Karan Johar is no stranger to the jamboree that is the Cannes Film Festival. But the 66th edition of the festival that starts on May 15 is special for the filmmaker. Unlike his earlier visits to the Croisette, where he was invited by a brand he endorses, this year, Karan, along with fellow directors Zoya Akhtar, Dibakar Banerjee and Anurag Kashyap, is taking the omnibus film Bombay Talkies for a gala screening. “It is such an honour to take a film to Cannes. I am really looking forward to it,” says Karan.
To think of the fact, Karan wasn’t keen on making a 27-minute short film in celebration of 100 years of the Indian film industry. “My biggest apprehension was that it’s a format I wasn’t comfortable with. Brevity is certainly not my strength. Then when you look at the kind of work the other three have done, I am definitely the odd one out. They have made pieces of work that have been pathbreaking and somewhere struck a commercial chord as well. I kept thinking that I’ll end up ruining their hard work.”
One of the first calls to convince Karan to do Bombay Talkies came from his childhood friend and fellow director Zoya. “She said, ‘Karan, you’ll never get a chance like this again. Just do it’.” This got Karan thinking, but he was still on the fence. “When Ashi (Dua, co-producer) came to meet me, I was all ready to tell her that I am not interested. But I found myself saying ‘yes’. I am not someone to cop out because I am afraid of being judged. So, I decided to take the leap. After Ashi left, I realised what I had done and I couldn’t back out. Both Anurag and Zoya called me immediately after Ashi left. Anurag was really excited and kept saying ‘I am so glad you are doing this. You would be so good’. So I had no choice. In Salman style, ek baar jo maine commitment kar di toh maine apne aap ki bhi nahin sunta’,” he says with a laugh.
Karan’s short film’s working title is Ajeeb Dastan Hai Yeh and stars Rani Mukerji and Randeep Hooda. “A while ago, I was developing a film called Small, Medium, Large, which was a love story. I never ended up making it. The story that I have directed for Bombay Talkies is the Medium track from that script. I wrote it in three or four years. I find complicated relationships very exciting.”
Shooting his film over a space of nine days, Karan insists, was like being at a film school. “When you don’t have the box-office sword hanging over your head, you can create magic. Meeting commercial expectations can exhaust any filmmaker. When you don’t have any pressures, you can give creativity a free hand. This is why the nine days when I was shooting this film, I felt alive. I am not worried about how much money this film makes or what critics will say. There was a sense of freedom while making the film that I think should become a part of my ethos. I hope that I go into my next film with renewed vigour and intent. But I will only be able to answer this question honestly when I am shooting my next film.”
Collaborating with the likes of Dibakar and Anurag, different voices was exhilarating for Karan. “Being in the company of Dibakar, Zoya and Anurag is an honour for me. I have loved their pieces of work. I have always felt like I will not be able to live up to the standards that they have set in the world of cinema. Directing Bombay Talkies and being a part of this group has made me feel very alive. I like hanging out with them. Talking to them has enriched me more. More than making my film, being a part of this gang has made me feel alive. It’s enriched me.”
For someone whose films are known for designer clothes, lavish sets and foreign locations, Karan was understandably taken aback when he was allocated `1.5 crore for his short film. “It was difficult to wrap my head around the fact that the budget was so little. It was a challenge but we managed. I begged people to do this film for free. Technicians and actors did this film for free. One of the locations we shot in was the offices of Viacom (one of the film’s producers) and the other was my residence. So, I wasn’t stretched. All we had to pay for was the daily cost of shooting. I was very comfortably within budget. But I did learn that if you have to, it is possible to make a film with low budget.”