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My Dad Was Punjabi, Mom Sindhi; Grew Up Visiting Gurudwara Daily With Daadi-Naani: Karan Johar

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By: Rohan Dua
Updated: September 10, 2022 12:01
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Karan Johar, one of the most well-known and talked-about film producers and filmmakers in India, speaks to Rohan Dua, the executive editor of The New Indian as his film ‘Brahmastra’ opens in cinema across India, creating a sharp divide among the audience. Excerpts from Part 1 of the free-wheeling interview:

Rohan Dua: What is the essence of freedom and Independence to you in a year India is celebrating its 75th anniversary?

Karan Johar: I have a lot of pride when I say I am an Indian because we have such a rich heritage, such an absolutely fantastic cultural heritage. The fabric of our nation is beautifully embedded in our culture. Ever since I was young, I remember my father waking me up in the morning and saying his prayers. It was mainly a prayer of gratitude where he used to thank the good lord for giving us the meal on the table, a job to go to, and having a happy healthy peaceful family.

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I woke up to his prayer every morning and for me, that was the India that I grew up in. My family moved to Delhi. You know we used to have a house in Nizamuddin, West Delhi, (G-65 Nizamuddin West). I used to go to my mataji (dadi) house. Our family used to celebrate each festival together.

Rohan Dua: Which year was this?

Karan Johar: I am talking about 1975-1976 till the time my dadi was alive. She passed away in 1984 and after that, we celebrated Holi or Diwali in our way – keeping the family bonding alive. I still remember going with my father to gurudwara: my mother is a Sindhi; my father a Punjabi — but both have gurudwara and Guru Nanak in common. Going to langars is an experience I still cherish and it instills me with a proud feeling of being an Indian. My nani grew up in a building that had a gurudwara. The building’s called Shyamniwas in Mumbai.

PART 2: Interview – PM Modi Knows About Every Star; Padmas Given On Merit, Says Karan Johar

Rohan Dua: Do you still speak Punjabi?

Karan Johar: My father spoke fluent Punjabi. I understand Punjabi and Sindhi. Unfortunately, being born and brought up in Mumbai, I have never spoken the language, nor can I understand it fluently but my father spoke wonderful Punjabi.

Rohan Dua: I have been in Punjab and covered Punjab. The state is very close to my heart and I can speak Punjabi.

Karan Johar: I have lots of friends who speak fluent Punjabi. I always tell Vicky Kaushal (the Bollywood actor) that he speaks Punjabi so beautifully and it’s a beautiful language and so is Punjabi music. My father was not a good singer but he still sang songs that he grew up hearing. My father was born and brought up in Shimla, then moved to Delhi and saw Partition from close quarters. Our family had to move from Shimla to Delhi. My mother is actually born and brought up in Karachi and then moved to Sindh in 1947. She and my nana-nani moved from there to Kanpur. So, my mother was among those Sindhis who grew up in North India as well.

They say the only child is a lonely child but I was really blessed to have such a great relationship with my parents. I somehow did not feel the absence of siblings.

Rohan Dua: How difficult it was initially for you to get a break in this industry considering the fact that there was a tight grip of only the Khans in this industry at a time when you were entering into the space where you wanted to build your own star cast. How difficult was it to take grasp on different genres and understand different cultures at that time?

Karan Johar: You know the film industry has always been the most secular place in this world. I grew up and was raised up in such a way that I never even had such a feeling of bias among cultures. What was difficult is that my father was going through a very tough time professionally before I made my first film. Many of his films had failed.

Rohan Dua: Such as?

Karan Johar: His first film Dostana released in 1980. His second film was Duniya with Dilip Kumar and his third film Mukkadar Ka Faisla directed by Prakash Mehra with Raj Kumar, which failed.

Then the extremely expensive and cult film, Agnipath, with Amitabh Bachchan directed by Mukul Anand, failed at the box office. Gumrah with Sri Devi and (Mahesh) Bhatt Sahab, which didn’t work, and then Duplicate with Shahrukh and Bhatt Sahab, which didn’t work. So we had heavy loans because in those days there weren’t studios. I remember my mom actually had to sell my nani’s flat in the same building that I talked to you about (Shyamnivas Gurudawara). I remember she had to sell it off because when we released Mukkadar Ka Faisla in 1987, the film was a colossal disaster. My father had taken loans from financers and he had to pay them off. So when I entered the industry and I spoke about my desire to make movies and be a filmmaker, my father knew what I was up to. I remember telling him: “Papa, if you feel I shouldn’t do this and maybe this is not economically the right time to make a film, please tell me.” He said: “I have made films for everyone, so why shouldn’t I help you in making one? If you pour your heart into a film, it will be a hit.”

PART 3: Varanasi Embedded Into Brahmāstra, Lord Shone On Kesariya: Karan Johar In Interview

The industry was very inclusive and everyone was welcoming but I had huge pressure on delivering a successful film as the very same year Duplicate had flopped.

In May 1999, Duplicate had released and not done well. Many distributors had walked out of the film but it was (Yash) Chopra (my guru in so many ways) who took charge of the film distribution in India and overseas. He remains my mentor and guide and best friend. He was like an institution of learning. I remember when Kuch Kuch Hota Hai was released and my father was told by a distributor over the phone that the picture is a superhit, tears started rolling down his cheeks because he had not heard those words in over two decades. We had always had a desire that we should move into a big house.

Rohan Dua: Where did you stay at that time?

Karan Johar: We used to stay in a two-bedroom rented flat in the town. We moved to our first house in Bandra after Kuch Kuch Hota Hai. When my father made the first film for me it was also a lot of stress and I had also seen my father’s failure. My first film was more of a challenge for me than anything else.

Rohan Dua: There was any hostage?

Karan Johar: Not at all. There was so much love showered on me by my seniors. I remember on the premier of the film in Liberty cinema, I was so overwhelmed when (Amitabh) Bachchan sahab, Shammi (Kapoor) uncle and a lot of actors and directors attended the event. There was so much goodwill for my father, he was so much loved. They all wished good for us and were happy for us as they all knew we had been through such a tough time. Today, I strongly feel that whatever I got in this industry is a result of the goodwill that my father had earned and that has grown over the years. I feel I am still reaping the benefits of that goodwill.

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