While Karan Johar's movies are an intrinsic part of pop culture, his gutsy attitude and readiness to admit mistakes also make him one of India’s more influential filmmakers.
5 reasons Karan Johar is the brand that he is: 50th birthday special
Mumbai - 25 May 2022 23:35 IST
If prim and proper were to have a face, it could well be Karan Johar's. The producer-director is now a towering personality in Hindi cinema, but it is not just his on-point fashion stance or personal elegance or big-budget movies that make him a household name. There are a lot more layers to his personality.
As Karan Johar celebrates his 50th birthday today, we deconstruct some of the factors that have worked for him and made him such an important influence in Hindi cinema and India's pop culture.
Karan Johar's first film as director, Kuch Kuch Hota Hai (KKHH), starring Shah Rukh Khan, Kajol and Rani Mukerji, was released in 1998 and won several awards, including a National award. But that’s not the only reason why it is remembered today. Over two decades on, it continues to remain part of our conversations. Dialogues like ‘pyaar dosti hai [love is friendship]’ or ‘kuch kuch hota hai Rahul, tum nahi samjhoge [I feel something Rahul, you won't understand]’ are used as references even today. When the film was released, several parts of it, like Kajol’s short hair or Khan’s neckpiece with ‘COOL’ written on it, began to be replicated. Kuch Kuch Hota Hai certainly had a huge influence on children and teenagers of that era.
Here is what Karan Johar said in an interview on the film completing 20 years, explainiing that he had never thought it would do so well. “At that point of time, Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge (1995) (DDLJ) had come and there was this immense pressure of following up to that, with the same lead pair, exactly three years later. DDLJ released on 19 October 1995 and KKHH was scheduled to release on 16 October 1998.
"It was the same pair, same genre of a love story with music and dance and same packaging. So, there was huge expectation and pressure. I knew it was impossible to cross the magic and brilliance of DDLJ. So, I was just chasing the silver medal because DDLJ is gold and you cannot touch that.”
Even his follow-up film Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham... (2001) dived straight into people’s hearts. ‘It’s all about loving your family’ is a tagline that has gone into our culture and how. The dialogues of the film’s characters like Poo are a part of routine conversation. The film-maker perhaps did have a formula or magic wand which helped him connect with his audience's heart.
While the popular belief is that Karan Johar plays to the gallery and sticks to his quintessential glamorous genre, when you dig deeper, you will notice that he does have extremely wide vision where he looks into the larger picture. For instance, today we speak about pan-India movies, but it all began with Karan Johar’s vision to back SS Rajamouli's Baahubali (2015). That proved to be the stepping stone for many pan-India films from the South.
Ahead of Time
While Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna (2006) (KANK) is one of his not-so-popular movies, one has to admit it was among his gutsier projects. To make a film on infidelity in 2006 with that sort of ending wasn’t something we had seen a lot of. And it was quite a stark choice for someone like Karan Johar to make a film like this.
KANK was ahead of its time and may well have done better business today. Johar decided yet again to break from his image when he did something like a My Name Is Khan (2010). Even as a producer, he has backed some unique movies like We Are Family (2010) and Kapoor & Sons (2016). Recently, when Gehraiyaan (2022) was ready, despite a cast that included A-lister Deepika Padukone, Dharma Productions decided to release the film digitally since Johar was aware that the film, given its niche, 'bold' subject, may not work in theatres.
Owning the Onus
In another interview, Karan Johar spoke about the failure of Kalank (2019) and said, “I must admit that the failure of Kalank was heart-breaking and the person responsible for it is me. I was leader of the team, the oldest member of the team, and the person who should have known better. I was carried away with my own story because I wanted to make it 15 years ago. It was a story which was very close to my father and he went and researched it. I was in love with the whole saga it was and [director] Abhishek Verman had this whole palette and vision to it.
"I was so sucked into it that I lost objectivity. That’s something I feel terrible about. I could have helmed that film better. It’s completely my failure and nobody else’s and I told this to everyone that I don’t think I can ever recover from this film. I would make sure that I make it up to everyone who lost money on the film because I don’t want anyone who partners us to ever lose money. It’s something I take very personally.”
The key position the filmmaker holds in the industry benefits many people down the chain. Dharma Productions has also been involved in launching many new writers, directors and other talent.
What’s also endearing is the fact that Karan Johar does whatever he does with aplomb — be it those larger-than-life movies or his fashion statements or his television show Koffee With Karan. Only Karan Johar can make so many people from the film industry open up and speak about things that they would rather evade. He is who he is and has no qualms admitting his luxurious lifestyle or even confessing that many a time he does television for the commercial benefits while cinema remains his passion.
He can make a larger-than-life movie with all the glamour and the best of designer outfits and do it with pride and aplomb. His attitude is also why he is liked and ends up connecting with the elderly audience as well as the youth. He admits he is a lover of 1980s cinema and that’s why he largely sticks to the essence of the song-and-dance and emotional overflow and does not ape Western cinema.
It's thanks to this clarity of vision, style and boldness that Karan Johar and his Dharma Productions are top of the heap today. While they do deliver their share of duds, and he has had his share of controversies, including the infamous one about nepotism back in 2017, none of them has knocked him off his perch. Yet. Here's wishing Karan Johar a happy half century.