Karan Johar
Karan Johar at IFFI. Image Credit: IANS

The first day of the 54th edition of the International Film Festival Of India (IFFI) saw the flamboyant Bollywood movie mogul Karan Johar introduce his upcoming patriotic project, ‘Ae Watan Mere Watan,’ with Sara Ali Khan with great fervour. And trust him to add a bit of zing to a traditional movie launch. Johar, known for his turn as the catty chat show host, was in his element as he declared that his next mission in life was to find a perfect match for his leading lady, Khan.

“There’s a bit of Sima Taparia [a reality show marriage broker] in me and a bit of a Punjabi aunty who loves to fix matches… Remember, many relationships have manifested on my couch at ‘Koffee With Karan’,” said Johar with a laugh.

True to his word, several Bollywood unions have taken place when actors declared their crushes on his chat show. Think Katrina Kaif and Vicky Kaushal, who had exchanged fond comments about each other on his chat show before embarking on a relationship.

“Nobody can take the credit of manifesting relationships on that couch away from me,” he added. While Sara Ali Khan, who plays a valiant freedom fighter in ‘Ae Watan Mere Watan,’ looked suitably surprised at Johar finding a suitable boy for her, she was surer-footed when talking about her upcoming role.

Ae Watan Mere Watan
The 'Ae Watan Mere Watan' session at IFFI.

“It’s a story that deserves to be told… I am a student of history, but I cannot name more than 25 freedom fighters on a good day. But there are so many unsung heroes among our freedom fighters, and they come in all forms.” Directed by Kannan Iyer, Khan plays a role that’s a stark departure from her previous films.

“I am big on nails and mascara, but this is one film where you will see me without any of that. We had to show her inner strength and beauty… I am what you call a modern girl, who’s loud with a bindaas [don’t care] exterior, so I had to work a lot on reining it in and channeling my body language to showcase her intrinsic strength.”

In the interaction, she also claimed that she’s what you call a director’s actor and submitted to the vision of her makers and director Iyer. While Khan stuck to the brief of promoting her film, Johar was on a proverbial role. Here’s his take on…

Sara Ali Khan
Sara Ali Khan at IFFI. Image Credit: Instagram/iffigoa

Actress Sara Ali Khan, who spearheads ‘Ae Watan Mere Watan’

“Sara Ali Khan has such untapped potential in her. She’s like this unsung hero who has worked relentlessly right after her Columbia University days to create her own space. Just like her character in AWMW, she has been fighting circumstances. Her ability to transform into any character and the work that she put in is impressive.”

His upcoming film ‘AWMW’

“It’s one of our proudest films. When I saw the film, I was moved to tears… The story of a girl who becomes a fierce freedom fighter is incredibly special and I can’t wait for it to stream on Amazon Prime.”

What the scale of a movie means to him

“Scale is subjective. But in my eyes, scale is not about building a massive set or having 10,000 people in a scene. Scale is about the essence of emotion… What matters to me is how big the film’s heart and soul is; the rest is all dressing. We have all been a victim of creating tentpole films, but remember, as everyone said, big-event films are the rage, a film like ‘12th Fail’ connects to the whole country. So, scale is about creating films with a big heart and soul… Every rule has been broken in cinema today, and I believe the way forward is to create a balance between scale and soul.”

On backing and producing female-led films

“I am a proud feminist and was raised by my mother and aunts. I am always drawn to female-led stories. We live in a vastly patriarchal society, but I don’t make films based on gender. I back stories with soul. But making female-led films comes naturally to me. Look at our films like ‘Raazi’ or ‘Gunjan’; those films have women with so much agency. I gravitate organically towards stories with strong women parts.”

AWMW being relevant to Gen-Z audiences

“When you use the word Gen-Z, it’s often derogatory. But Gen-Z stands for their rights, and they fight for them with all their might. Sometimes Gen-Z is equated with fashion and frivolity, but trust me, there’s more to them. I work with many Gen-Zs, and I am constantly moved by their level of passion. There’s more to them than being that Tinder Swipe Right/Left generation… When they love, it’s ishq [true love].