

Tell me about your next directorial venture?
I'll start around August 2008. It's a project that needs careful handling. There's a lot of conjecture….is it about 9/11 terrorism. But at heart Khan—that's what I want to call it—is a love story. For the first time I'm not writing my own film. Shibani Bhatija is. She co-wrote Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna with me. It's my story but her screenplay. I'm enjoying the experience of watching the plot evolve from the outside. Every day we discuss the characters.

What prompted you to get someone else to write this film?
I just felt I might bring too much of myself to the film. I'm totally passionate and excited about directing it. But if I had written it, the tough core of the plot might've been compromised.

Your last directed film Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna (KANK) seems to have made quite an impact.
When I look back on it, I feel all my films are accompanied by too much hype and hoopla. Audiences don't know what they're going for. KANK was too close their domestic reality and too distanced from the Karan Johar style. I can say with assurance it's exceptionally brave to make a 50-crore film like this. Even today, the maximum e-mails and smses come to me on KANK are from strangers. I get tons of letters on my website about how the movie has affected their lives. I did make mistakes in KANK. It's over-opulent and too lengthy. I made commercial compromises. But the emotional core connected. And when people said they couldn't STAND it they meant they were reacting to the characters.

So which film of yours are you the proudest of?
By far Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna. It has made the maximum impact. Being Karan Johar is both an advantage and a disadvantage. That very brand name comes in the way of people expecting something different from me. But I love the work I do, love the industry I live in. I feel privileged to be in Indian cinema. Where else can you laugh sing cry, dance, and still be at work.

What about marriage for you?
Of course, I hate walking into an empty bedroom at night. There're large lonely moments. Fortunately, I've the best relationship possible with my mother. That makes up for every relationship I don't have. She is my best friend and a reason to look forward to the next day. Of course, I'd love to be in a relationship. But it has to be the one I completely believe in. I am 35 and I am not here for frivolous fun. My mom doesn't badger me about a Bahu. I live so many lives as a filmmaker that I forget my own emptiness. Too busy creating so many lives on screen to create a relationship for myself.

The best thing and the worst that happened to you in 2007?
I've always said I wasn't a businessman at heart. In 2007, I realized I have to make Dharma Productions a banner to contend with. 2007 was the year of personal ambitions for me. Worst thing? Nothing. Even my little skirmishes with Ram Gopal Varma and Anurag Kashyap made me happy.

What do you mean?
My life is my work. I'm happy when I've a problem with someone. It's a diversion. I'm so busy being affable, amiable accessible. Every year I like to have one person bad-mouthing me. It entertains me. When I patched up with Anurag within seconds I was so disappointed. Can you please find someone to say mean evil and mean things to say about me in 2008?

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