Few men exemplify Bollywood muscle so completely as producer and director Karan Johar. To his fans, he is one of the most trusted storytellers in the industry, a byword for excellence and a patriot who is working for a closer accord between the Indian Film Industry and its audiences. To his critics, he is a propaganda tool and a peddler of the sort of high-class spectacle that prefigured Bollywood in a different limelight to the overseas audiences. Whichever camp you fall into, public opinion is on Karan's side. His career revenues make him one of the most successful producers in the world of Indian cinema. He revolutionised popular cinema by giving us Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, Kabhie Khushi Kabhi Gham and Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna.
In person, he is watchful as a wolf, witty and very intelligent. He speaks softly, with no need to emphasise or ingratiate. He is a man who is used to being listened to. Or perhaps he is just content to let his films do the talking. This correspondent wakes up for an unusual chat with K-Jo all the way from London where he is busy promoting Wake Up Sid, a big wake up call for our Indian Film Industry. So sit back with your favourite hot cuppa cofee and take a sip. It's time to wake up mate!
After being knackered since morning giving interviews, is this the right time to say 'Wake Up Karan'?
(laughs) I need to be woken up now. I think a new fresh burst of caffeine will help me this moment. I've spoken enough to last for my lifetime.
Have you ever been fingered at and labelled a lazy, unmotivated slacker?
Never really. No. I was never unmotivated and I was definitely not termed as a slacker. But I was definitely at a career crossroads. I can identify with that part to my life. I was always very motivated and very active and alive at all points of time. So yes, I was half way there. My dilemma was whether I should take the business path or the creative one.
Film like Wake Up Sid marks the return of new age cinema. Something fresh, feel good and of today's day and age. Is it time our Indian Film Industry wakes up and makes cinema like this?
I hope so. I've done a whole body of work that can be clubbed in one. Yes, I too had my wake up moment where I had to branch out and expand the base of cossets that we were coming out with at Dharma Productions, and I felt that the desire to work with new energies and new people was a new vision and spoke a new language. Wake Up Sid is a conscious decision to break the shackles of what we've done so far and what we've been doing. It's a step forward.
How supportive can you get as a person and as a producer for a debutant like Ayan Mukerji?
I'd like to say that I've been a big support to Ayan. I stayed out of his way and that's a big support in itself. The worst thing I could've done is come in his way. It was his own vision and when he wrote the screenplay, I liked it. I told him that he understood what he had penned down more than I did. I didn't want to get in his way in terms of the content and the way he wanted to film it. I told Ayan, 'Confusions never ever result in a good body of work.'
Even the soundtrack of the film is too different from what we've been hearing off late. Is every department, right from editing to sound to direction, an invention in itself?
Yes. Wake Up Sid is new because it's new for us too. Ayan is a new thought and a new visionary. He is only twenty five years old. He has a new language and that's the reason that every department is following his vision. Wake Up Sid is a big wake up call for our film industry. I hope that it eventually resonates for him to continue doing an interesting body of work ahead.
Do you sit on every bit of detailing in a film's journey or is your job only restricted to monetary gains?
I am a creative producer and that goes without saying it. I definitely sit with my directors on the screenplay, how it's been structured, their vision, the production design, etc. My input as a producer is just not monetary, it's way and above that. But it's not a hundred percent presence on a daily basis on the sets and all because that would hinder the director's progress.
To exaggerate, your films are a super duper success in the UK and the US. Will Wake Up Sid be yet another undisputed success? And will the overseas Indians identify with it in terms of characters?
If you are an Indian, you will definitely identify with the characters in Wake Up Sid. Indians anywhere on the globe haven't changed. Geography is geography at the end of the day. You may be sitting in London or Mumbai, but your parenting process doesn't undergo a change. The connectivity is certainly not the problem. As far as box office is concerned, Wake Up Sid is unusual and different from what we've ever done. Films of such nature have been path breaking and have broken records of sorts out of India. I hope the film kind of changes that a little bit where people come in to watch it only because they feel they can connect with the plot of Wake Up Sid. All this is on our wish list right now and we don't know how it'll play out.
What talks did Ronnie Screwvala have over a hot coffee with Karan?
(Laughs) Well, Ronnie and I've known each other for years. We always wanted to collaborate and finally there came an opportunity where Yash Raj Films wanted to distribute their production films only. Yash Raj is my family and a part of my DNA on a daily basis. They are really the reason why I am in this great business and I will always have that personal connect. Yash Raj Films have stopped taking outside films for distribution and thus UTV came on board. Ronnie and I have a similar kind of understanding and sensibilities in the way we think. Wake Up Sid is a very UTV profile film.
You've worked with Shahrukh Khan. Now, another breed of actors have taken over. Ranbir Kapoor, Imran Khan, etc. What changes have you seen in the two diverse generations?
Ranbir was the only choice for Wake Up Sid. Ranbir Kapoor is really the future in terms of the acting potential. He is going to go ahead and achieve heights like anything. His body language and approach is so new and yet so natural. He has this untapped emotion that is waiting to exhale. That's what Sid is about. It's been wonderful working with a new generation of actor like him. Ranbir's level of professionalism and discipline comes from his upbringing of having parents coming from the industry too. Shahrukh Khan and Ranbir Kapoor have many things in common because good actors always have something in common. They bring in them a certain amount of punctuality, confidence and sincerity. Other than that, they both are different people and have different approaches. I look forward to directing Ranbir in my film one day.
Wake Up Sid isn't a film that goes preachy, is it? I mean, it ain't one of those films that puts you in the hot seat and tells you to do the right things in life.
Not at all. Wake Up Sid has nothing that makes it preachy. It's a very simple and an honest film. It's about a man who is at a career crossroad and how he overcomes his dilemma. It's endearing, emotional and soulful.
And what about those hundreds of people who want to have coffee with Karan?
(laughs) Ah ha! Well, I am a person who loves having coffee with all the people who've been watching me and my films. So you're invited anywhere any time. Hopefully I'll be back next year on the tele too (laughs).