Dear Raj Thackeray,
Before I address the central issue about Karan Johar’s patriotism that is now being questioned, I would like to take a moment to talk about your own creative inclinations. Apart from being a firebrand leader, you were once passionate about filmmaking long before politics happened. In fact, you even wanted to work with Walt Disney at one point. “In my college days, I wanted to work with Walt Disney Studios. I drew cartoons even before my foray in politics. Filmmaking is also a passion. I would have been doing either of these things,” you had once said in an interview. You also learnt the tabla in your childhood before Balasaheb Thackeray encouraged you to become a cartoonist, again another creative pursuit. Your father-in-law late Mohan Wagh was a producer and a highly revered name in the field of Marathi theater. Suffice to say your connection with the creative field is not superficial. I believe you are extremely knowledgeable about art and cinema which means unlike other politicians you can effectively understand and also empathise with the vagaries a filmmaker has to undergo when terrorism and its after effects pose the danger of derailing his film that he has given his sweat and blood to along with scores of other Indians because of the minor presence of Pakistani actor in it.
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Now to address the elephant in the room- Karan Johar’s patriotism and does casting Fawad Khan in an extended cameo in Ae Dil Hai Mushkil make him an anti-national? To seek answers to the same, I decided to delve into Karan’s speech made through a video he released recently in response to accusations being traded online about him being an anti-national. One of the lines that caught my attention was him saying, ‘I have always believed that the best way to express patriotism is to spread love and that is all I have ever tried to do through my work.’ A little research into Karan’s work and I realised he isn’t exactly of the mark in saying so.
In 2001, as a 29-year-old film director, Karan did the unthinkable by including our national anthem Jana Gana Mana in a very commercial family enterprise called Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham(K3G). I was then a college going youngster and still vividly remember the happenings inside the theater while the national anthem scene played out. The moment the school kids including foreign ones started singing Kajol, SRK and others stood in rapt attention on screen. Slowly as the camera panned on others, one saw the Britishers rising one after another. The camera stopped briefly at a wheelchair using differently abled English kid who too raised her hand in respect. That was precisely the moment when a gentleman seated in front of me stood up and many of us followed suit. I just revisited the song on YouTube and it today has a total of 9,901,014 views and more than 1000 comments most of which have people saying proud to be an Indian, love my India, gave me goosebumps. There is one user from Afghanistan who writes, “Wow amazing I love this I am crying…we love India love from Afghanistan ❤.” Another one writes, “I love India. I’m from South America while another one from Pakistan writes, “I’m from Pakistan and I love this scene. Patriotism for your nation is always a good thing. I remember very well watching this movie in theater.”
I always wondered what made Karan include our national anthem in K3G. In a 2009 interview with a tabloid, Karan had this to say. “When I hear the national anthem, I’m overwhelmed. It fills me with a sense of pride. When I hear it playing at cinema halls, especially the one sung by Lataji, A R Rehman and other veterans it gives me goosebumps; makes my hair stand. And it happens every time I hear the anthem. That’s why I included Jana Gana Mana in my film Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham. Indians abroad are extremely patriotic and K3G is about such a quintessential Indian family, which is away from their country, but rooted to India. Follow your instincts, but have respect and reverence for your country and family should be the mantra of every Indian.”
Interestingly, some publicity seeking man filed a case again KJO on charges of insulting the national anthem in the movie. Karan fought tooth and nail for 14 years till he was finally granted a clean chit by the court earlier in January this year.
Karan’s next movie, Kal Ho Naa Ho which he produced and also wrote the story and screenplay for saw Indian patriotism travelling to USA. One of the most beautiful, inspiring and patriotic dialogues that you will ever hear was spoken by Shah Rukh Khan in the film. “Hamare hath main ek aisi taqat hai jiska naam hai Hindustan. Hume Hindustan New York Main lekar aana hai. Kyunki Hindustan jo chahe, jaisa chahe, jahan chahe, waisa kar sakta hai. Toh phir yeh Chinese kya cheez hai.” That’s patriotic enough for me.
In 2006, in an interview with Aaj Tak when veteran journalist Prabhu Chawla grilled Karan about making films only for the NRI audience, the filmmaker replied without batting an eyelid, “I make films for Hindustani audience. Meri nazar Hindustani audience par hai. Woh jahan kahin bhi ho chahe Bihar ho ya New york ya London.”
Fast forward to February 2016, while addressing students at the Kennedy School at Harvard university, Karan had this to say about our Hindi film industry. “Anyone I meet internationally when I tell them I make Hindi movies they are like- Oh! Bollywood. I have tried very hard to tell them we make really good movies and we are not a poor spin off of Hollywood. We actually stand tall as one of the leading filmmaking nations in the world. We are the only film industry that has never needed Hollywood money or money from outside. We have been self-sufficient, we have a great domestic film economy and we stand tall and we are the only ones where studios had to come begging to us. We didn’t go to them. They came to India. Be it Fox, Disney or Warner. They all came to India. When I met the team at Fox, I told them, ‘You have to change the way you operate.’ They were sending us big legal dockets to give to SRK and Amitabh Bachchan. And I told them where I come from I send a note saying, ‘Dear Amit Uncle, Thank you for doing my movie. I love you lots. Karan. That is my contract. We are a proud filmmaking nation.”
Sir, I have set out only a few instances from Karan’s life to indicate his pride for his motherland, India. Forget Pakistan, nowhere has he extolled virtues of any other country but India. Our country is what he was, is and will always be proud of. In light of such overwhelming evidence, it would be wrong to brand Karan Johar an anti-national for engaging the services of an actor from Pakistan for an extended cameo in Ae Dil Hai Mushkil. He is as patriotic as you, me or every other proud Indian. And just like most of his films shot in Europe or America, who knows even ADHM could have a patriotic angle to it with Ranbir Kapoor as the harbinger of the same. And that is something one will only discover after watching the movie which is why it is important for it to get a fair release. For someone who made the goras of England sing our national anthem, he could very well make Pakistanis dance to his tunes. After all, he did make Fawad play a homosexual character onscreen, a first definitely in many ways.
As Indians, all of us stand firmly with our country and for those who had doubts in their minds about Karan’s earlier allegedly pro-Pakistani stance, the man has already made it amply clear that he has no intention of engaging the services of cross-border talent in future. That’s a big blow to Fawad Khan and co. As big as India sending Pakistan packing in every World Cup. Karan’s decision effectively means Fawad will no longer star opposite Katrina Kaif in his home production, Raat Baaki which would have otherwise been Fawad’s first solo lead film.