Much like a movie

Much like a movie

Lead review: Infused with humour and directness, the instances that make up the memoir of ace director Karan Johar entertain the mind

Much like a movie
Today I finally feel liberated.” This first line of filmmaker Karan Johar’s autobiography sums up the essence of his book. An Unsuitable Boy is a cathartic outpouring of what has been bottled up within him for more than four decades, a mid-life assessment of his life till now, and a charting out of a course for the coming decades. Having done this, he feels light and free, unburdened by societal rules, relationships gone sour, and complexes about his personality and choices.

An extremely frank assessment, his biography talks about everything that has been significant in his life so far. A round, overweight child, the pampered son of film producer Yash Johar and Hiroo Johar, Karan grew up with a lot of complexes. “I had complexes because of my weight, my being effeminate... there was a lot of loneliness. I clammed everything up a hell of a lot. I couldn’t understand it. If there was something called therapy then, or even someone to talk to, I might have actually felt better.”

Many years later, as an adult, Karan did seek medical help when he got an anxiety attack. “Now I’m sorted, I’m much better... I was just going mad in my head... My anxiety was coming from layers of fears and insecurity that were on a personal, not professional, level.”

For a super-successful filmmaker like him, running a large production house where so many careers are made, to reveal to the world that he was confused at a personal level requires a great amount of honesty.

The resultant story is a fascinating read. It is amazing how a lonely, podgy child evolved into one of the most successful filmmakers of our time. Sheer diligence saw him develop from a tongue-tied, insecure student into a popular award-winner, taking part in debates, elocutions and drama. He started learning French at the Alliance Française, joined public-speaking courses, and topped the BCom exam in Maharashtra. In college, he became part of a gang of movie buffs that included Aditya Chopra, son of Yash Chopra, whose films Karan simply adored.

“Even though Adi (Aditya) is such an introvert, he opened the doors of his heart and home to me,” narrates Karan. “There was a subconscious, hysterical Hindi film fan hidden inside my large body, just waiting to come out. That happened when I met Adi...”

The night before Karan was to leave for Paris, to learn the ropes of his father’s export business, Aditya persuaded him to give that up and assist him in the making of his debut film, Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge. As they say, there was no looking back after that. It was on the sets of this film that actor Shah Rukh Khan saw in this humorous assistant director the potential of a full-fledged director, and approached producer Yash Johar to produce a film in which he would act and Karan would direct. He was dead serious and set a deadline for Karan to write his script. Such things perhaps happen only in films, but Karan’s life is very much like the screenplay of a frothy blockbuster. At 25, he released Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, a title given by Aditya. At the lavish premiere, which his proud father insisted on having, Karan was locked up in a small room with two security guards protecting him, as an underworld don had threatened to bump him off!

Success, fame, adulation... everything came to him early. But losing near ones  and taking on responsibilities also happened before their time. On an outdoor shoot of Kal Ho Naa Ho, his father was detected with cancer. Despite the best treatment and doctors, Yash Johar succumbed to the disease. Karan’s description of what he went through on seeing his father’s body being put into an oven-like contraption at the crematorium is something many people will identify with. “The insensitivity of that ritual just broke me into a million pieces,” says Karan.

Soon after, Karan had to take over the running of his father’s production house, Dharma Productions. He knew nothing about the modalities of the business. “I was just the kid who was given money to make movies,” he reveals candidly. “I was like this bimbo on the loose.”

But close friends of Karan and his father rallied around him and, slowly, Karan learnt the ropes of film production. While his school friend Apoorva Mehta gave up his job in London overnight to help with the financial aspect of Dharma, industrialist Anil Ambani, whom Yash Johar had entrusted with the details of bank accounts etc, explained to him the nitty-gritty of Dharma.

The support of friends and the goodwill of senior employees soon saw the company go from strength to strength. Karan’s growing confidence in his gut instinct made him give breaks to young directors to make films for his banner, discover new talent to act in his films, and expand the company’s profile. Karan’s narration of this growth is peppered with humour. When he tried to make a short art-house film, he says he gave a beggar girl three costume changes! “Much as I would like to project reality, there are some things that just don’t come naturally to me,” he accepts  good-humouredly.

His frankness about film critics makes for hilarious reading. One of them, he says, requested him to write the foreword of his book even though he never finds anything to appreciate in Karan’s films. He finds another critic very entertaining because “she so seriously doesn’t like anything.” A third rang him up to ask where she could buy a board used in his film. “I’ll find out,” he told her, “because finally there’s something you have liked in my film.”

But humour is conspicuous by its absence when Karan talks about his fall-outs with close buddies like Kareena, Shah Rukh Khan and Kajol. While he has patched up with the first two, about Kajol he says, unequivocally, “...she can never come back to my life.” Having de-cluttered his life of unnecessary baggage, Karan ends the book by looking forward to having a child, either through adoption or surrogacy. As it so happens, he has had twins through surrogacy. This unsuitable boy’s life has truly been like a Hindi blockbuster film, twins and all. An Unsuitable Boy
Karan Johar, Poonam Saxena
2017, pp 216
Rs. 699