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Karan Johar Talk Asia Interview

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Mumbai, India (CNN) -- BLOCK A

A: Hello, my name is Anjali Rao in Mumbai as part of our special Eye on India week. With me today is the country's hottest young director and TV personality, Karan Johar. This is Talk Asia.

Flamboyance and extravagance: hallmarks of the blockbuster director's movies. Born into Bollywood royalty as the son of a celebrated producer, Johar entered the industry as an actor. But, soon, he moved into directing, making his debut at the age of 26. He's since carved out a niche in colorful and highly successful films, which always star hot rod Shah Rukh Khan, beginning with the lucky letter "K." After a four-year break, he returned to directing last year with the controversial KANK, a film which dealt with marital infidelity and marked a departure from his lighter plots. He remains one of India's most recognizable faces on television with his chat show, Koffee with Karan, which sees him gossip with film friends.

The cinema is India's most popular outdoor activity, and we meet at one of Mumbai's high-profile theaters. A film is being shot as we arrive, with some famous faces milling around. Karan, arrives on his own.

Karan it's great to have you in this edition of Talk Asia. Now, you've directed three blockbusters, your TV show has just come back for its second season and basically million of people are fixated to whatever your turn your hand to. What do you make of the level of influence that you have in this country?

K: I don't know what to make of it really because I don't know how to react to it anymore. It all started off many, many years ago and I never really anticipated, or predicted, or expected any of this euphoria attached to my cinema, or then my TV show. The TV show was primarily a hobby, you know, I thought, I love to talk to people all over the place and I said, Why not get paid for it? As a filmmaker, the only thing you really want is to connect with people emotionally, at times, professionally, at times, socially, and I think that's what our cinema does, it impacts your personal life, which is fantastic on many levels.

A: You have previously been called the king of mush, but your most recent movie Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna, thankfully, its known as KANK, so you'll never have to hear my terrible Hindi again, it deals with a touchy subject, which is marital infidelity. What appealed to you about that topic?

K: Life, I mean it's all around me, people may be in denial of what's happening around us especially in urban India - I think it's just everyone's personal experiences, my personal observations about that experience, about their marriages and their lives, and I just felt infidelity was rampant and it almost was like it was surrounding me at every level, and I just felt like this story needed to be told. And, I was not trying to promote or endorse infidelity, because you can't promote something that's already sold out...I was just trying to kind of tell you that to get married, think about it and marry for the right reasons. I'm all for women who make their lives here, make their careers, are financially independent and then can choose their soul mate, their life partner and not marry or venture into marriage because of various other factors. And that's all I was trying to say, because my protagonists Shahrukh and Rani, the two lead actors of the film, made their own choices for wrong reasons. They didn't marry out of love, and I'm not saying love doesn't fail, of course it does eventually...

A: The fact that they ended up together, they cheated on their spouses, then they ended up back together, so people say that you're glamorizing it.

K: I don't think they would be happy, because if you see the end of the film, there is an inherent sadness even in their getting together. I believe that they, Dev and Maya, the two protagonists, will walk out of that station, get together, and lead fairly miserable lives.

A: Interesting though, that for audiences here, there was quite an outcry amongst them.

K: Yes, it was a Pandora's box that opened up.

A: Which is strange, because you know if you deal with a subject like that in the West no one would even bat an eyelid, so why is it still such a big deal here in India, in the year 2007?

K: Because we don't cheat on our wives and tell the world about it. I mean you know it's not something that happens in terms of infidelity is just running right through our urban society or any society. But it's never addressed to even the person who is doing it. Even he or she, when they are in the process of it, love to lie even to themselves.

A: Despite the serious nature of the subject, the characters still, sporadically and spontaneously, burst into song and dance routines. It happens all the time in Indian movies, but a lot of people overseas just don't get that!

K: Well I don't get that anymore myself and I want to be honest about it

A: If you've got a cracking script, what do you need that for?

K: Well, you know the thing is that song and dance has been such a tremendous part of our lives in films for many years. And I am a product of Indian cinema; I've grown up watching Indian films ever since I can remember. And song and dance is part of our lives, it's part of our culture we wake up to songs, we sleep to lullabies, you know, we celebrate every religious and traditional function with music. So, it's so a part of our lives and therefore cinema is a reflection of our social existence...

K: I do now believe that when I shot a few of those songs, I myself, and I like to be very honest about this, felt very uncomfortable about my own self, 'cause I felt the people were so real, the situation was so today that these songs and dances seemed unreal to even me.

K: On various levels I felt I was almost cheating my narrative by including these songs. I felt lip synch is something that was a bit bothersome on many levels, so I feel today, if I had to make a film that was so real and talking about such a real subject, I may not have a lip-synching situation song where they are singing, because you and I, if we are going though a bad marriage or succumbing to infidelity, we wouldn't suddenly start singing at a party. You know, we wouldn't do that. So that's something I would like to avoid in the future. But, I had to go through the process, it's called the process of growing up; you make your mistakes, you realize them, then you combat it in the next and make new ones.

A: Picture this: it's the opening night of one of your new movies, you walk into the cinema, everything's quiet and dark, just like this, and the audience is waiting to see exactly what it is that you've been up to for the past few months. What is going through your mind?

K: Fear, anxiety, stress, and then, suicide: in that order. It's the worst possible experience to watch a film with the audience. When they laugh, you're wondering whether they're laughing for the right reasons, or they're laughing at your film. Or when they cry, you're hope they're not crying because they want to run right out of there. It's actually the most nerve-wracking feeling and emotion ever is to watch a film with an audience (gestures to rows of empty cinema seats) especially when it's only this full.

A: We always hear how Bollywood types saying how, in the unlikely event that they actually make it to the cinema, it's still a magical event for them like when used to go when they were children and seeing just incredible things just happening up there on the screen. Is it like that for you?

K: It's wonderful on one level, to watch your work right up there. On one level, if once your film's a big success and there's nothing like watching a film with an audience. But, it's the first couple of days to sit with them... But as a child, as a cinemagoer, I think there is nothing better than being in a cinema or watching a film. I think it's just a while magical...it almost feels like you're at a big party in India, where you're singing, you're dancing, you're laughing, you're crying, you feel like you're at a wedding because our films invariably cover all emotions. You know, all in three hours, and you go through that emotion within a group of people. So, you cheer, you laugh, you tap your feet to a song, you click your fingers, your cry, in a moment of emotion, and you just feel like you've lived a lifetime in those three hours and, on that level, it's exhilarating. But, as a filmmaker, on day one, you don't want to go there!

A: Coming up, the crunch issues affecting India's youth. Karan weighs in.

K: I'm not saying that people can scream from the rooftops if they're gay. I don't think they can do that today. But, yes, it's far more open...

BLOCK B

A: Give us a bit of an idea, Karan, what your work day involve?

K: Well, I can't say that I'm an early riser....Although I'd love to have said that, though I'm not. I wake up at about 9, 9:30, I'm in my office at about 11...I'm exceptionally email un-savvy, so to reply to my emails is like a torture. It's like literally, half of all my emails; I get my secretary to type out for me. And the personal ones, I avoid, and just pick up the phone and call them. So, going through that process takes care of the morning. And then, I invariably I have meetings, there are script meetings, there are young writers and directors that you interact with on a day-to-day basis because I have a production house that I'd like to expand, so you meet people through the day. So about 6:30 about three or four times a week, I try and accommodate some kind of physical fitness.

A: And what about when you're doing a production, when you're on location?

K: When I'm making a film, I'm obsessive about what I do and I get totally into it. That's all I'm eating, breathing living at that moment.

A: Do you have a temper?

K: Not really. I can get, for the lack of a better word, bitchy. With a sense of humor that only I get. If someone comes late I look at them and say, "Did you have a lot of traffic?" I'll give the excuse before they do. And, then I laugh. No one really is ever scared of me on the set and that's something that I have to work on...

A: You are also the son of somebody who is very influential in the same industry, the late producer, Yash Johar. Is it true, that as a little boy, you really were not interested in the movie industry in the slightest? You used to tell everybody that your Dad was a businessman.

K: Yes that's very true. When I was in school it wasn't considered "cool" to be part of the movies then. I was in school in the '80s and, you know, the '80s was really the worst part of Indian cinema. My father also had an export business, we were middle-agent exporters, garment exporters, so I chose to write on all my forms, whenever they asked, the "profession of your father," we asked that question in schools, I wrote "businessman," I always did. Until, one day, in 1987 a huge banner, a huge holding came up, which was one of my father's awful films, so I went back to school and everyone passes by that holding, that poster, to get to school, so they said "Eh? Isn't that your father?" And I said, "Oh no my father is a businessman. That's somebody else." Secretly I adored even the terrible '80s. I love everything about Indian cinema. I've grown up watching the films and we used to lie that we liked the spice girls or that we liked Wham, or that we liked Michael Jackson or Madonna ... but I would hear the legendary Lata Mangeshwar at home or the late, Asha Bhosle's music, or all the Indian music, so I was a liar, I was just a total liar. I always loved Indian cinema. I was running away from it till I went to college, and then life turned around for me because, eventually, I think films were my calling.

A: Bollywood is largely dynastic. You've got obviously the Bachchans, the Roshans, the Dutts, various Khans. Is it fair then to call it nepotistic?

K: Well, you could on some levels, yes, you could say that. I would say that also everything is changing within the passing year. We are in the process of tremendous change. The last five years have been almost overwhelming in terms of the changes that have been taking place. Right now we are in a multiplex, if you look around you this didn't exist five years ago: we were in cramped single screen theaters, they were crowded, they were stuffy, they were just not good to look at, and the film atmosphere wasn't very comfortable. Today look around you, (camera pans around cinema) though we're in a rather subtle color red lounge, but it's definitely a wonderful space. So, everything is evolving. This is one of the various changes that have taken place. There is what you can say, a "film family dictatorship," but beyond that, there is also scope for people from outside of the world who are penetrating faster and faster into the industry. They are the ones who are bringing in the new thought processes and they're the ones who are changing the thought.

A: I just want to get some of your thoughts on some of the issues which are pressing at the moment to Indian's young people. We're also looking at them during our Eye on India week. So, first, if I can just ask you about religion and youth...Do you think that young people care about it as much as they once did? Is it as important to people here these days?

K: I feel that the younger generation today is even more into religion, and I think into the factors that determine the youth of the country much more than the generation before us. I don't know, for some reason I feel everyone is far more passionate about holding onto their roots today than they were earlier.

K: I think there is a certain urban population, urban youth, that maybe a little indifferent to religion and tradition. Even now, when you go to a temple you go to places of worship, when you go to mosques, and when you go to churches, you find that 50 or 60 percent of the inflow there are youngsters because, I think, it's all about family in our country. Our mindsets are eventually trained by our parents and our grandparents, and that aspect, I am glad to say, hasn't changed even today.

A: What about youth and sexuality? Do you think that alternative lifestyles are now more acceptable in India now?

K: Well, I'm not saying people can scream from the rooftops if they are gay. I don't think they can do that today. Yes, it's far more open, there are spaces that now exist where there are spaces, now, for the gay people, and there are people who have come out, and people are very comfortable around them. Ten years ago it was a little tougher, ten years later, as in today, it's much easier. A decade later, it will be even easier. Yes, if you walk out on the road and say, "I'm a homosexual," it's going to create a certain euphoria. It going to be written about...In the urban world it's much easier. Of course if you penetrate further into the heart of country, it gets tougher. But, having said that, if you go to America, New York or Los Angeles, it would always be more accepting than say, Kansas...

A: Coming up, we turn the tables on the chat-show king.

BLOCK C

A: You might recognize that person behind you (pan to old man waving at Karan). Not him (laughs)

K: Oh, yeah, not him...Hello. Ah yes, I do. Oh dear, I never thought it was me, standing right there behind me (Anjali laughing). That was a good cut, while I speak about myself, I'm right there. Now, what do I do? That's the shadow, that's really him.

A: Isn't that a bit freaky, though? When you've been behind the scenes for all those years directing, producing and writing, suddenly you're on billboards.

K: Yeah it is, I must admit it really feels really funny to see you up there. I'm sure movie stars felt that years ago when they launched films. If you're kind of looking presentable, it's OK, and luckily today, with all kinds of technology, they can make you look much better than you are. So, it's fantastic. Way to go Photoshop.

A: Koffee with Karan. It's been going for two years now, what's harder, small screen or silver screen?

K: Definitely the silver screen. Small screen is just a hobby I told you, it's an extension of me, myself, I'm doing nothing. I just sit on a sofa, very much like you...

A: Are you saying that I don't work hard?

K: Well, I'm sure you do, but I think we work harder when we have to make an entire film! But, I don't work hard at all when I'm doing that. But, you might be working a lot harder because you don't know me. People I call on my show are people I know, people I've grown up with. As I said, we're an incestuous film family fraternity, so we all know each other; we're at each other's homes almost every day, we're on the phone almost every other day, so for me to call on friends and chat with them is really something I would do in any case, so it's really not that difficult. It only gets challenging when I call on people that I don't know very well, and that's when you have to do your research and then you have to get your act together, be careful of what you're saying. Then you are walking a thin line: Are you offending? Are you not offending? On those shows, I find myself looking a bit stressed out.

A: One of the most entertaining things that you do on the show, is right at the end when you do your rapid fire round.

K: Well, it's always the feared segment of the show; everyone gets really worried about it. Because, winning that coffee hamper at the end of the rapid fire is a big deal suddenly. You want to win it and for that you are compelled to be witty and clever and say things that might get you into trouble.

A: Well, speaking of said coffee hamper...(brings out coffee hamper)

K: Oh god, it's heavy...

A: What is in this thing? No one ever opens it on-air. I want to know what's in it.

K: Well, go ahead, open it. I haven't seen it myself actually in a long time. (They go through coffee hamper)

K: Shall I help you? Should we just tear it apart?

A: What on Earth are all these things?

K: Well, you know, much of it about nothing. They're going to kill me because actually they worked really hard to put the hamper together. These are, I think, cookies.

A: Headphones. Obviously stolen from an aircraft.

K: Oh yes, I think I stole those. This is called ILove. It's actually a DVD...Y stuff. It's meant to be really expensive. Oh, what's that? (pick up another item in hamper). Oh, OK, this is chocolate peanut butter sauce. All very good for your waistline.

A: Yes, absolutely. (laughs) (shows mug) The famous "Koffee with Karan" mug.

K: Yes, that's the famous "Koffee with Karan" mug. Oh look, there's cheese!

A: Well, I'm glad this has been sitting out in the Indian heat.

K: Yes, so it's not very edible. Alright, so that's the coffee hamper.

A: Well, I can see why it's so coveted.

K: And, this is plastic (crunches up plastic hamper wrapping).

A: Are you ready for your rapid-fire round?

K: Well, yes, I always am.

A: Fabulous here we go then.

A: Bollywood or Hollywood?

K: Bollywood. And I hate the term.

A: Presenting or directing?

K: Directing. Presenting is a hobby. Others play tennis or listen to music, I host a talk show. But yes, making movies is my passion.

A: Paparazzi or privacy?

K: Paparazzi. Love them, love them. Who wants privacy? I mean, I love being photographed, I love being out there; I love facing cameras and why deny it?

A: If you had to be reborn as any animal what would it be?

K: A cat. (a cat?) Because I like to be catty. I like to purr.

A: Arranged marriage or love match?

K: Neither. (Singledom?) Totally. (Forever?) Forever and ever and ever. (No kids?) You can adopt them; there are always kids you can adopt.

A: Top five ideal dinner-party guests? Dead or Alive...

K: Well, I'll have to call my mother because she might get offended, so she'll be on my party list. And I'll call, Shahrukh and his wife, Gauri, and the Bachchan family, and that will take care of the rest of it.

A: If you could only have one food for the rest of your life?

K: I'm hysterical about my waist, so I'll just eat salad all my life.

A: Salad for the rest of your life?

K: Yes, totally, I'd rather eat salad for the rest of my life. I'd rather die thin, than die fat.

A: If weight wasn't an issue...

K: If weight wasn't an issue, then what would I eat? Tons of cake, I know I just love all kinds of cake.

A: Well, Karan, I can safely say that you have won today's rapid-fire round.

K: Thank you. Do you say that I get this hamper, or do you get to take it home?

A: Yes, you do get this beautifully presented hamper...

K: Yes, it's looking a little shattered right now, so I think that I'm going to give it to you.

A: You're going to give it to me?

K: Yes, it's going to be your hamper for life!

A: I'm so honored! (pause) Karan, what a fantastic way to end the show... Thank you so much for your time today.

K: Not at all. Absolute pleasure.

A: I'm Anjali Rao in Mumbai, for this edition of Talk Asia, I'll see you soon.


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