'Rocky Aur Rani Kii Prem Kahaani' Director on Creating a Clever Film That Challenges Ideologies (2024)

The Big Picture

  • Karan Johar's latest film, Rocky Aur Rani Kii Prem Kahaani, addresses real issues like body shaming, colorism, and sexism in a clever and entertaining way.
  • Johar's experience and vulnerability were poured into the characters, making it easier to create a passion project that strikes a balance between addressing important topics and delivering mainstream entertainment.
  • The film pays homage to Hindi and Indian cinema, including references to Johar's own films like Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham, while also celebrating the nostalgia and beauty of cinema as a whole.

After 25 years of making films, Karan Johar is a force to be reckoned with. His eclectic back catalog boasts countless projects now globally acclaimed amongst the holy grail of Indian cinema, including the likes of Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham and Kuch Kuch Hota Hai – both of which star Bollywood icon Shah Rukh Khan. Over the years, Johar has made it clear he is not afraid to tell narratives that speak to the thoughts, fears and feelings of audiences beyond the theater walls. It is that very notion that Johar has taken and run with in his latest offering Rocky Aur Rani Kii Prem Kahaani.

The family drama, which marks Johar's return to the big screen after seven years, positions vibrant Punjabi Rocky (Ranveer Singh) and Bengali journalist Rani (Alia Bhatt) at its beating heart with the pair falling head-over-heels in love despite their blinding differences. Their fairy tale romance is cut short when they face aggressive opposition from their families. In an attempt to effectively trial if their families could adapt to accept one another, Rocky and Rani decide to live with their respective partner’s families for three months. During this time, both families are given a rude awakening as they grapple to, on one side, hold on to century-old tradition and, on the other, progressiveness.

Over the course of its near-three-hour runtime, the film explores the concept of love in all its forms whilst unpicking the nuances of a host of topical issues, including the danger of becoming intolerant and unforgiving in pursuit of self-righteousness. During this one-to-one interview with Collider, prolific filmmaker Johar opened up on what it took to bring a socially-conscious film to the mainstream, how pouring his own experience and vulnerability into these characters actually made the process easier, and the reality of breaking away from the norm in pursuit of progression. You can delve into this and more in the video interview or conversation transcript below.

COLLIDER: Can I just start by saying this movie is one of my favorite films to come out on Indian cinema in a number of years?

KARAN JOHAR: I am so heartened and happy to hear that. Thank you so much. That means a lot.

It's incredible, and it's so poignant. It addresses so many real issues – body shaming, colorism, sexism. When you're tackling such massive ideologies that are really quite deep-rooted, is there a conversation you have to have with your cast to prepare them for that?

JOHAR: You know, I was personally blessed with a tremendous cast. Shanoo Sharma, who's the casting director, deserves full credit for actually giving me such eclectic and fantastic artists, from Dharmendra, Jaya [Bachchan], Shabana [Azmi] to Tota Roy Chowdhury, Churni Ganguly, Sriti Jha, Aamir Bashir, Anjali Anand, Namit Das, Abhinav Sharma, the cast, besides Rocky [Ranveer Singh] and Rani [Alia Bhatt], I was talking about the ensemble, they were all so fantastic. When they all read the script, I remember Shabana telling me when she read it, and she says, “You know, Karan, it's a very clever film.” I said, “Clever. Why do you say that?” She says, “Because in the garb of entertainment, you're seeing a lot but never preaching it, never preaching it, never making it look like a sermon. But you're seeing so much.” She said, “That's why I call it a clever film.” And I was like, “Well, that's a first.” No one's ever called a film of mine “clever” before. [Laughs] So I'm like, “Okay, there are lots of firsts in this film, starting with the fact that Shabana has found it clever.

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No, and she's absolutely right. I think it's that balance that really makes this film work and really helps it strike a chord in a way that doesn't feel like you're sitting in a three-hour lecture.


I know you've never really shied away from telling stories that challenge the norm or really sort of play on the thoughts of society. When you're creating a film that really goes for the jugular, but still aims to leave a lasting impression, how do you strike that balance?

JOHAR: In my DNA, I'm completely a big fan of Hindi and Indian cinema. I've grown up watching cinema from the time that I can remember. Since I was six or seven years old, all I've done is watch Hindi cinema of the orb, Indian cinema from everywhere, heard only Hindi film music. So that sense of mainstream is very much in my own DNA. But because I constantly believe in the process of evolution, I believe you have to constantly grow, not just as a filmmaker but also as a human being. So, I've made so many corrective measures to my personality and to my ideologies in the last two decades.

A lot of those transformative thoughts made their way into this film through the absolute genius of my writing team – Shashank Khaitan, Sumit Roy, Ish*ta Moitra. They really gave the film the gravitas that it needed emotionally, and then I gave it the scale and the grandeur and the songs, all of which I absolutely love. I love it. Whether it's the chiffon saree in Kashmir, or it's the big dance set pieces, or it's the high, turned-up-to-11 melodrama. These are things I love, grown up on, and unabashedly, unapologetically wanted to do. But within the domain of that, I also felt like it was critical for me to say something. Filmmakers are in a very, very privileged position where they can communicate so much through their movies and stories, and I feel like if I don't take leverage of that privilege, then I haven't really justified being a filmmaker. So I'm glad I could do that with this film.

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Definitely. And I think, as I've said, I think that is really the perfect balance that you have to find. When you're covering so many topics, it's so easy for it to come across like it's heavy, but it doesn't, and I think that's what really works about it. I know you've spoken a lot about these characters being born out of personal experience, and a part of you sort of being placed in each of the characters to some degree; does implementing your own experiences, your own vulnerabilities, does it amplify the pressure to get it right, or does it just make it that much more of a passion project?

JOHAR: No. In fact, it makes it easier because I like the character of Anjali Anand who played Golu. I've been a plus-size child for a large part of my childhood. I was also an effeminate child and have combated some kind of shaming as a result of that. So I believe Tota Roy Chowdhury’s kathak dancing father and Anjali, who played Golu, were very close to my heart as characters. I've also—up close and personal—viewed many households where I've seen the patriarchy, that just seems, to many, the way of life. And I'm like, to me, I come from very progressive parenting where we never had a patriarchal household. My mother was really pretty much the leader at home, and my father and I were like literally puppies following her all around the place. I grew up with a group of aunts that were all super progressive, and all said the most amazingly progressive things, so I never once felt that these characters were uncomfortable for me to express.

Having said that, I haven't done this in my earlier films because I was following the norms of the cinema I grew up on then. But with age and evolution, you go back into your basic roots and your basic ideologies. So for me, I was never uncomfortable. I was at home because, at home, this is how things are.

I love that. To wrap up, there are so many brilliant parallels and references in Rocky Aur Rani to Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham, and I think it's a feast for anybody who loves your films. Was there anything you brought from the set of Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham to this one that really helped guide that, or was it just kind of like brain waves?

JOHAR: [Laughs] No, no, no! Just some of the dialogue. When I made Jaya say “keh diya na bas keh diya” [I’ve said it, that’s it], I mean, we all on the set got so excited. That was an improvisation.

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There was an audible gasp in the cinema.

JOHAR: There was an audible gasp on our set, as well, because it was not in the dialogue. She said, “bas keh diya” and I was like, “Oh my god, we have to add “keh diya na keh diya!” She was like, “Oh god, you're making me say my husband's line,” and I was like, “We're flipping it all on its head!” You know? There are many nods to many films, not just my own, in the film. There's such a throwback feeling because it's an old homage to nostalgia, to current filmmakers like Yash Chopra and Sanjay Leela Bhansali. I felt like this film was much more than just a story, but it's an organic celebration of cinema that I have loved, grown up on, and continue to love today.

Definitely, and it's absolutely beautiful.

Rocky Aur Rani Kii Prem Kahaani is in theaters now.

'Rocky Aur Rani Kii Prem Kahaani' Director on Creating a Clever Film That Challenges Ideologies (2024)
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