Finally, Karan Johar is back where he belongs — in unpretentious, over-the-top, make-believe cinema. After all those hardly well-received attempts at filming issues (the extra-marital outing in Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna, the Islamic terror theme of Qurbaan and My Name is Khan) where he began to take himself far too seriously for his own good, the froth and frolic was back when he presented his spanking new trio of young actors to the media.
Karan has always been a master of public relations and since Student Of The Year is his new baby (he has produced and directed it, besides introducing fresh talent for the first time in the history of Dharma Productions), he did something he hasn’t done in a very long time — he personally called up people in the media for the first glimpse at his film and star cast. Editors who would have otherwise sent their staffers to the event personally turned up in droves.
A further personal touch to the half-hour meet was Karan’s thoughtful gesture of inviting the parents of the three newcomers. This included Mahesh Bhatt and Soni whose daughter Aalia Bhatt makes a spunky debut. It’s quite the casting coup of the year since it is the Bhatts who are renowned for floating new talent; their own li’ girl has got her launch not from dad or uncle Mukesh, but from Karan Johar. Roly-poly David Dhawan and wife Lali also came to watch their son, Varun, who is one of the two new boys. Of course, David is not known to have launched any untested talent, so his son getting a break elsewhere does not have the same intrigue value as Mahesh Bhatt not launching daughter Aalia.
Siddharth Malhotra, the third new face, is the only outsider whose parents are Delhi-based and have no connection with cinema. But he’s as self-assured and well-spoken as the rest. Unlike the attempts by close rival Yash Raj Films whose youth-oriented films haven’t really worked well, I’ll stretch my neck out and say that Student Of The Year will whip up enough teen frenzy by the time it is released late next month. Apart from Karan’s well-plotted PR campaign which began with front page advertorials of his three new actors (in a Mumbai daily that specialises in packaging publicity write-ups as editorial scoops), the main point of audience interest will be that the director is back to his forte of glamorous designer wear, slick, smart backdrops, energetic, cheeky lead players and elegant opulence. At the unveiling of the first promo, Karan himself togged up in a school blazer while the spot-on wit and sense of fun was in full play all afternoon.
Perhaps the only area where Karan might get a little serious may be with Rishi Kapoor’s character. After the hilarious Kantabai comedy in Kal Ho Naa Ho and the completely innocuous fun in Dostana, Rishi Kapoor playing a gay dean in Student Of The Year may find Karan finally giving the marginalised community a little more substance instead of treating it solely as an object of cinematic humour.
While Student Of The Year will hog a lot of media space in the weeks to come, right now the dailies and the channels are still dredging the Rajesh Khanna death. This week, his will was widely discussed and the focus was on Dimple being left out of his estate. Why this was news was beyond me because it was always known to all of us that Kaka was leaving everything to his two daughters. That should end Dimple’s age-old plaint that he was not providing for them. He has left his girls plenty. It wasn’t just Aashirwad, the huge sea-facing property that everybody is eyeing. He had property all over the place and the one who knew all about his investments was his first live-in girlfriend, Anju Mahendru. Unlike his wife, who returned to nurse him only after he fell seriously ill, Anju had made up with Rajesh Khanna more than two decades ago. I remember meeting her at his office ages ago and they had such a warm platonic friendship going that he had told me how she had bought herself a new car and how proud he was of her achievements. Considering how close they were till the end, Anju conducted herself with a lot of dignity and refused to even get on to the much-photographed family truck for the last rites. She stood with the family to receive condolences only at the chautha, that too because Rajesh’s daughters requested her to join them.
After all this, why on earth did anyone expect Rajesh to leave anything for Dimple? Let’s not forget that she continues to be kept in great financial comfort by another man.
Bharathi S. Pradhan is editor, The Film Street Journal