Just a minute with Karan Johar

'Khan' director talks about love and Bollywood's bad year

MUMBAI -- In many ways, Karan Johar epitomizes Bollywood. His films have everything the world's largest film industry is known for -- lavish song-and-dance sequences, melodrama and large doses of tradition.

But the 37-year-old is moving away from his comfort zone with his latest offering "My Name is Khan," a sweeping saga that deals with issues like race and prejudice.

Johar spoke to Reuters about "My Name is Khan," why love is missing from films these days and wooing the diaspora audience.

Q: This film is unlike any you have directed. Do you have any apprehensions about audience reactions?

A: "Well, as a director all you can do is go by your own instincts. A lot of people may tell you a lot of things, but if I listen to all of them, all I will get is a 'khichdi.' I feel that I have made what I wanted to make, but I cannot predict audience reactions for any film of mine, let alone this one.

"I can only hope that it has met with everyone's expectations. But one thing I can say -- if you see the film in isolation, you won't say that I have made it. It is unlike any of my earlier work. That is one thing I am really proud of -- that I broke my own mold."

Q: Love has been a constant theme in your films. Is it the same in "My Name is Khan"?

A: "Yes, very much. Shah Rukh plays a man with Asperger's Syndrome who undertakes a journey, only for the sake of love. These days, there is so much happening in our world that there are no great love stories left. Nobody does that much for love. If love isn't working out there is always an option -- divorce is around the corner. But a man like Rizwan Khan thinks nothing of making that kind of journey for love. That is why we felt that the character in the film had to be different, perhaps medically."

Q: How has the notion of love changed since the time of "Kuch Kuch Hota Hai"?

A: "You know there was an innocence in that love, but if you notice, which was the last pure love story that was made? The country that only made love stories has stopped making them. See, in every year the biggest film will be one that isn't a love story.

"The biggest hit of this year is '3 Idiots,' and last year it was 'Ghajini.' Whereas in the 90s the hits were films like 'Kuch Kuch Hota Hai.' The decade has lost love, and that has happened because love is not in people's thoughts any more.

"The intense romantic love has been cluttered by too many things that surround you. Now if you make a love story, people call it mushy. Too much communication has killed romance. You know everything about other person, so where's the romance?"

Q: Does that disappoint you?

A: "Love has changed. Love just has a different interpretation. It is the order of the day. It doesn't disappoint, because you just have to roll with the changes. Even today if you make a love story, it has to be slightly more contemporary. Love is something that you have to address in a way that is today. Today I cannot make a 'Kuch Kuch Hota Hai.' When I see it on TV, I cringe and I wonder where these scenes came from. But they came from me only."

Q: Your film is releasing at a time when Bollywood is recovering from quite a bad year. How do you see this year panning out?

A: "2009 has been a wake-up call for the industry. For two years we have lived in a bubble where everyone started thinking that we have struck oil. But that was an artificial rise. Everyone believed there was a lot of money. Money was being thrown at actors, actors were asking for more money, technicians were going mad, and budgets were escalating. We made many mistakes in those years. 2006 was a good year, 2007 and 2008 were delusional years, 2009 was a wake-up year and 2010 will be the year that it will all settle down."

Q: There is a resonance in "My Name is Khan" about prejudices and America after 9/11. What kind of a statement does the film make?

A: "The film addresses a perception about a certain religion and that comes largely from unawareness. The film touches on the fact that the perception doesn't apply to everyone.

"You cannot generalize about anyone but the fact is that the same perception has permeated into the heartlands of our own country. So it is something to address. Shah Rukh Khan has a line in the film where he says 'My name is Khan and I am not a terrorist' and it is a very loaded line even though it is said very endearingly."

Q: You worked with a Hollywood studio on this film. How did that change the way you made the film?

A: "They had some suggestions about the film that came from an organic and creative place and we have incorporated a lot of those suggestions. Dealing with them has been great. It has been an eye-opener because there are lots of rules to follow, lots of deadlines to meet and lots of deliverables.

"The experience has been great because it comes from a great passion for cinema. They have taught us a lot. They brought a lot of discipline to the project. The fact that we had to follow rules was an impediment, but it has taught us to stay within the rules."

Q: What do you think you have taught them?

A: "That the film industry is beyond legalities and modalities in India. It is a lot of emotion that we run by that cannot be contracted and cannot have lawyers."

Q: This film is being targeted as a non-diaspora film by Fox, but you have been often accused of making films only for the Indian diaspora.

A: "Yes I know and I am tired of that tag. I don't think anyone understands the NRI audience. I make a film because I feel it will connect with some one sitting in Bihar and someone in New York."