For most of us, Bollywood films are perhaps a pleasant escape from our boring lives, an opportunity to unwind, to be entertained and most importantly to dream.
CNN-IBN Entertainment Editor Rajeev Masand spoke to the dream merchants of this make-believe world, the craftsmen who add colour to our humble imagination — Sooraj Barjatya and Karan Johar, two of India’s biggest filmmakers who are as different as chalk and cheese.
But despite their obvious dissimilarities there is much that they have in common.
Sooraj Barjatya’s ultimate family drama Hum Aapke Hain Kaun was the one film that broke Sholay’s box office record crossing a Rs 100 crore collection in the country for the first time.
And Karan Johar’s Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna emerged as unquestionably the most widely discussed film of the year.
He moved away from his own tried and tested formula and ventured into areas he had never tackled before with this film.
Rajeev Masand: The two of you know each other well, yet you people don’t meet often. Why is that?
Karan Johar: I think Sooraj ji is not like me. I am very largely a page three person. But I think Sooraj ji is quite introverted in that respect.
Rajeev Masand: Many months ago we asked Karan Johar about the one film that changed his life. And the answer he gave was completely surprising.
He said, “After seeing Hum Aapke Hain Kaun I realized Indian cinema is about values, tradition, subtlety, romance. There is so much soul in it. After watching this film I got the answers to all the questions I had in my mind. I decided to go ahead and be a filmmaker only after watching this film.” What do you have to say to that?
Sooraj Barjatya: It feels really great to know that I have been a part of Karan Johar’s success. I admire Karan for his simplicity. I remember he came to me after writing the script of Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham.
He sat next to me and narrated me the entire three-hour long script. I was filled with tears at the end. Though we don’t meet often, the very fact that he came to me to narrate his script, makes me feel proud.
Rajeev Masand: A couple of days ago we spoke to Sooraj Barjatya and asked about his favourite film.
And he said, “I liked Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna because there was a rare honesty in that film. A lot of people criticized the film. But I think it has portrayed everything in a pious manner. It really amazes me that without even going through the problems of married life, Karan has been able to portray every scene in a most realistic manner.”
Karan Johar: This is going to be an episode of all love and reverence and affection. I just want to say that I’m a filmmaker because I witnessed Hum Aapke Hain Kaun. Seeing it made a huge difference to my life.
I remember Sooraj ji sent me an SMS after watching Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna congratulating me. I still have that message. I know this sounds mushy but despite the fact that Sooraj ji has not trained me as a filmmaker, he is like a guru to me.
Rajeev Masand: You just said that Sooraj ji liked Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna despite the fact that the film shows a married Shah Rukh Khan and Rani Mukhrjee getting intimate with each other. A lot of people would want to know if they would ever see things like extra marital affair or pre-marital sex in a Sooraj Barjatya film?
Sooraj Barjatya: Of course, if the subject requires such a thing to be shown or tomorrow as a filmmaker if I see it being a part of the general society, it might feature in my film as well. If something is a part of the society, it could be a part of my film too. I’m sure Karan must have studied his characters before he came out with a story like this.
Generally my films and the characters are traditional. If I had conceived KANK, it’s setting would not have been New York but perhaps somewhere in Delhi.
Perhaps Amit ji’s character would have been someone from Haridwar or Jhansi who dons a holy ganji. I think it’s just the way we look at characters.
But for the moment, my latest film Vivah, does not talks of any such subject.
Rajeev Masand:I would like to ask Karan what is his least favourite Sooraj Barjatya’s film?
Karan Johar: That is not a very nice question to ask really. It would be unfair to answer this question. I am only going to say that Hum Aapke Hain Kaun is my favourite Sooraj Barjatya film.
I think Maine Pyar Kiya and Hum Aapke Hain Kaun will remain in everyone’s memory as exceptionally brilliant and beautiful films. There are some extremely beautiful moments in Hum Saath Saath Hain as well.
Rajeev Masand: We talked about how different the two of you are. We also talked about Sooraj ji’s traditional films and Karan Johar’s school of western characters. But if you really come to think, in a way, aren’t the root ideologies that inspires your films are pretty much the same?
Karan Johar: As I said, my films and moments are derivative of Sooraj Barjatya’s school of filmmaking. There will always be certain tradition running right through.
I believe even Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna is a traditional film. It just depends how you look at it. I have grown up on Indian cinema. I have grown up watching Raj Kapoor and Yash Chopra film songs. So what if the saris fly, the heroines wear tight clothes, and hero spreads his arms — I just love the quintessential Indian cinema and would always stick to it.
Sooraj Barjatya: I think the films that I or Karan make have got a lot to do with the kind of lives that we have led. We are far away from the harsh truths of life. We have only seen the beautiful aspect of life and that’s what we depict in our films. People often say that my films are way too nice and sweet and far away from reality. But the truth is that what we are depicting on-screen what we have seen in real life.
None of us have actually seen what poverty is. We don’t know what is it like getting slapped on the roads when you have not done anything wrong.
We have seen life, as something very sweet and nice and that is what gets reflected on-screen.
Rajeev Masand: So are you saying that you would never make a sad film or something which shows a little more realistic characters?
Sooraj Barjatya: Perhaps not. Even if we want to make such a film, we will not do so because we don’t want to see or depict the ‘black’ side the world.
Rajeev Masand: Are you intrigued by grey characters and different genres?
Karan Johar: I think grey characters certainly intrigue me because we all live with the grey characters in real life. If we were black, we would be in prison, and if we were white we would have wings and polished hallows. I think most of us actually operate with the grey.
I completely endorse grey characters and will portray them in my own way. But I completely agree with Sooraj ji when he says that depicting certain realities that you haven’t felt or seen around, would be synthetic and artificial.
Rajeev Masand: Finally, we are going to ask each of you five different questions that will tell how much the two of you know each others films. There is no prize in the end because of course we cannot match up with Karan Johar’s coffee hamper. My first question is for Sooraj Barjatya.
Who were the two stars who made special appearances in two different song of Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna?
Sooraj Barjatya:Kajol and John (Abraham).
Karan Johar: That is the correct answer.
Rajeev Masand: We know that Kirron Kher hails from Chandigarh in the film. How does Amitabh Bachchan know where she hails from in the film?
Karan Johar: How can you ask such a question? I’m sure Sooraj ji knows the answer so lets give it to him.
Rajeev Masand: Okay, we give this to Sooraj ji for free. What is the name of the magazine that Preity Zinta works for in the film?
Sooraj Barjatya: Is it Diva?
Karan Johar: That is the correct answer.
Rajeev Masand: Which city does Rani Mukherji moves to after her divorce from Abhishek in the film?
Sooraj Barjatya: I think she moves to Philadelphia.
Karan Johar: I’m sure not many people would have remembered that really. I am worried now and hope that I remember all things about Sooraj ji’s film.
Rajeev Masand: That was a five out of five for Sooraj Barjatya and now the focus is on Karan. Five questions about Hum Aapke Hain Kaun, now for Karan Johar.
Karan Johar: I really have a bad memory.
Rajeev Masand: What has Madhuri (Dixit) studied in Hum Aapke Hain Kaun?
Karan Johar: Computers.
Sooraj Barjatya: That is the correct answer.
Rajeev Masand: Which old Hindi film song is playing in the recorder while the family is playing the pillow game in the film?
Karan Johar: I think it was Hasta hua noorani chehra. Was it?
Sooraj Barjatya: Yes, that is correct.
Rajeev Masand: What colour were the ‘mojaris’ that were hidden in the film?
Karan Johar: The mojaris were cream coloured.
Rajeev Masand: Seems like you two really know each others movies. Tell me, when exactly does Madhuri use the phrase Hum aapke hain kaun in the film?
Karan Johar: I remember that one. I think she speaks that over the phone, isn’t it? How can I not know this? Give me some time for that question, I would rather answer that later.
Rajeev Masand: Okay, never mind that. Tell me what kind of sign language does Madhuri and Salman use to tease each other in the film?
Karan Johar: They cough to tease each other. But I lost out on the earlier question. When does she really say that phrase Hum aapke hain kaun in the film?
Sooraj Barjatya: She says it at the pool side in the film.
Rajeev Masand: So the two of you really proved that you know each others films well. Before we wind up, I have one final question for both of you.
Your movies have made a lot of money. There are fans across the world that embrace the films that you make. But perhaps there is also a set of people that doesn’t relate to happy and sweet films. What do you have to tell the people who do not relate to your films?
Karan Johar: They don’t have to relate to our films. Not everyone has to love everything that you do. If you have 100 per cent acceptance of your creativity, you will never grow. It is important to be criticised, so that you enjoy the praise. I love criticism and I’m saying this with all my earnestness.
I hear criticism much more clearly than I hear my praise. I know that every piece of art will always find all kinds of opinions. You have to listen to people and then do things that you believe. You can’t borrow creativity at all. It has to come from within.
Sooraj Barjatya: I absolutely agree with Karan. The day a filmmaker decides to make only the kind of film that the audience wants; he loses all his credibility and audiences.
Rajeev Masand: Lets hope that you always make films that you believe in. We would be looking forward to seeing all the movies that you two are going to make. Thank you so much for talking to us.
Sooraj Barjatya: Thank you, too.