This was the scene in my newsroom yesterday: A letter saying, My Name Is Khan is all about loving Karan Johar.' Then another letter read - 'We want to read interviews of Karan Johar, Shah Rukh Khan and Kajol.' A few similar letters for interview request started to pour in. My editor gets panicky. He sends across an email for me to interview Karan, SRK and Kajol because he needs to give an answer to our readers.
Like Karan Johar states in this exclusive interview post the release of MNIK, "Our audiences like to leave the cinema hall with a little bit of hope in their heart rather than a question in their mind." So we decided to give the same hope to our readers. A few text messages and I get a call from Karan Johar. The rest is very much readable below. What's not however, is the overseas box office collections, especially in the UK, which are phenomenal. Getting tickets has become a major worry in London's Vue cinemas and some of the privately owned cinema houses in Harrow and Southall. But the moment you get your hope in form of a ticket, you start to question -
What's there in MNIK that other films lack? Will MNIK beat K3G, Karan's highest grossing film in the UK? Is MNIK working because of SRK and Kajol? Answers to which only one man can give - Karan Johar himself. We spoke to the director who changed the way Indian cinema was perceived in the West with Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, who changed the figures (for the best) at the box office in the West with Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham, who changed the way people looked at relationships with Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna and who is changing all the above with his just released My Name Is Khan. Here he talks exclusively on the stupendous success of MNIK in London, why Kurbaan failed and MNIK didn't, the sudden awakening amongst the Indians all over the globe after the political issue surrounding the film, his take on why MNIK isn't about demographics and answers the question which the whole wide world is waiting for - Was MNIK the best marketing stunt ever in the history of Indian cinema?
Has My Name is Khan changed the way people look at cinema right now?
I think it is a big departure in terms of its tonality and its verbal texture. MNIK is an unusual Bollywood film, if at all, and doesn't have that quintessential pre-requisite elements that any Bollywood film has. It's telling a story with a strong message, professing humanity and goodness and putting it out on a big cinematic scale. So all put together it is definitely a different experience for main stream India. Has it changed the way people look at cinema, it's going to be presumptuous of me to say. But all I can say is that MNIK is going to open windows and doors to many people who have stories to tell and are shy to put their story on the celluloid.
It is really amazing to see the power of cinema with two sort-of-similar genres coming out of the same banner with two big stars of Bollywood, with Kurbaan not working and MNIK creating tidal waves across the globe.
You're right. I'd say that Kurbaan didn't have 'hope', whereas MNIK had 'hope'. Kurbaan was more darker, grittier and a grey look at a situation, whereas MNIK is a hopeful, far more positive and a lot more positivity in its finishing reels with a triumph to the human spirit. Having said that, Kurbaan was very cinematic and interesting in its approach but it didn't offer a solution. Rather it just tells the problem. MNIK offers you that solution. But we have to give it to both the films as both films were applauded for their own reasons. I liked Kurbaan and was very happy to produce it. At the end of the day, our audiences like to leave the cinema hall with a little bit of hope in their heart rather than a question in their mind.
Do you think people have woken up to a certain extent after what the Shiv Sena tried to do and did pre-release?
Yes, definitely. With what happened pre-release, and of course the content of the film, there is a certain synergy. MNIK is definitely talking about coming together. It is speaking about unity and humanity, and I think those are the forgotten forces in our life. When you are pushed against the wall and you emerge from it is also what the film addresses. It speaks about racial differences, generalisation, etc. to all the things that we go through daily in our life. The film is very identifiable to many, especially to the people in the United Kingdom and The United States of America. And with what's going around in Australia today, you know that the racial problems are becoming a global threat. Subjugation is really something that happens on a day to day level with people. So I think that in some way or the other, people have connected to the film. Rizwan Khan brings about a lot of hope and positivity to the film to which people have woken up to, I feel.
Hats off to you to really understand the overseas market. Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham is your highest grossing film in the UK. And with a whirlpool effect, people are getting sucked in to watch MNIK. The K3G days might just be over I guess.
MNIK is my sensibility. This is the kind of film Karan Johar makes. I did not want to target any particular audience here. My audiences have been people living anywhere in the world. I don't make a difference to an Indian living in London or an Indian living in Bihar or New Delhi. It's just the geography which sets them apart but the feelings are all the same. So whether there are extreme reactions within my country, that always happens because any film comes with extreme reactions. But I have this strong feeling that even in India, MNIK is giving that respect what we are seeing today in the overseas. Our second week might just get stronger. In the West, its growth is phenomenal. Humanity cannot have any kind of demographics. These extreme reactions to MNIK are brought about by slightly vintage and old thinking trade pundits who actually have no clue about today's audiences. I think they are still stuck in time. They think that a great cinema is all about a few laugh-a-minute jokes and a few item numbers. Today, we've come such a long way, thanks to our audiences. We give them a lot less credit than they actually deserve.
So what's today's cinema all about? Undying passion of making films and telling different stories or mere box office collections and openings?
I really think that it's a combination of everything. To get a thumbs up from the audiences for films like Taare Zameen Par and Chak De India, it definitely had to be commercially successful to resonate louder. I think that perception comes not necessarily from the box office because the most thinking audiences of our country definitely gives a perception, and I feel that's what leads to longevity. Some films need not be getting main stream and commercial recognition but leave a strong mark for decades to come. And I think Indian cinema has finally reached a point where you can have a buffet of entertainment - you can have the mainstream entertainer that makes you money, you can have the thinking cinema that builds a repute and you can have a small niche film that can create its own little space.
There have been two drastic reactions on the networking sites - Facebook and Twitter, firstly that MNIK worked because of the coming together of the lead pair, and that's it.
I don't think any lead actors can save a bad film. Eventually, the film has to emerge for the lead star cast to emerge. Having said that, Shah Rukh's character really gave the reason why this film is connecting to the audiences. I don't think that a hit pair coming together is the only reason for it to kind of work commercially.
Secondly, many assume: What a lovely marketing stunt it was to promote MNIK.
That's an absolutely brain dead, cynical and an ignorant statement to make. I don't think, neither Shah Rukh nor me would ever have wanted something like this to happen. It was something that happened and I don't want to comment on. We've kind of moved ahead in time with it but to call MNIK a publicity gimmick is careless, insensitive and ignorant. Forget me; it is disrespectful to an icon like SRK who does not need to resort to a publicity stunt to get an opening weekend. Twenty years of working in the industry has earned SRK the fact that he doesn't need any marketing gimmick to get a great opening.