'I feel validated': Karan Johar on Rocky Aur Rani Ki Prem Kahani's success

As Rocky Aur Rani Ki Prem Kahani becomes one of the major hits of Karan Johar's career as a film director, he shares his journey, long break from directing movies and future prospects

Rocky aur Rani ki prem kahani poster (Photo Courtesy: IMDb)
Rocky aur Rani ki prem kahani poster (Photo Courtesy: IMDb)

Subhash K Jha

Subhash K Jha: Have you seen how the audience reacts to Tota Roy Choudhury and Ranveer Singh's dancing to 'Dola re dola'?

Karan Johar: I have! Just like in the song 'Tum kya mile' I pay homage to my favourite filmmaker Yash Chopra. In 'Dhindora baje re' and 'Dola re dola' the entire set is a homage to Sanjay Leela Bhansali. Someone asked me if I got inspired by Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s aesthetics. My response was, ‘No. I copied it.’ Inspiration is a mild word. I copied it because I am huge fan of his artistry.

SKJ: So you consciously leaned towards the aesthetics of Bhansali?

KJ: When I was creating that Durga Puja set it was only normal that I lean on the genius of Sanjay Leela Bhansali. So there is a homage to two of my favourite filmmkers in this film: Yash Chopra and Sanjay Bhansali. Also, a lot of the family values are derived from my growing up on Sooraj Barjatya’s cinema.

SKJ: The use of old Hindi songs in Rocky Aur Rani Ki Prem Kahani is amazing?

KJ: My mother trained me to love Hindi film music .At the age of 6 when my friends were listening to Wham and Madonna, I was listening to Lataji, Ashaji, Rafi Saab and Kishore Kumar. I remember Lataji’s 'Lag ja gale' and 'Tujhse naraaz nahin' were the songs that touched me deeply at the age of 9-10. As a child, I felt different from others. My work is always looking back to the time I was growing up with deep impressions of Hindi cinema and music.

SKJ: You have used vintage songs so effectively in the movie especially  'Abhi na jao chhod kar', why?

KJ: There is no song more romantic than 'Abhi na jao'. I used some of my favourite songs like 'Ek pyar ka nagma hai'. 'Suno Suno Miss Chatterjee' was my writer Ishita Moitra’s find. She came to me one day and said we have to use it. I hadn’t even heard this song. What is gratifying is that young generation is now looking for 'Abhi na jao' online. That is my biggest victory. Even if a tiny population goes back to the golden era of film music, I feel I have succeeded.

SKJ: Is Rocky Aur Rani Ki Prem Kahani your most personal film?

KJ: I’d say it’s personal on many levels. It is personal for my love of Indian cinema. It is a homage not only to the  filmmakers I respect, but also to the music I grew up listening to. And also some personal feelings that have seeped into the characters, especially that of Alia Bhatt’s father played by Tota Roy Choudhury. Like him, I used to dance with abandon. And my father clapped along. But when I danced in front of my friends, some of them giggled and laughed.

SKJ: How did that make you feel?

KJ: It made me feel I was less of a man. My father would make me dance in front of his friends. I would dance to 'Dafli wale'. And none of his friends found it unusual. It was only when I stepped into the outside world that I got the sniggers and the laughs, people pointing at me for my body language.

SKJ: How does it feel to be back in the theatres and that too with a film everybody loves?

KJ: Firstly, I never realised there was such a long gap, and that I wasted so much energy on things other than making movies. Of course, there were some practical issues: I was earlier supposed to make Takht before Rocky Aur Rani. That was two-and-a-half years of preparation gone to waste. Then there were two years of the pandemic. So technically I am just three years late. But even then that is three years too many.

SKJ: You missed the process of directing a film?

KJ: Like hell! I realised I was investing my energy in other activities and not in what I love doing the most. When I look at my filmography I feel  this cannot be my seventh film in 25 years. It’s not a great record to have for any filmmaker. I should have made many more films. I feel I should direct much more.

SKJ: So is that a post-Rocky & Rani resolution?

KJ:  Yes, good-bad, hit-flop is secondary. I just need to make more movies now. If you are a filmmaker, you need to put out a film much more often. A filmmaker needs to tell stories and create new worlds. I feel I haven’t done enough of that. I realised what I had missed out on when I released Rocky Aur Rani on 28 July this year. The last time I released a film directed by me  was Ae Dil Hai Mushkil on 28 October 2016. I realised this was just plainly ridiculous.

SKJ: It wasn’t as if you were sitting idle?

KJ: No, I wasn’t being lazy. I was busy strengthening my company and a lot of other activities, some of which I now feel I should have been curtailed. Of course, I enjoyed whatever I was doing.  But now the focus has to be on making films.

SKJ: Perhaps you were spending too much time grooming and nurturing new talent?

KJ: Let me make it very clear that I really enjoy the process of nurturing new talent. But now I’ve  come to realise that one of my happiest place to be is the film set, interacting with my team while making film. Of course  my happiest place is my mom and kids. But after that, it’s the film set. There is no bigger and better joy than creating a film on a set. I feel when I’m behind the monitor watching the execution of my written material, that joy is irreplaceable.

SKJ: What next? A sequel To Rocky and Rani?

KJ: Someone asked me where do Rocky and Rani land up eventually? Will they stay at Randhawa House or at the Chatterjee house? If I know them well, then I’d say they would move out to be on their own. If you ask me, why tease a story that has no bumps on the highway? Who knows I may take wrong turn I may land in a ditch.

SKJ: Any closing thoughts?

KJ: I am writing two films as we speak. Something very different from Rocky Aur Rani… Phir se woh kiya toh kya kiya? You never know I might decide to announce another film in a few months. But I do know I’m back on the set next year.

SKJ: No  seven year break this time?

KJ: No, the seven-year itch is done with. Now I want to be in a committed relationship.

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