Exclusive: Ahead Of Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, Death Threat From Abu Salem - By Karan Johar

  | January 19, 2017 12:33 IST (New Delhi)
Karan Johar

'That evening, my father, Shah Rukh, the cops, Adi, everybody was there,' writes Karan Johar

Excerpt from Karan Johar's new autobiography An Unsuitable Boy

When the film was ready in its rough-cut stage-before it goes into post-production, which is background music and other things-nobody except Adi had seen it.
We had a screening for my mum and dad. It was just the four of us-Adi, me, my mum and dad. They were nervous as hell. A lot of money had been put into the film. A lot was riding on it, because my father had dealt with so much financial loss, even with Duplicate. This was something of a last-ditch attempt. If this went wrong, we would not be able to afford making another film.
I had started feeling the pressure once Duplicate bombed. But I had a strange kind of confidence in my film, although I was really afraid too. I felt if this film went wrong, we would have to sell property or take other drastic measures. My father had taken heavy loans, and put a lot of our equity at stake. It was a 14-crore-rupee film at that time. That was a lot. Especially for a new director.
We were watching the film at a preview theatre called Dimple. After it finished, my parents couldn't get up from their seats. Adi got up, I got up, and then my mother and father got up. I could see my mother's feet and hands trembling; it was an emotional film and I don't think Mom and Dad could believe that what they had just seen was made by their son.
I held my mother's hand, she hugged me, and my father just broke down. The three of us wept for something like forty-five minutes. I've never seen my father cry after that. I've seen him upset, I've seen him depressed. But I've never seen him break down like he did that day. Adi quietly stepped out. There was one production person alongside, and he realized it was a moment where we had to be left alone. Seeing my father cry made my mother even more emotional, because we had never seen him like this, weeping like a baby.
Then he sat down, we gave him some water, but he was crying so much that he couldn't even bring himself to say, 'I'm so proud of you'; every time he opened his mouth, he would choke. And finally when he said those words, he broke down again. He just kept crying for forty-five minutes or so and it was an embarrassing sight. He was sixty-five and to see him break down like this was something new for me. I'd always seen him as a strong leader, a survivor.
Adi walked in after a while and asked, 'Does this mean you liked it?' My father replied, 'It's the best film in the world. My son has made the best film in the world.' He just kept saying, 'It's the best film in the world.' And that was all. As for my mother, she said, 'I can't believe my son made this movie!' She kept saying, 'I cannot believe my son has done this. He created this world, and this movie.' She hugged Adi whom she had always been very fond of.
Soon after, we got down to the post-production work, and getting the film ready for release. Everything was on track. A film called Bade Miyan Chote Miyan was also releasing on the same Friday. It was a Diwali release.
My father decided that he was so proud that he wanted to have a premiere. On Monday, we were writing out the cards, dispatching them through production. My maasi had come to the house to help us. I went down to drop her. My mother was alone at home, even the servants were not there, all of them had gone out. The phone rang. My mother picked it up, and it was a call from the underworld. A man's voice said, 'Your son's wearing a red T-shirt, I can see him right now. And we're going to shoot him if you release this film on Friday.' For some reason, they didn't want the film to be released that Friday; we didn't know why. It was a call from Abu Salem, and my mother was shaking with terror. She put the phone down and ran towards the door. She pressed the lift number, and I was coming up. As I came up those nine floors, she was going through really tough moments. When I reached, she just dragged me to the room and said, 'You have to call the cops. This call has come and they said they're going to shoot you, they don't want you to release your film this Friday . . .'
That evening, my father, Shah Rukh, the cops, Adi, everybody was there. The cops advised us, 'We will protect you but you have to go ahead. You can't show your fear. You have to have the premiere on Thursday.'
But my mother said, 'What does this mean?' We were a simple family. We'd never had the underworld calling us to stop the release of a film. We'd never dreamt that something like this could even happen to us. My mother said, 'We don't want all this nonsense.'
But we did have the premiere at Liberty. They put me in this small room, to keep me safe. The industry who's who came. It was a full turnout because my father's goodwill was so strong-everybody wanted Kuch Kuch Hota Hai to be a hit, for his sake. It was the first-and possibly the last time, I think-that the industry had felt so positive about a film's release. It was because of my father. He had so much love going for him.
I had always had a dream that Shammi Kapoor would come out of a car to attend the premiere of my film. I told my mother, 'You know, I'm going to see it come true. Shammi Kapoor is going to get out of his Mercedes car and attend this premiere.'
But they had taken me into this room. My mother and father were outside. My mother was so upset because Shammi Kapoor was going to come and I would not be around to witness the moment. 'My son's dream was to see Shammi Kapoor get out of a car and come for his premiere,' she kept saying. 'But because of this situation, he has to be cooped up in a room; they're not allowing him to come out.'
Shah Rukh said, 'What nonsense!'
He went inside and dragged me out. He said, 'I'm standing here in front of you. Let's see who shoots you. I'm standing right here.' I said, 'No, no, no, my mother was . . .'
He told my mother, 'Nothing's gonna happen. I'm a Pathan. Nothing can happen to me and nothing will happen to your son. He's like my brother. Nothing's gonna happen.'
So I stood there, and Shammi Kapoor came in a Mercedes just like I had imagined. I had my moment. But my mother was very scared. She said, 'Now go back inside. We can't do this. I'm too scared.'
So I went back. Throughout the screening, my assistants kept coming to tell me, 'Oh, they laughed here,' 'Oh, they did this,' 'Oh they did that.' But I couldn't go outside because of the threat.
While everybody enjoyed the film, I was sitting alone in that little room, with two security guards outside. I wanted to know what had happened. The film had ended, people were leaving but the security guys weren't allowing me to meet the industry. And then Nikhil and Tarun came, followed by the whole team. They said, 'Karan, the entire industry clapped. They stood up and clapped. You got a standing ovation.'
And I said, 'Well, I didn't see it.' They said, 'There was euphoria, and they were asking for you.' Literally, 'a star is born' moment had happened!
That night, Mum, Dad and me flew out of the country because the cops said, 'All of you should leave Mumbai. You'll be safer anywhere else.'
We took a flight to London. The film released. We were away, disconnected, in a rented apartment in London. We went to see the film in a local theatre, but it was not the same. My mother was so scared. I felt it had reached a point where she was hoping the film would flop so that it would go off the radar.
On the Monday after the release, I got a call from Adi.
I asked, 'How is it doing? What happened on the weekend?'
He said, 'What do you want in this world?'
I said, 'What do you mean?'
He said, 'What do you want to buy?'
I asked, 'What nonsense are you talking?'
He said, 'Your picture's not a hit.'
I said, 'It's not?'
He said, 'No, it's not even a super hit.'
I said, 'If it isn't a hit, it can't be a super hit.'
Then he said, 'It's a blockbuster, Karan. People are going crazy. Your advance booking lines for the next week are longer than your first week's. Wake up your parents, it's a huge hit.'
I went barging into my parents' room. They were asleep. It was early in the morning. I woke up my parents and said, 'Adi just called, it's a blockbuster.'
My father woke up and started calling distributors in India.
We had never given a hit film, not since my father's first film, Dostana, in 1980. That was a gap of eighteen years. From 1980 to 1998, my father never had one hit film. All of them had flopped. He had seen eighteen years of failure as a producer. He had never heard the word 'blockbuster' associated with any of his movies.
I don't know how I felt. I don't remember being very happy, but now when I think about it, I feel a sense of elation. We were in London, so I missed those first four weeks.
When I came back to Mumbai, the euphoria had subsided. But over a period of time, when I meet people, I realize the impact Kuch Kuch Hota Hai has had on their love lives, their kids. I saw girls with the same hairband as Kajol's, people wearing cool chains, buying those Shah Rukh T-shirts. All these things that I had created were intrinsically part of my South Bombay aesthetic and sensibility mixed with my love for Hindi cinema. Added to it was my desire to tell an emotional tale. Kuch Kuch Hota Hai was undoubtedly the most honest projection of who I was.
Excerpted with permissions from Penguin Random House India under Shobhaa De Books

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