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December 9, 1998


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'All the women I meet keep telling me how much they cried in the film! That's what made it a hit, I guess.'

           Karan Johar
He is the hottest property in showbiz right now. The star of 1998. Karan Johar, 26, the maker of the year's biggest hit film, Kuch Kuch Hota Hai which is racing ahead to emerge as possibly the all-time biggest hit of Bollywood. What went into the making of this superhit film and what is its shy, soft spoken maker now planning to do? Pritish Nandy spoke to him last week.

Were you living with Kuch Kuch Hota Hai for a long time?

It existed in various versions in my mind. I first wrote a story, which was a love triangle between a tomboy, a very pretty looking girl and a slightly insensitive boy but I was not very satisfied with it. So I kept it aside. Then I thought of another plot about a widower and his child. Again, I was not very happy with that and so I kept it aside. Then I started work on a third idea but simply could not get things in place.

A still from Kuch Kuch Hota Hai
Click for bigger pic!
Suddenly it struck me: Why not blend the two stories and try and see if that would work? So that's what I did. I wove the two stories together and made it one. It was about the trauma of a widower and his little child. How the child really wants a mother and how she brings her mother into her father's life. Then I thought: Why not bring an youth aspect to the story? Why not a flashback? That's how the story got made.

But, frankly I was not even thinking of making a film. Till Aditya Chopra told me: Don't be silly, you must make this film. It is a lovely story. It will work. I was worried about the child aspect, whether Shah Rukh would be accepted as a father. But that seems to have worked in my favour. People have loved him in a different kind of role.

Did you have a detailed script in place? The film has a well thought-out narrative structure which seems to give the impression that you had everything planned out well in advance.

I write scenes that I think might work. I have my beginning, my interval point, my end in place and loads of scenes in between. Then I try to put them together. That is the difficult part.

How many days did you take to shoot it?

About ten months. I had my dates for Shah Rukh and Kajol a year and a half in advance. We started on October 21 1997, bang on time and the day I started I said that it would come out on October 17,1998. Diwali is a good time to release a film. I calculated it would take me nine months to make the film, start to finish. It actually took me nine and a half.

I had seen Shah Rukh as an obsessed lover in Darr and Baazigar and was keen to see him differently. I got an idea when I saw this English film, Jack and Sara. It was about this widower whose wife had died leaving him with this child. That's when I was sure that I wanted to see Shah Rukh like that. As a father.

Curiously, that was the time his wife got pregnant. That somehow entered his performance. He suddenly became aware of little children. More than he ever was. That was a charming coincidence. It helped in many ways. The film got the right feel.

What do you think made the film such a runaway success?

           Karan Johar
The story more than anything else. That was the unusual thing about it. Most of our films, as you know, do not have stories. They just have sequences and songs and dances and tons of emotions coming at you. Kuch Kuch Hota Hai was a story. That was what made a difference. You could narrate it to someone. That worked. Of course, the songs, the entertainment, the emotions also worked. But the story was the main thing.

All the women I meet keep telling me how much they cried in the film! I guess that is what made it such a hit. The fact that everyone loves to cry and that is what I gave them: The perfect opportunity to cry. It's like the Titanic. People loved the way it ended. They came out of the hall with tears streaming down their eyes.

What's the next film you are working on?

I have an idea that I am still trying to write down. It is a film about generations but I am still trying to figure it out. I started work on it about two weeks ago. It is a love story but going down generations.

I loved a film Yash Chopra made in the seventies called Kabhi Kabhi. What appealed to me was the fact that the love story stretched out across generations. It began with youth and went on as the people grew older. You could say that Kabhi Kabhi is the starting point for my new film, that I am inspired by it. But the film, I am sure, will be very different. It will look different, feel different.

Have you finalised the cast?

A still from Kuch Kuch Hota Hai
Click for bigger pic!
No, not as yet. All I know is that it will be very different from Kuch Kuch Hota Hai also. It will not be a boy, girl love story. I have worked on two of them in a row -- Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge in which I assisted Adi, and this. Now I want to take a break from that kind of story, that kind of film. But, at the same time, I do not think my school of film-making will change. The basic look. The glamour aspect. The feel. The music. I love all that and it is unlikely that can change so quickly.

If you were to remake KKHH, would there be parts which you would now change, parts which you think do not look right?

Yes, very many. For instance, I feel the summer camp portion was better on paper than the way I shot it. Then there was a scene I did not shoot, between Shah Rukh and Kajol, a scene where Kajol breaks down before Shah Rukh. Now I wish I had shot it. It would have worked very well. From Kajol's character point, certainly. In the summer camp sections in the second half I did not justify the screenplay. I could have done a much better job. Even one or two songs could have been better…

Better visualised on screen?

Yes and better music as well. If I were to make the film again, I would record them very differently. Many other subtle changes would crop in I guess but, by and large, I guess it is OK.

It does not embarrass you when you see it now after release?

Well, I was horrified when I first saw it. But the more I see it, the more I like it. I just get a little hysterical about details, logic, and all that. But, you are right, the first time I saw it, I could I have shrieked! Is this what I had set out to do? I would have been better off doing my exports.


My family was very keen that I did not enter the films business. It was so unstable, so difficult that my dad felt I should, instead, work in the family export business. That is how I came to this office and started doing exports. I was also convinced that this was the right thing to do with my life. Till Adi came along and asked me to assist him. Somewhere deep down I wanted to make films but somehow I had convinced myself that I was going to do exports. I wanted to stay away from films.

Did you involve yourself in your father's last project, also starring Shah Rukh? I am talking about Duplicate. Were you creatively associated with it?

I had nothing to do with it. In fact, I deliberately and consciously stayed away from it. The film was completed only because of the commitment of one man: Shah Rukh Khan. Everything else was wrong with it. This is not the way to make a film and I am sad that my father had to go through with the pain and the despaire of making such a film in which the director had no interest beyond the purely cursory.

But why? Why did Mahesh Bhatt not apply himself fully to the film?

A still from Kuch Kuch Hota Hai
Click for bigger pic!
I do not know. My father did what he always does. He gave him freedom and all the resources in the world. But he is not a responsible director. He was careless and took virtually no interest in the making of the film. If it was not for Shah Rukh and the way he took charge of the film, it would never have been completed. These are some of the sorrows of the film industry. Duplicate should have never been made. It is not a film I would have been proud being associated with.

On the other hand, you have great film-makers as well. Like Raj Kapoor, Guru Dutt, Yash Chopra. I have admired them, watched their films over and over again, tried to learn from them. They were the great masters of showbiz. They knew what they wanted. They knew how to tell a story simply, powerfully, beautifully.

They are all film-makers who focussed on the idea of love. Love as the leitmotif of life. Do you believe in that? Do you believe that everything in this world starts and ends with love?

When you watch their films, you have no option but to believe in that. That is why I am such a great admirer of their films. For me, these are the true classics of Indian cinema.

Not Satyajit Ray?

I grew up with commercial cinema. I understand its language. Yes, I have tried very hard to enjoy and experience the magic of Pather Panchali, but I am still moved more by, say, Raj Kapoor. It is, I guess, my cinematic upbringing.

'I'm a little scared'

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