DDLJ Is Not The Story Of Raj & Simran, But The ‘Unsuitable Boy’

Karan Johar reveals why some of the scenes in DDLJ tell the story of his life and journey in his autobiography.

4 min read
Karan Johar and Shah Rukh Khan in a scene from <i>DDLJ.</i> (Photo courtesy: Dharma Productions)

All this time I thought Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge was Shah Rukh Khan and Kajol’s on-screen love story. But after reading Karan Johar’s autobiography, An Unsuitable Boy, I figured that DDLJ is the story of Karan Johar’s life, running in a parallel universe.

Karan’s honest account of his insecurities as an overweight teenager, who “wasn’t good at anything” comes with a vulnerability that is real. He puts himself out there in every page and it feels like we’ve finally come face to face with Karan, minus the celebrity Johar. It’s hard to imagine him as the lost boy who had no friends, no confidence and no clue about the filmi keeda that he grew up with, but was too embarrassed about.

While DDLJ was a turning point in the careers of its leading stars, it was a total gear shift for Karan, who had Aditya Chopra to thank for his very first time working on a film set. While DDLJ was Adi Chopra’s vision entirely, the film influenced Karan in a monumental way and vice versa.

Ek Saal Zindagi Ka

Yash and Hiroo Johar had no intention of letting their son enter the big bad world of films. Karan had always been dissuaded from having anything to do with Bollywood, because it was too risky and they had lived through several flops and subsequent financial lulls. In fact, a young Karan was all set to go to France, since he spoke French fluently, to expand his father’s export business. Karan believed that he’ll be good at that eventually.

Then one day Aditya Chopra said to him, “Don’t go to Paris. Assist me on DDLJ. Why the hell are you not realising that you were born to be in the movies? You’re overdramatic, you’re melodramatic, you’re funny. The only thing you don’t have is an interval because you have non-stop mad energy. You’ll be a filmmaker one day. Why can’t you see it?”

Karan tossed and turned in bed that night. What happened next will remind you of the Kajol and Amrish Puri scene from the film, in which she asks his permission to travel on the Euro Rail with her friends. Karan sat by the window of their Malabar Hill apartment overlooking the Queen’s necklace, and asked his father for permission to work on Adi’s film.

He said, “Papa, I’ve been a part of the writing process. I’m extremeIy attached to that film. I don’t want to regret that I didn’t give this a shot.” It was early morning and Yash Johar was about to start his usual morning prayers, just like Baoji in the film. And just like Amrish Puri he told Karan, “You’re my son, You’re asking me for one year of your life. If it’ll make you happy, I’m fine.”

Karan’s Love For Everything Filmi

Shah Rukh Khan sports a Rishi Kapoor hand-me-down thanks to Karan Johar. (Photo courtesy: imgflip.com)
Shah Rukh Khan sports a Rishi Kapoor hand-me-down thanks to Karan Johar. (Photo courtesy: imgflip.com)

Initially on the sets of Aditya Chopra’s debut film, Karan felt like he was in everybody’s way. He didn’t know anything and was full of self doubt. But Adi kept bouncing ideas off him. Karan could barely believe that his opinion was being sought, but gradually he was involved in everything. From being Kajol’s makeup boy and Shah Rukh’s accidental stylist, he even found himself being dragged into Yash Chopra’s meetings, thanks to his fabulous French. Remember that dreamy shot in Ho Gaya Hai Tujh Ko To Pyar Sajna, when Shah Rukh waves slowly, looking straight at the camera? Well, guess who picked that red and white sweater for it? Karan Johar of course.

On one particularly stressful day of filming, Adi told Karan that Shah Rukh wasn’t happy with his costume guy, and asked him to dig something out of the peti that was used for Chandni (1989). Karan was a big fan of the film and Rishi Kapoor too. But the only thing he liked in the trunk was the striped Rishi Kapoor hand-me-down. Next problem? It had a big hole in it. Karan had the bright idea of patching it up with an emblem and Shah Rukh thought it made all the difference.

From that day on, Karan Johar had a specific task on the sets of DDLJ. He had found his mission and thought to himself, “Maybe this is my calling. I should become a costume designer. This is it!”

The Julius Ceasar Inspiration

One of the most iconic scenes of DDLJ is the big show down between Shah Rukh and Amrish Puri in the film’s teary climax. Adi asked for Karan’s opinion on Raj’s ‘Baoji theek kehte hain Simran’ speech. Karan was honest. He didn’t love it, but suggested that it should be written with sarcasm, like the ‘honourable man’ speech in Julius Ceasar. Shah Rukh couldn’t believe that Karan had written that scene in the film, that too in Hindi.

It was that moment that made the superstar tell Karan confidently a little later, “You know Karan, you should direct a film. You’re a very good writer and you’ll be a very good director. And if you make your first film, I will act in it.”

The loneliness that Karan talks about growing up with, was filled by the creative chaos of filmmaking. He was nudged into film direction by those he admired the most and here we are.

Adi Saw What Karan Didn’t

When Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge won big time at Filmfare, Aditya Chopra went up on stage and thanked his parents, Shah Rukh, Kajol and Karan Johar. The ‘unsuitable boy’ recollects breaking down in his seat, grateful for his journey. Adi always saw in Karan the filmmaker that he is today. Yash and Hiroo Johar was stunned that Shah Rukh Khan wanted to make not one but two films with Dharma Productions, on the condition that Karan would direct them. Though it was overwhelming for Karan, deep in his heart of hearts, he knew that this is what he’s meant for. The equation between Karan and Adi might be a layered one now, but their love is intact, a bit like Raj and Simran’s.

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