He says he is an artist, not a businessman.
Yet, of late, Karan Johar, one of the leading film producers and directors of the Indian film industry, has jumped from Page 3 gossip circuit to the business pages, thanks to creative deals that he and his agents have signed on to.
Johar recently picked up a stake (reportedly 5%, but he won’t confirm details) in NDTV Imagine Ltd, the new entertainment venture launc-hed by the New Delhi-based broadcast group NDTV Ltd. The latter plans to launch a bouquet of channels in the Hindi general entertainment, movies and kids space. Johar will be producing shows for these channels, moving seamlessly from the cineplex to plasma, well beyond Koffee with Karan, his hit TV talk show.
Johar also tied up path-breaking, multi-movie deals with Louis Vuitton, and French fashion house’s hallmark bags and briefcases routinely pop up in the hands of Johar’s movie heroes and heroines.
Last week, he surfaced as brand ambassador in the city for Alfred Dunhill, the UK-based lifestyle apparel brand—an Indian counterpart to the brand’s global face, actor Jude Law. Johar will wear the brand at the many public events that he shows up at, put his name to articles about fashion and lifestyle as part of events, and feature the brand and its line of clothes in his films and television shows.
Such deals potentially help producers raise up to 15-20% of funds needed for their creative projects, Johar insists that it is the brands that are after him and not the other way around. He insists that he doesn’t quite get the business angle in his businesses and says his foray into television is not about expanding his brand equity. “I understand television because I understand entertainment,” he says. Johar got the phone with Mint to discuss all his new roles. Edited excerpts:
You once said that you wanted to produce films, do costumes and do a lot of things. Now there are few things you haven’t done on television. Is cinema’s scope too limited for what you want to do?
Not at all. My foremost passion is film-making. All my other interests—I call them hobbies, really—my dabbling with the media, puts me in the garb of a journalist. Now I’m with NDTV, so that’s my foray into television. Everything else is derivative from me being passionate about being a filmmaker. I wouldn’t say it’s limiting me, because it has given me everything. Everything else is either a derivative of cinema or a derivative of what I enjoy doing.
Why NDTV? We’ve looked at their books. They don’t seem to be doing very well financially.
I am not a businessman at heart. I go by instinct and impulse and people. I go by the people associated with NDTV. I have faith in Prannoy (Roy) and the people at NDTV. I don’t go by the economics of things. Any endeavour I’ve ventured into has been because of the people.
If you are not a businessman, then how would you explain the deals you have cut with Louis Vuitton and Alfred Dunhill, among others?
Louis Vuitton was purely a lifestyle attachment for Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna (KANK) and I love LV anyway. I promote it for my pleasure. I’m an ambassador for Dunhill, so that restricts me doing any other clothing brand. My films represent a certain lifestyle and luxury, and maybe that’s why I’m approached by LV and other brands.
How did the deal with LV happen? Did you approach them?
I don’t approach anybody. I wouldn’t know how to go about it. Then, it is like a soft endorsement. I would have wanted the product in my film in any case.
Alfred Dunhill’s PR agency said you’d be going to parties and talking about the clothes. Isn’t that plain weird?
I haven’t read the press release, but I suppose when you endorse a brand, loyalty is what comes with it. Dunhill does classic, good-looking clothes, so I’d wear that anyway. If I do a photo shoot, I’d wear Dunhill. I certainly can’t go around talking about that. I believe that in any endorsement, a little is a lot.
Won’t your association with NDTV affect your relationship with other channels?
Not at all. Because I’m part of the film fraternity, I’ll be part of other channels too. I’m helping them creatively structure the general entertainment channel, and it’s strange but I’ve hosted the Zee awards for the last four years, my talk shows are on Star, and all my satellite films are on Sony. So I’m all over the place.
What are you doing for the new entertainment channel?
I’m there for inputs and ideas, but I might produce software (shows) in the future.
You’ve said before that your movies depict real people in an unreal world. Surely you’ve given thought to producing programmes, besides your current show, for TV. Would your approach to the medium be different?
Much of the programming that works in India, as I’ve understood it, is just like daytime soaps in the US and the UK. I’m waiting for times to change until there is a certain story-telling and narrative that goes with my mindset. I’m hoping to produce software that will be accepted. So right now my suggestions are mainly about reality shows, game shows, musical shows, and things that I understand the fun of.
But it’s a fact that general entertainment channels have been losing market share over the past three years....
Yes, but that means everybody has to combat the new wave coming in. I’m certain there’s going to be a change in attitude.
You’re holding a stake in NDTV. Are your movies tied into the deal?
We have had a tie-up with them for KANK, and that was good. It could happen, but there’s nothing fixed as of now.
Since you inherited it, how have you gone about changing Dharma Productions?
Delegation is something I’ve introduced. My father was a one-man army. He did everything on his own. He was very particular, very methodical, a true-blue Virgo. I’m all for services that will make things more efficient in the production house. The art of delegating effectively is something I’m trying to incorporate into Dharma.
So you’ve hired...
I’ve hired the right kind of people. I have a CEO, which we never had. He’s a childhood best friend, Apoorva Mehta, and I trust him with my life. I have a production head, a marketing head, somebody to take care of my personal life. And I’m planning to make Dharma a boutique production house, producing three films a year. I’m not planning to go corporate or studio, just boutique.
Are you looking at the Internet and mobiles as new avenues?
Not right now. Look, for me, everything’s related to creativity. I’m all for expansion with the understanding for the creativity of that expansion. I understand television because it’s still entertainment. And I understand the need to entertain people. But everything else that is purely a money-making exercise and for advancement is something that I can’t do because I cannot understand it. Technology is something I don’t understand. But I hope I understand the pulse of the people. Everything related to entertainment I’m happy to get into.
Everything creative I’m willing to be a part of.
What has television given you?
It’s given me great brand value. It’s given my brand a face. I feel more people want to watch my films because of my show.