In a conversation with Anupama Chopra, Karan Johar spoke about turning fifty, his aim to direct more frequently and the popularity of South films. Johar, whose next as a director is Rocky Aur Rani ki Prem Kahaani, also had something to say about stardom.
There's been a lot of hand-wringing in recent months about the rise of the South and everything that's wrong with Bollywood. My hypothesis is that Bollywood is suffering because everyone is presenting themselves as brands with paid PR and outrageous salaries rather than presenting themselves as artists. Do you agree with this hypothesis?
I partially agree. I think they're victims of everything we should be running away from like paid PR. I think we're also victims of herd mentality. I feel that filmmakers from the South know what they want and they're not seeking acceptance or validation from others. They have conviction that just isn't present in our cinema where everyone just hops on whatever trend is popular.
This includes myself too. When I saw movies like Lagaan getting nominated at the Oscars, I also tried to win awards with My Name is Khan but eventually I realised that I was neither here nor there with my films, so I went back to making the films I was passionate about. All the other problems that you mention are peripheral, the real problem remains in this lack of conviction.
How will this conviction come?
It has to come, otherwise we're screwed. We need to empower writers and take our focus back to making the films we love rather than worrying about appealing to those audiences who we know we can't appeal to. As a director you need to know what your strength is and make films accordingly. Rather than being a buffet, one should focus on being a bonafide a la carte. We have to go back to good-old-fashioned conviction – that's all I tell both filmmakers and actors. When I meet someone like S.S. Rajamouli or Prashant Neel, I can tell that they just know what they're doing. Part of the problem is also that we're not given any leeway. A film like KGF is celebrated but if Bollywood made it we would be lynched.
You and Aditya Chopra were key architects of the SRK phenomenon. You, more than most filmmakers, have had a front row seat to the evolution of stardom in Hindi Cinema. How has stardom changed?
There is no stardom. There may be popularity but there is no stardom.
What's the difference?
There is a big difference. This generation has wonderful artists but they don't have that magic, magnetism or mystery to them. The head-turning aura of someone like Amitabh Bachchan or Shah Rukh Khan was real stardom and real glory. Today's generation is way more easily available. I mean I can swipe on Instagram and find out what gym you go to, what you eat even who you meet so how can there be any mystery to attached to you?
Is that era over?
I don't think there's ever going to be stardom like that anymore. I'm not saying that's a good thing or a bad thing, I'm just saying it no longer exists in this world of social media where everyone is accessible. Stardom will never be what it used to be. When I meet someone like Rekha ji, it almost feels like time stops, but when I meet an actress of this generation I don't feel the same way, even though I love them and think they're some of the most talented actors we have ever had.