I know a lot of us are reading this (and if you aren’t reading it, you should! It’s great). So I wanted to put up a couple of posts for us to discuss the details. And, if for some reason you don’t have the time or access to read it yourself, I thought I should try to put up some interesting details for you to learn. And since it is how I always think of things, I have tied them to Karan’s different films. (part 1 here)
In part 1, I got all the way up to the moment when Karan took over Dharma and the first film he produced (Kaal) barely made a profit, and only that thanks to a last minute addition of a couple songs.
Koffee With Karan: Karan has some really interesting thoughts on this. Generally, it was his idea, he wanted the feel of a session in his living room, he always wanted to invite two people on at once to help with the conversation, and he always wanted the games and hamper to loosen them up. He also talks about how you can see the progress of him being more and more comfortable in his own skin as the seasons go on.
But what I found most interesting is his discussion of what he is trying to get his guests to do. He says that he doesn’t touch any topic which isn’t already “out there”, rumored in the media and so on. Nothing private. But he will keep pushing, and they will forget they are on TV and just talk like they are in his living room about whatever he brings up. Which is what he wants. Not selfishly or to create scandal, but because he thinks it is the best thing for their careers.
Karan has a really interesting discussion of how he thinks people can’t relate and can’t love stars if they don’t feel a sincere connection with them. How if you look at the three Khans, in interviews they always open up, they tell real personal stories, they are truly intelligent not just “clever”, we get a real sense of them. That today’s stars with this obsession with privacy, with their light weight interviews full of smart responses but no content, they will never be able to build the kind of connection to the audience as the stars who aren’t afraid to show their real self and tell the real truth. And that’s what he is trying to do with Koffee, to keep pushing until they finally slip and say something real.
Kabhi Alveda Na Kehna: For his next film, Karan was back at the helm, and he knew exactly what he wanted to make. A movie that looks at infidelity. Which everyone told him would be a flop, but went along with anyway because they loved him.
Oh, and also, I WAS RIGHT!!!!! AGAIN!!!! I AM A QUEEN PSYCHIC GENIUS ANALYST!!!!! I always said that the big problem with KANK is that Shahrukh is too angry, and Karan agreed with me! And also that the film changes tones too much.
Karan says this is the one movie he may make over again some day. Change the characters a little, and film it like more of a character drama, not a “Karan Johar” film. Because as it is, it is this strange mixture of real emotional character scenes and big dance numbers. I hope he does, not just because I’ve always thought Shahrukh came off as more angry and abusive than anything else, but because I am really fascinated with his ideas for how he would change the Rani character.
(If he does remake it, I have he keeps the theme of carrots making Shahrukh unutterably sad, as you can see at 3:10 here)
Back when this movie first came out, I wasn’t able to see it in theaters. So I just got reports second hand from my desi friends. And I remember my roommate in particular reported that “Shahrukh and Priety were always going to get a divorce, but there really wasn’t anything wrong with Rani and Abhishek’s marriage.” That was the impression I got from all my desi friends, and then years later I finally saw the movie and went “What the heck! Rani’s marriage is terrible, they don’t have any sex!” That was Karan’s point, that a marriage can fall apart just because someone isn’t attracted to the other party. But the Indian audience wasn’t ready to admit that was even a factor in a marriage, “Abhishek is so nice, he treats her so well, why is she complaining?” Karan’s initial idea, which I think would have worked much better, was to cast an older woman as the wife, Kajol or someone of her generation. So that it would be clear that the point was she saw her husband as a little boy, and therefore just couldn’t be attracted to him. I would love to see that done over again now with the kind of cast he wanted! Say, Kareena and Arjun. Heck, Anil could play the Amitabh role!
But what I also found fascinating was that everyone kind of didn’t trust the script while they were filming. Especially Shahrukh, he kept saying “do we have to have sex? Can’t we just get the room and then change our minds?” No one thought the story would work and no one was comfortable with it. But they still did it, because it was Karan and they loved him.
Dostana: You would think, after KANK was so out there and didn’t do well, that Karan would have made a safe bet. But instead he decided to go with Dostana, something very unsafe. And this time he really did let someone else direct and take his vision forward. Although he specifies that it was his idea to have John in the skimpy shorts and little things like that.
Karan talked about how what he got out of the Kaal experience was an understanding of marketing and a lesson in trusting his instincts. And it paid off with Dostana, that he knew what he needed to do to make the film commercially viable. Oh, also, again, I RULE ALL!!!!! HAHAHAHAHA! I wrote a paper back in 2010, and then revised and revised it and finally got it published, saying that Kal Ho Na Ho and Dostana were all part of a escalating idea of normalizing queerness. He acknowledges that here, saying again how proud he is of bringing the culture into the mainstream through his films, and how he may get some guff from critics and “social thinkers”, but he has young man coming up to him all the time saying “Thank you, you made a movie about my life, and my parents saw it.”
Kurbaan: He has nothing really to say about this one, beyond the general idea that Dharma was expanding and they were experimenting with making multiple films. Really, the fact that he doesn’t have much to say about it is the most telling thing, that Dharma had grown enough, and that he trusted his co-workers enough, that he could be hands off on a film.
Wake Up Sid: Now, this is an interesting one mostly because it is his first collaboration with Ayan Mukherjee. Who is his first mentee outside of his old friends. Nikhil Advani and Taran Mansukhani, he knew from back in DDLJ days, they were with him since then, in fact they were more familiar with film and film sets when starting out than Karan was. It was natural for him to trust them. But Ayan was a complete stranger who he took under his wing and nurtured his talent.
(And he was right to do that, because Wake Up Sid was brilliant)
My Name is Khan: Almost no stories about this! Just says that he wanted to make a film that would shut up the critics and get him awards, and he did. And that he thinks if he were to remake it, he would cut about 15 minutes from the film and maybe remove the hurricane sequence, because he didn’t know what he was doing there. And also, that Kajol’s scenes after the “bad thing” happens were so painful, the film kind of never recovers from it. Which is true, oh my gosh she rips your heart out in those moments!
What he very carefully avoids talking about is the controversy around the film and the aftermath and how that affected everything. It isn’t mentioned at all, and nor is the particular topic of the film, just that he wanted to make something “serious” and then he got a lot of awards.
I Hate Luv Storys: No real stories about this one, he trusted the director and liked him and knew it would be a hit when he saw the previews.
We Are Family: No stories at all, not even mentioned I don’t think. Huh. Possibly because of the Kajol feud?
Agneepath: He just points out that when people say “typical Dharma picture”, they forget he made this one too. Oh, and speaking of Agneepath, at another point in the book he talks about the difference between box office and “footfalls”. Which, YES!!! This is my big obsession, especially with Indian film versus American. If you look at how many tickets were sold and how many people saw the film, allowing for the vast difference in ticket prices between various locations, many many more people turn out for Indian films than for American. They are just poorer people. Anyway, with the two Agneepath’s, Karan talks about how his father’s film was a “failure”, but it had many many more “footfalls” than the new film. Only in the multiplex era, suddenly you could have a hit with just a small number of tickets sold, whereas in the past you had to make a movie that a lot of people actually wanted to see.
Ek Main Aur Ekk Tu: Nothing to say here. Except that, again, Karan mentions in passing he knew it would be a minor hit and nothing more. That he can always tell how a film will do when he sees the rough cut and so is never disappointed.
Student of the Year: Lots to say here! First, he talks about how the idea of the film was to make something for the kids. The parents loved Kuch Kuch Hota Hai and the Dharma brand. But he needed something to take them forward, to bring in the younger generation. And so he made a movie just for the kids.
He also talks about how this was sort of the beginning of the “coolness” with Shahrukh. How he had foolishly promised years earlier that he would never make a film without Shahrukh. And he never really talked it over with him when he decided to make a film with newcomers instead. That Shahrukh was hurt and he didn’t realize it.
When he talks about the “coolness” period, it is all in terms of what he did wrong, how he hurt Shahrukh. In general, that seems to be the way he talks about his relationship ups and downs. It is always his fault. And it feels sincere to me, I can’t find anything even reading between the lines that he thinks is wrong with Shahrukh or Adi or anyone else in his life.
And I really can’t find anything he thinks is wrong with Siddharth and Alia and Varun! Before we get to this section, he had occasionally casually mentioned “my three kids”. As in, “I am represented by Reshma Shetty, and I sent my three kids to her agency as well”. It was a bit confusing as to who these kids are, but in this section he finally started using “my three kids” interchangeably with Varun, Siddharth, and Alia and I figured it out. They really are his children, that’s how he sees it. And he explains the start of it a little here, that he had Sidharth and Varun already assisting on his film sets during My Name is Khan, and then Alia came in as a chubby little 17 year old and was so happy and so confident, he knew she would be a star.
(Karan with his “three kids”)
But with his casual mentions and stories about them, you can see that he sees them through the eyes of love, like a parent or an uncle. It’s interesting, Karan always seems to relate to people as above him or below him, hardly ever as equals. At least the super close relationships that he discusses in the book (as I mentioned in the last section, it feels like he avoids talking about people outside of his inner circle mostly as a matter of not feeling like he has the “right” to talk about them in a published book). Shahrukh and Adi can never do anything wrong, they have that right over him, the fault is always on his side. And Siddharth and Alia and Varun can never do anything wrong either, because they are his children and perfect.
Oh, and he also mentions that Rishi gave all this angry statements about him after the Sonam-Deepika Koffee episode, how he would never work with Dharma again. And then right after that Rishi did Agneepath and Student of the Year!
Bombay Talkies: I’ve always thought this must have been his most honest and personal film. He doesn’t say that here, but he does say it only took him 6 days to make the whole thing start to finish. He got the idea, scribbled out the script, found a cast, and shot it. I would think that it was so easy for him because, for once, he was just saying exactly what he wanted to say.
Oh, and there’s also a cute story about one of his PAs coming up to him saying “sir, you want 3 costume changes for the beggar girl? Only in a Karan Johar film would a beggar have 3 costume changes!” So he did have to make a couple adjustments for this “real” cinema.
Gippi: No comment at all.
Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani: No real comment, beyond general discussion of Ayan. And of Ayan and Ranbir. He talks about how Ayan and Ranbir right now are in the same space that he was with Shahrukh back when they were starting out. And he is warning Ayan to be careful, to be aware that once they are no longer working together, he may not have that same closeness. It just natural goes away if you are no longer spending all your time together.
When he talks about his closeness with Shahrukh, he makes it clear that the family is always there. He talks to Gauri every day, he sees the kids almost every day, that is always going to be true, they are his family. But the difference he seems to make is when he was creating with Shahrukh. It’s not just “working together”, like, “we can have lunch together in the office!” It’s more sort of the intoxication of creation, the bond of making something together, that went away somehow and it took some magic with it.
I don’t know, maybe he is hiding some deeper reason behind their distance. But Karan is kind of selling me on the idea that two artistic people can have a crazy bond when they are creating together, and that it can go away for no better reason than that they have moved on to create with someone else. And, to bring it back to YJHD, I can believe that this is his fear for Ayan, that he sees the same intoxication of creation between Ayan and Ranbir, how they are joined at the hip right now, and he is trying to warn his little mentee Ayan that this might not last, that he should appreciate it while he has it but prepare himself to lose it.
Gori Tere Pyar Main: He says he knew this would flop, knew it as soon as he saw the rough cut. And so the actual failure of the release wasn’t bad for him. I think this is also when he talks about how even during this low point in his relationship with Shahrukh, Shahrukh still called him as soon as the figures came out, to sympathize. Or maybe it was Adi? The point is, they were worried about him, because they knew that the failure of a film isn’t just a financial issue, it’s an emotional one.
All of the industry stories kind of have this undertone. That these aren’t businessman out to look at the bottomline. These are artists, they pour their heart and soul into their work. They can’t just move on from a failure or a mistake. And their bonds are built not on business deals and contracts, but on meetings of the mind and spirit.
Hasee To Phasee: Nothing
2 States: Nothing
Humpty Sharma Ki Dulhania: Another time that Karan took on a mentee, and trusted his gut. Shashank’s script landed on his desk somehow, it was written by this guy straight out of Whistling Woods, and the title kind of made Karan pick it up. And then he knew right away that this was a special script and he had to make it.
I guess what is interesting in this is kind of the meta thing, Humpty Sharma isn’t the biggest hit. It did very well, much better than expected, but why does it get this whole section, and 2 States isn’t mentioned? Because Karan knew it was special, he cares about this movie, he took a personal interest in the making of it, and he remembers the moment he first read the script. It’s not a money decision, it’s an artistic decision. And it’s the same reasons, I’m guessing, that he decided to take it forward as a franchise. He knows there is something special in this idea and with this director.
Oh, he also talks about songs a little here! He loves the lyrical melodic songs. But he knows you need something with rap, which he doesn’t understand at all, in order to sell a movie these days. So he put in “Saturday” just to make the film run.
(This is the song he liked)
But he also talks about how he always has a commercial angle to the songs, he will give the composer the hookline, “It’s the Time to Disco” or “Where’s the Party Tonight?” and then work with them to bring it forward. Again, like with his discussion of the DDLJ script, this could sound like he is taking credit he shouldn’t, credit away from the composer and lyricist. But it matches with what I have heard from other sources (including Rishi’s bio, which I also just finished). The directors have a lot of input on the music sittings, at least the big name directors for the big films. They sit in, they discuss, the songs are built as part of the film.
Ungli: Another one that he mentions as something he knew would flop as soon as he saw the rough cut and was prepared for it.
Brothers: He uses this as an interesting example of what the real Dharma “brand” is, and his comfort place in films. He can make a film in any genre, fighter film like this, action film like Agneepath, so long as it is ultimately about the emotions and the relationships. That’s why he wanted to make Brothers, because the relationships in Warrior are what spoke to him.
Shaandaar: Not mentioned
Kapoor & Sons: Not mentioned (unless I am forgetting something)
Baar Baar Dekho: Another one that he knew would flop as soon as he saw the rough cut. And this one, I believe! I mean, I believe the others as well, but this is the one where I actually have facts to back it up. I was watching the Baar Baar release strategy, and I know when Karan realized he had a dog on his hand. It’s when he decided to release the “Kaale Chasme” song first, before the first trailer. And kept holding the trailer for a long time. And then even the Dream Team tour was a desperate attempt to try to build interest. Anyway, since I can see in the marketing scramble that Karan really did know they had to work to make this film play, I will believe that Karan knew that same thing about the other movies.
Ae Dil Hai Mushkil: He talks a lot about the idea for this film, but it is mostly stuff he already said in interviews. He has had 2-3 unrequited love affairs in his life. They were deep and all encompassing and he found a strange sort of fulfillment in them. He wanted to make a movie about that, about how unrequited love can be a strength as well as a pain.
He does give a few more details in this section. How, to some degree, his love was reciprocated. He was told “you are my family, you are my everything, I love you, I just don’t want to have sex with you.” And then they got married and went away from him despite what they said, and it broke his heart. By the way, the most fascinating part of this section is how he avoids gender! “Someone”, “the one I loved”, “a person”.
Oh, and he talks about Shahrukh here (not in the context of one of the people he loved, in fact he is very clear that he sees Shahrukh as a big brother, or even as a father, and Shahrukh sees him as a little brother or child. He could never think of Shahrukh this way, because it would be disgusting). But he talks about how wonderful it was the one day he shot Shahrukh’s appearance. How he knew he wanted Shahrukh to say these lines, the main theme of the film. And he called him up and Shahrukh said “yes, of course, whenever, I am there”, because that is their relationship. And how as soon as they were working together on set it all came together.
Dear Zindagi: Only comes up right at the end, just as a mention that he and Shahrukh are working together again on a co-production.
And that’s it! Everything I can remember that Karan says about or related to his films! He says a bunch of other stuff too, but I can’t remember it all. Feel free to bring it up in the comments, or use my discussion as a jumping off point, or whatever else you want! Oh, and if you couldn’t get a copy of the book, feel free to ask me about specific points. I can’t remember it all off the top of my head, but if you ask me, I will be able to remember it probably.