In a conversation with Anupama Chopra, Karan Johar looked back at his career on turning 50. Before venturing into more serious things, the filmmaker spoke about his much publicised, star-studded birthday celebration.
Edited excerpts from the video interview:
Karan, it’s always so nice to have you on Film Companion. We figure 50 years is a time to take stock, no?
It’s great to be here. I think 50 is a good time to take stock. I took some stock when I turned 40 as well. Now that I’m 50 I hope I’m older and wiser.
Like everything you do, you turning 50 also created headlines with your birthday party being straight out of The Great Gatsby. Was the lavishness simply about celebrating 50 years in the most flamboyant manner you could think of?
Karan: It was complete self importance, nothing beyond that. It was just me feeling great that I was turning 50 and feeling like everyone should take notice of that fact. Part of me was traumatised by it but part of me wanted to celebrate it as well because I’ve been in the industry now for 28 years. I just felt like I really wanted to do something special. Initially the idea was to do it somewhere else but my schedule was going crazy and I was also shooting my film at the same time.
Fortunately, Adi(Aditya Chopra) had a chat with me and asked me why didn’t I have the bash at YRF. He said that it all really began for me here and it was home. Everything fell into place. I was like, ‘My 50th has to be at Yash Raj Films’, because everything I know about the movie industry I have learnt from this studio and from Yash uncle and Adi. So there was no better place for me to celebrate my 50th.
Then people from my crew, from my production designer, Amrita, to Apoorva, the CEO of my company, became a part of it. They said that the interiors have to be a set and of course it had to be dramatic, over the top and theatrical – everything that I am about. I was so excited I cannot tell you, I was like a child at a candy store. I wanted everything to be bling, chandelier and chic. I had such a good time. I was having fun meeting people who I hadn’t seen in two-and-a-half years. I didn’t invite my mom even though I live with her because I decided that there had to be some age at which mom’s not at the party (laughs).
I can’t say I’ve wasted my time because there’s a lot that happened in between the movies… You have to remember that Dharma productions is a growing company
Your party was called a super–spreader event by certain sections of the media.
Not to get technical about it but we don’t know who contracted Covid and when they did so. There was a lot happening that week even in the movie industry. There were parties, weddings, events and shoots, so why blame me? I don’t mean to sound like a victim but I do feel marginally victimised. I have nothing to do with the pandemic and I have no connection with the origin of this pandemic. So I really don’t know why people wrote what they did.
On IMDB you have only 10 credits as a director. You’re a really prolific producer but as a director you take a long time to create. That has changed now and you have said that you want to release 7 movies before you turn 60. What has changed? Is it just a keener sense of mortality?
I think, yes. I feel like… I can’t say I’ve wasted my time because there’s a lot that happened in between the movies. If you think of the gaps it goes from 1998 to 2001 to 2006, for Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna, to 2010 for My Name is Khan, then quickly to 2012 and then again 2016 and finally 7 years later to 2023, the gaps between each film have indeed been wide. You have to remember that Dharma productions is a growing company and it’s been only 14 years in active production for us. When I lost my dad in 2004, it was just me and Apoorva trying to make sure our company grows, so I had to dedicate a lot of time and resources to produce films to the point that my actual filmmaking career took a back seat.
My primary passion is film making. That will always be true and everything else is a result of that. I decided when I turn 50 I had to make sure that I make many movies in this decade no matter how bad or ugly they may be, so that when I turn 60 I can say that I have directed at least 5-7 movies in the past decade, which is not something I can say right now. I have directed 2 movies in my 40s and that’s just not enough – not to say that the world is waiting for me or that I’m a filmmaker people wait for with a bated breath. It’s about the satisfaction I get when I’m on a film set and seeing a vision executed because I don’t get that feeling from anywhere else.
Coming back to your party, I was amazed that all these people in their stunning gowns were dancing to “Dafliwale” on the red carpet!
Of course, I loved it. “Dafliwale” goes back to my childhood, when I watched Sargam in the theatre I became obsessed with that film. I have many fond memories of doing the steps to that song in front of my father and his friends. As a matter of fact my two children memorised the steps to the song as a present to me. While they did forget all the steps, the sheer thoughtfulness of the gift moved me to tears.
The DJ’ing of my party was handled completely by Ranveer Singh. He was in charge of the music and he made sure that every movie star who came had their own song to dance to. He even went so far as to rehearse the “Dafliwale” item song. Ranveer ensured that all the songs that were played were Bollywood songs because after all that’s who I am, so I’m immensely grateful to him.
With all the big stars at your party, was there a sense of power for you?
No, not at all. Can I be honest? There was more of a sense of gratitude that I had built all these relationships.