The trailers are out for Karan Johar's new production Dostana (directed by Tarun Mansukhani, starring Abhishek Bachchan, John Abraham, Priyanka Chopra and releasing in November 2008). The teaser suggests that most of the romance and frolic in the sunshine of Florida takes place between the two male leads, Abhishek Bachchan and John Abraham.
Is Dostana a gay romance?
No, John and Abhishek play two straight guys who pretend to be gay. As the trailers say, it's a tiny lie that they tell because of certain circumstances.
Is it an updated version of the 1980s buddy film with the same name?
It has absolutely nothing in common with that film (which my father made) except the name. Oh, and both films have two actors with a sexy girl between them.
So you would be surprised to hear that the original Dostana that starred Amitabh Bachchan and Shatrughan Sinha is also occasionally read as a film with gay subtext.
I wonder what my father would think of that. But you know in India we find it slightly embarrassing to watch male bonding. (Laughs)
You started a trend of self-referencing in Bollywood with Kal Ho Na Ho. And in these trailers you seem to be making fun of your older films.
Oh yes, Tarun and his team had a lot of fun making these trailers. In Bollywood we have a new romcom coming out every month. These trailers have you thinking, "Oh God, another film that says it's an eternal love story" and then you plummet straight into this mad plot.
In Kal Ho Na Ho, you had a gay subplot. In this film the fake gay relationship is the main thread of the story. Do you think you will ever make a film that is actually about a gay couple?
I learnt something from making Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna. I learnt that it's possible to make a Rs 70 crore film about infidelity with stars as big as Shahrukh Khan. And people accepted it. So I will push the boundaries with each of my films. People judged me far too quickly. They decided that I would make only mushy films but I will break new ground every year. We have to leave behind the tone of the films we made in the 80s and the 90s. But is India ready for a big, serious film like Brokeback Mountain yet? I would say it won't go down too well yet. But we will open the doors for other filmmakers in the future.
Communities who have made major contributions to cinema have been oddly subject to terrible stereotyping on screen. Like Muslims and Anglo-Indians in Bollywood. Do you think the industry is homophobic?
I don't think people confident in their own skills would be homophobic. If you are educated and have been brought up in an urban milieu it's quite ridiculous if you are homophobic. It either means you are insecure or you have never read a book. Or that you are in denial of your own orientation. Homophobia speaks volumes about who you are. That's as far as the industry is concerned. As filmmakers I think we have a great responsibility to be sensitive to the feelings of all communities. We Asians are an emotionally volatile and dramatic lot. Tarun and his team have made a film that is fun but does not poke fun. It is not callous and does not hurt the dignity of gay people in any way. It may shock a small part of the population, but I think most people would enjoy it.
What do you feel about being a gay icon?
It's very flattering to be an icon to any community. I have been asked many times about my own orientation but I will never discuss my personal life. People can look at me or look down at me, I don't care. What I do and where I do it and who I do it with is nobody's business but mine.