Karan Johar On Bollywood Gender Politics, Working With Your Critics & Reema Maya’s ‘Student Of The Year’ Series

Apr 1, 2024 2:18 pm | entertainment, News

Indian director-producer Karan Johar wrapped up the conference section of the first Cinevesture International Film Festival with a lively conversation that ranged from working with the right people and Bollywood’s shifting gender politics, to letting slip a few new projects from his Dharma Productions slate. 

Johar, who’s having a busy year as a producer with Love Storiyaan on Prime Video and Showtime on Disney+ Hotstar, started the session by talking about how he surrounds himself with people “who know all facets of cinema, not just the mainstream” – even if they’ve been outspoken critics of his work in the past. 

He used the example of indie maverick Anurag Kashyap, and producer Somen Mishra, now head of content at Dharma and its OTT division Dharmatic Entertainment, who used to slate him on the popular ‘Passion of Cinema’ blog. 

“I think I was their favourite target. But when Rensil D’Silva suggested Anurag was the perfect person to write dialogues for Kurbaan, I said sure let’s call him! How does it matter what he thinks of me? And Anurag eventually walks into my office with a lot of trepidation, wondering if a whole gang was going to assault him. But I gave him a big hug.” 

As for Mishra – the outspoken producer once told Johar that he’d slept through his 2001 Bollywood blockbuster, Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham. “But I wasn’t offended, I laughed. It’s a three hours, 32 minutes film and not an easy watch. You need the patience of the Dalai Lama to see it all the way through.” 

Johar added that Mishra deserves all the credit for Love Storiyaan, an anthology directed by six new filmmakers, among which Shazia Iqbal and Vivek Soni are now both making their feature debuts for Dharma. Another of the six, Collin D’Cunha, is working on a series, Call Me Bae, for Dharmatic and Prime Video. 

He also let it slip that Reema Maya, whose short film Nocturnal Burger played at Sundance Film Festival last year, is working on a series version of his 2012 hit Student Of The Year: “But it will be done her way, and definitely not mine. I just want it to be her voice and for her to make it her own.” 

In a conversation peppered with funny anecdotes and more honest moments, Johar also talked about how his portrayal of women has shifted throughout his career – from the traditional female roles of early blockbusters Kuch Kuch Hota Hai and Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham – to his last film as director, Rocky Aur Rani Kii Prem Kahaani, which pokes fun at both patriarchy and cancel culture. 

Kuch Kuch Hota Hai has a lot of flawed gender politics, but I didn’t know better then because I was still growing as a human being. Now we know that a man chasing a woman is not romantic, it’s stalking. And you realise over time that you just followed the norms because of the commerce that surrounded it.” 

But he has his limits, such as when Shabana Azmi asked to wear a plain cotton sari and go without make-up for some scenes in Rocky Aur Rani Kii Prem Kahaani, requests which he absolutely refused. “I put a fan on her and she was like ‘what is the source of this wind? where is it coming from?’, and I said it’s coming from me!! She said ‘none of this is making sense to me’, and I told her it’s not supposed to make sense. If you agree to work with me, then that in itself is not a very sensible decision.”

Johar also talked about Kill, directed by Nikhil Nagesh Bhat, a violent action film produced with Guneet Monga, which is totally out of character for Dharma. The film premiered in Toronto’s Midnight Madness section last year and was picked up by Lionsgate for North America and the UK. India release is scheduled for July 5 with the rest of the world releasing on July 4.

Describing the film as the “biggest challenge and risk” that Dharma has ever invested in, Johar also said he hopes it’s the beginning of many such genre films in India: “We’ve seen Train To Busan, we’ve seen The Raid, we’ve seen that genre movies like this get immense love globally. But it’s never happened before in India.” 

Johar’s conversation was the final session of the first Cinevesture International Film Festival, which ran March 27-31 in the city of Chandigarh in northern India. The new event, which has a focus on producers and film finance, presented 20 projects to potential partners and investors, hosted four days of seminars, workshops and masterclasses, and screened a programme of recent festival films.

Speakers also included Shekhar Kapur, actor-producers Richa Chaddha and Ali Faizal, SonyLiv content head Saugata Mukherjee, who talked about the streamer’s commissioning strategy, and actors Survinder Vicky, Rasika Dugal, Rajshri Deshpande, Roshan Mathew and Jaideep Ahlawat. 

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