Karan Johar speaks to Subhash K Jha on Kal Ho Naa Ho.
Heís confident, but not cool. Right now Karan Johar, with two of the biggest hits in the history of mainstream Hindi cinema, is a little anxious about the impending release of his new production Kal Ho Naa Ho.
The music is already on the way to becoming a rage. A sneak peek at the film reveals a truly quality-conscious state-of-the-art entertainer. So whatís cooking, Karan? In a bantering babble-fest the magical movie lets his hair down.
As the day approaches how do you feel about Kal Ho Naa Ho?
I firmly believe the audience is the only arbitrator of a filmís quality. What we, the filmís cast and crew think, hardly matters. But yes, weíre happy with the product weíve made. But whatís important is that weíve made the film we set out to make. Itís being released in some places on 27th others on 28th. I wish I could fast-forward time and reach Friday so I can see the film with audience. I think Kal Ho Naa Ho conveys very universal emotions. These would touch every kind of audience from the mutiplex theatres to the single theatres to the overseas audiences. When I held the first screening for my cast crew and their family, everyone unanimously loved it. I was thrilled by the response. All those who loved Kuch Kuch Hota Hai and Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham will in no way think of Kal Ho Naa Ho as a comedown. It definitely adds to my repertoire. At the same time itís different because of my director Nikhil Advani. Kuch Kuch and K3G were mine. Kal Ho Naa Ho is his.
Whyís the film called Kal Ho Naa Ho and not Aaj Ho Naa Ho.
Itís called what itís called. Itís about smiling and being happy today because no one has seen tomorrow. Thatís what I believe. Live for today because you never know whatís in store tomorrow.
Gosh, youíre such a philosopher!
Iím a poet and you didnít even know it. Actually Iím a philosopher too, though this aspect of my personality doesnít come across in my everyday conversations.
Why does everyone think Kal Ho Naa Ho is directed by you?
Search me. People say a lot of things. Kuch to log kahenge logon ka kaam hai kehna. Some people said Aditya Chopra directed my Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, and that Yashji directed Adityaís Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge and that Adi directed Yashjiís Dil To Pagal Hai. Since I wrote Kal Ho Naa Ho, a lot of me is in the film. But I havenít directed it. Nikhil Advani has. He was the first-assistant-director on my two films Kuch Kuch Hota Hai and K3G as well as Aditya Chopraís Mohabbetein. And he has visualized the film according to his own sensitivities. But I repeat, Kal Ho Naa Ho definitely has a lot of me in it.
So who collects the best-director award?
Nikhil, of course. But Iíll slap him if he collects my best screenplay award (laughs). Thatís mine, Baby! Seriously, I had no energy to make another film right after K3G. My company canít wait for me to re-charge my batteries. K3G was too large and exhausting to shoot. It was even more so during release. When Kuch Kuch Hota Hai released I was this fat 95-kilo brat who was pampered by the audience and critics. When K3G came along I had lost 25 kgs but gained a lot of responsibility on my shoulders. I felt far more isolated during K3G, though I canít explain why. The much-criticized opulence was required in K3G. I wanted the magic and magnitude of Raj Kapoor, the family values of Sooraj Barjatya and the elegance of Yash Chopra. I loved Yashjiís Kabhi Kabhie and wanted to make a film with six big stars staring down from the posters. It was a childhood dream. K3G was the film I wanted to make first. Since it was too large I made it second. I saw the film as a celebration of mainstream Indian cinema. Some people got it, others didnít. But if you see the father-son scenes they are straight out of Sooraj-jiís cinema.
I hope youíre sending him a part of the profits.
No , all I can send him are lots of thank yous for inspiring me at various phases of my career.
Have the insecurities multiplied with Kal Ho Naa Ho?
For a filmmaker every film is a responsibility. With each film heís adding to his responsibilities. Every morning I wake up feeling it will all go away. But let me tell you, at no stage during the making of Kuch Kuch or K3G did I feel burdened with responsibilities. I made what I wanted to. I make the films I want to...Kal Ho Naa Ho has a different energy from my films.
Why did you shoot it entirely in New York?
Because itís set entirely in NY, so where should Iíve shot it, in Lonavla? We tried to pass of Toronto as NY thinking itĎd be more economical. But it didnít work out. New York was an economically draining experience. Kal Ho Naa Ho turned out to be really expensive. The entire cast was in NY, and we were shooting for 52 days, in the heart of Manhattan. We shot with an American crew and we couldnít ask them for a concession just because weíre a third-world country. It was really huge! Fortunately Iím very happy with the end-result. Very rarely does the written word translate so well to screen. Itís got a lot to do with the way the actors spoke their lines.
Would you say Shah Rukh Khan is an indispensable part of your cinema?
Iíd say heís an indispensable part of my life. I need him as an actor and a humanbeing. I need his brotherly presence very seriously. He and his wife bring a lot of happiness in me and my parentsí lives. Filmy as it may sound, nazar na lage. I donít have my own children. But when I look at Shah Rukhís kids I feel paternal. Itís something special that I donít feel for other children.
Shah Rukh in Kal Ho Naa Ho reminds me of Devdas and Anand.
Not at all. Iím not stupid enough to mess around with the classics. Shah Rukh played a decent guy in Kuch Kuch Hota Hai and K3G. He does so here as well. But his personality is different in this film. Heís very rude to everyone. As for Saif Ali Khan he doesnít know his own potential. Throughout he looked up to Shah Rukh, and that translated into an amazing chemistry on screen.
Preity Zinta was you second choice, wasnít she?
Yes Kareena Kapoor was the first choice. She was part of our production house during K3G. My director Nikhil Advani thought Kareena would be an ideal choice, I agreed. But we had remunerative differences. I rang up Preity. She was vastly happy with what she heard. Destiny is as much part of cinema as itís in real life. I remember I had gone with a begging bowl to so many heroines to play Rani Mukherjeeís part in Kuch Kuch Hota Hai. Likewise Preity was destined to do Kal Ho... It was wonderful to work with her. SheĎs excited about her work and transmits that excitement to everyone on the sets. Sheís worked very hard and is very good. I feel very warmly towards her. I had told Kareena weíd work together again some other time, and we might.
Kareena and you have settled your differences?
Well, when my father was unwell in New York Kareena, her sister and mom called and spoke to us. Weíve met at social occasions and the differences are now part of the past. During a conversation at a friendís place I told her exactly what I felt about her behaviour. I had to say what I did. Kareena heard me out very patiently. Iím glad we sorted out our differences. She has been a friend and always will remain so. Our families have known one another for many years.
Finally what will you make next?
Iím going through a phase where every morning I wake up with a new idea. I think until Kal Ho Naa Ho is out I wonít be able to decide what I want to do. Iíve various images in my head. But I donít know how theyíll finally come together.
Kal Ho Naa Ho and Janasheen are coming together?
Theyíre two very different films, just like Kuch Kuch and Bade Miyan Chote Miyan which were both released on the Diwali Friday and they both worked. I hope the same would happen with Janasheen and our film. Mr Feroz Khan is a cult moviemaker. Who can forget Dharmatma and Qurbani?
Which one would you want to see first?
Janasheen because Iíve already seen Kal Ho Naa Ho, ha ha.
But if you hadnít seen either?
Well then Iíd want to see Kal Ho Naa Ho first because it has Shah Rukh in it.
Do you think Kal Ho Naa Ho will revive the overseas market?
It all depends on the product. Baghban proves the overseas market is hale and hearty. Out there they donít like Indian thrillers or action films. A certain feelgood approach works everywhere. I hope Kal Ho Naa Ho is a success, not so much for myself but my dad (Yash Johar).