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Growing up with Karan Johar

A look at how the filmmaker's directorial career has matured.

Sonal Pandya

With his directorial debut Kuch Kuch Hota Hai (1998), Karan Johar became heir apparent to Aditya Chopra. It was a natural progression for the young filmmaker who had assisted Chopra on his blockbuster hit Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge (1995). But unlike his filmmaking mentor and friend, Karan Johar, also known to fans as KJo, has moved beyond the traditional love-story genre to explore newer avenues.

While Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham... (2001) was a routine family drama heightened by the now omnipresent Dharma Productions message of parental love, Johar's next few ventures inched towards breaking new boundaries. Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna (2006) comprised a star cast of Shah Rukh Khan, Rani Mukerji, Preity Zinta, Abhishek Bachchan and Amitabh Bachchan against a backdrop of marital discord and infidelity. Its two married leads, Maya and Dev, played by Khan and Mukerji, were shown falling in love and later walking out on their respective partners, played by Zinta and Abhishek Bachchan.

For many, the film was divisive. The supporting characters ended up getting more sympathy than the leads and Maya and Dev's new-found love was rejected on screen. It was Johar's lowest-grossing film in India, but it did substantial business overseas, remaining on the list of top-grossing Hindi films overseas until about two years ago.

Johar did not direct another film for four years. Instead he produced entertainers of different genres like Dostana (2007), Wake Up Sid (2009) and Kurbaan (2009).

Shah Rukh Khan and Kajol in a still from My Name Is Khan

Johar returned to direction with My Name Is Khan (2010), his first film that he did not write himself. Screenwriter Shibani Bathija brought timely elements of terrorism and racism to his story of love between a man with Asperger's syndrome and a single mother in America. Once again, he cast his favourite on-screen pair of Kajol and Shah Rukh Khan, who were also present in his first film.

Rediff's film critic Raja Sen called My Name Is Khan "[Karan Johar's] first grown-up film" and it was largely true. Johar was evolving both as a producer and a director.

Though, as Johar puts it, he makes 'over-the-top escapist fare', his stories have increasingly had just a touch of realism in them. And with Student Of The Year (2012), he proved he wasn't averse to taking risks. It was the first film he was directing without Shah Rukh Khan, without a big star, and without a title beginning with K.

Student Of The Year went on to become one of nine super-hits released in the latter half of 2012 and launched three newcomers who have gone on to enjoy successful careers themselves. In fact, Ek Main Aur Ekk Tu (2012), also produced by Karan Johar, ended up with a finale entirely opposite to the happily-ever-afters banners like Dharma and Yash Raj Films are known for.

In 2013, along with filmmakers Anurag Kashyap, Dibakar Banerjee and Zoya Akhtar, Karan Johar directed a short film, Ajeeb Dastaan Hai Yeh, as part of an anthology made as a tribute to Indian cinema. The short film featured Rani Mukerji, Randeep Hooda and Saqib Saleem in a tale of keeping up appearances in a marriage. However, this time Hooda's character Dev comes across a truth he has been suppressing for a long time.

If My Name Is Khan was Karan Johar's first grown-up film, Ajeeb Dastaan Hai Yeh proved that he was finally beginning to enjoy the critical acclaim his contemporaries Kashyap, Banerjee and Akhtar had long enjoyed.

Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, Ranbir Kapoor, Anushka Sharma and Fawad Khan are all part of Ae Dil Hai Mushkil

At first glance, Karan Johar's upcoming feature film, Ae Dil Hai Mushkil, appears to be a throwback to his early productions with a cast comprising Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, Ranbir Kapoor and Anushka Sharma, with a special appearance by Kapoor And Sons (2016) breakout star Fawad Khan.

However, by choosing his Bombay Velvet (2015) co-stars in an unusual love story, Johar is once again gambling with the status quo. Besides, by going up against Ajay Devgn's action adventure film Shivaay on Diwali, he is putting himself out on a limb with a screenplay that he finished writing in around a month.

Will this unconventional love triangle work? We shall find out this October.