In a lively onstage conversation at the Glenn Gould Studio, a part of the festival’s official programme, he said, “The industry is trying out new genres and approaches all right, but we do not empower writers enough. The writer is the soul of a film. The director isn’t everything – they should contribute to that soul.”
With that goal in mind, his Dharma Productions, he said, has set up a new writing division to encourage the creation of original content for films. “The movie star is no longer King, content is. The writer is the backbone of a film,” Johar, 44, asserted.
Speaking about his life and times as a film producer, director and entertainer, Johar was in scintillating form and brought the house down in Toronto on a wet and gloomy Saturday evening.
The nearly 90-minute In Conversation was laced with self-deprecating wit and punchy one-liners that had the expatriate audience asking for more. It was a rousing performance calibrated like one of his glitzy, star-studded films – for maximum mass impact.
While the filmmaker lost no opportunity to underscore the increasing global relevance of Bollywood as a marker of India’s global soft power identity, he also acknowledged the chinks in the armour of one of the world’s most dynamic film industries.
“The success of a film like ‘Kapoor & Sons’ is proof that the audience is evolving faster than the filmmakers. Many of us in the industry, including me, are caught in a time warp.”
“Kapoor & Sons”, bankrolled by Johar’s Dharma Productions, had a gay protagonist. “Six actors rejected the role because they were scared to play a homosexual character. Fawad Khan, who took the part and owned it, is not only a great actor but also a brave one,” he said.
Johar was asked about the autobiography that is due for release next fall. “It is titled ‘An Unsuitable Boy’. It has got everything in there – the good and the bad,” he said.
About his upcoming film, “Ae Dil Hai Mushkil”, Johar said, “The film is an ode to myself without being self-indulgent. It is about the angst of falling in love without reciprocation. I am the brand ambassador of that emotion.”
He told a questioner: “Every tear that you shed (when you watch a film of mine) is a dollar in my account. You weep and I laugh all the way to the bank.”
Among the projects that Dharma Productions, which is currently gearing up for the Diwali release of “Ae Dil Hai Mushkil”, is a Dhyan Chand biopic. “We will make that film when we get the casting and the time right,” he said.
All through the conversation, Johar touched upon aspects of the Mumbai movie industry that make it such a unique beast.
Talking about his love for film music, he quipped, “Why do you a need a therapist when you have Hindi film songs?”
About his shot at acting in Anurag Kashyap’s “Bombay Velvet”, Johar said, “There were too many gap days and too much hanging around doing nothing. I was bored with the process. That is probably why nobody has offered me another role, not even a bad one that I can refuse,” he said.