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Karan Johar’s video plea reflects our current crisis – and is a warning of things to come

A deconstruction of the filmmaker’s statement asking protestors to allow his movie ’Ae Dil Hai Mushkil’ to be screened without violence.

Karan Johar’s video statement on Tuesday pleading for his new movie to be allowed to run in theatres without disruption looks like a better lit version of the victim videos released by kidnappers and terrorists. As he reiterates his patriotism and beseeches protestors to allow Ae Di Hai Mushkil to be released without violence on October 28, Johar looks less like the master of ceremonies he often plays in TV shows and more like he is seconds away from an executioner's dagger.

The mood in the video, which runs one minute and 46 seconds, is appropriately funereal. Johar is dressed in a black t-shirt with white markings and seated against a deep grey background as he addresses his hyper-nationalist critics, many of whom are nested in the film industry. There are minimal hand and head movements. Johar’s tone is even but the despair is unmistakable.

To the demand that he stall the release of Ae Dil Hai Mushkil because it features Pakistani actor Fawad Khan in a few scenes, Johar points out that when he shooting the film between September and December in 2015, there was no sign of the hysteria that would wash over India months later, after a militant attack on an Army camp in Uri in September killed 19 soldiers.


“The circumstances were completely different,” Johar notes. “There were efforts made by our government for peaceful relationships with the neighbouring country and I respected those endeavours then, those efforts then. And I respect the sentiment today.”

Having reiterated his loyalty to the nation, Johar cuts the final threads that connect us to the very brief (and very pleasurable) Fawad Khan era. “Going forward, I would like to say that of course I will not engage with talent from the neighboring country given the circumstance,” he promises.

The statement dispels lingering doubts that Pakistani actors or singers will be hired by Indian producers in the foreseeable future – or, possibly, ever. India discovered the bounty of Pakistani talent in scriptwriting, acting and singing through videotapes of television serials in the 1980s. In the 1990s, the internet brought Pakistani stars closer to India, and in 2014, the television channel Zindagi brought them into living rooms across the country. But Uri has resulted in an angry chorus demanding retribution: the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena in Mumbai has threatened violence against theatre owners who show films featuring Pakistanis and the Indian Motion Picture Producers Association has issued a ban on Pakistani talent being employed in future productions.

Zindagi has dropped Pakistani serials from its programming, while the Cinema Owners and Exhibitors Association of India has issued a directive to its members in Maharashtra, Gujarat, Goa and Karnataka against screening films with actors from across the border.

The decision of the exhibitors' association directly affects Ae Dil Hai Mushkil, and Johar’s statement seems to be aimed at assuaging distributors and exhibitors that they will not be guilty of sedition if they screen his quadrangular romance.

“Today I’d like to clarify that the reason why I’ve remained silent is because of the deep sense of hurt and the deep sense of pain that I’ve felt that a few people would actually believe that I’m being anti-national,” Johar said, stating the obvious. “I need to say this… and I say this with strength that for me, my country comes first, nothing else matters to me but my country.”

It's all about loving your country

Any disruption of screenings of Ae Dil Hai Mushkil, which has been given a UA-rated certificate by the censor board, will only harm the 300-odd crew members who have worked on the film, Johar said. He “beseeched” his attackers to respect their “blood, sweat and tears”, even as he emphasised his respect for the Army. “I salute the Indian Army for everything they do to protect us in our environment. I respect them with all my heart, and I say that I condemn any form of terrorism, any form… and specially the terrorism that would affect my people in my country and me.”

Murmurs of the heart have inspired all of Johar’s films, and he seeks to broaden the understanding of love in his video statement: “We love and respect our country over and above anything else.”

Johar’s films are characterised by their unabashed celebration of wealth, beautiful people, attractive foreign locations, chart-topping songs, haute couture and occasional subversive digs at conservative values. With the video, the act of buying a movie ticket for Ae Di Hai Mushkil has become an expression of subversion and protest, like defying the diktats of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad to watch a documentary about Kashmir, Muzaffarnagar or Dalit killings.

The video provides an apt mirror to the Hindi film industry, whose celebrated secular fabric has been revealed to have gaping holes. There are many filmmakers, actors, singers and technicians in the film trade who suck up to power rather than stand up to it. There are others who rail against the Bharatiya Janata Party-led regime (but mostly on Twitter and Facebook). And there are still others like Johar who seek a live-and-let-live middle path.

All these filmmakers want to do is make movies and money, be featured on magazine covers, grace red carpets, and be the object of public adoration. But the increasingly divisive political atmosphere in the country makes distance from and indifference to social and political debates impossible. For Johar to sit in front of a camera and beg for tolerance and understanding is a new low. Some commentators might dismiss his effort as a craven compromise, made in the service of commerce. Others will regard the video with the same sadness they feel when they watch agitations by Muslim beef traders and striking students at the Film and Television Institute of India, whose acts of protest, major and minor, strengthen the spine of Indian democracy.

Journalists are already drawing up their lists of the most noteworthy films of 2016. This year, the candidates need to include Pahlaj Nihalani’s tacky thank-you notes to Narendra Modi and liberal-bashing videos by ultranationalists. To that ever-expanding roll of dishonor, let us add “Karan Johar breaks silence, speaks up on the Ae Dil Hai Mushkil controversy.” Save it on your desktop, for it is of this moment as well as a sign of things to come.

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“Doctors have it easier than us. Their mistakes get buried, our mistakes will be there for everyone to see”

Celebrated architect Hadi Teherani tells us what luxury in the living space means to him.

Hadi Teherani is best known for designing iconic buildings in Germany including the famous Dockland office in Hamburg and the Kranhaus in Cologne. But he’s also left his mark on the landscape of Abu Dhabi with the Zayed University, and has designed a luxury residence that will soon grace the skyline of Mumbai—Lodha Altamount. We spoke to him about the challenges of designing luxury living spaces in India.

Q. In your opinion, what is the definition of luxury specifically in the area of private residences? Is it a lot of fresh air, space and daylight? Is it the room composition? Or is luxury something completely different?

Hadi Teherani (HT): For me, luxury is first and foremost to have space, not just enough for what you need but enough space to really thrive. And luxury has always been defined that way. If you look at Art Nouveau houses, those rooms have incredible heights. So yes, space is definitely an important factor when it comes to luxury. In Europe people pay attention to every square metre and here in Mumbai it is the same. There are slums where 4 people live in one room and just across the street somebody is living by himself on 1000 square metres. Once you have space, luxury can be in the features, in using certain materials, and there is no limit. Some things, of course, are simply not available here: the luxury of fresh air and a clean sea. No matter how much money you are willing to spend, you cannot get those. Therefore, you are limited to what is available.

Q. Have you incorporated this concept of space into previous projects?

HT: Yes, in different ways, no matter if you are working on government-sponsored housing projects or in the luxury segment. Usually our projects are more in the luxury segment, where space is crucial. We are currently designing a building where luxury can already be sensed at the parking level. You reach with your car and you are already supposed to have the feeling that you’ve arrived at a hotel lobby. This is how far luxury has come. That the arrival in a garage already gives you the feeling as if you are coming to a palace—you get out of your limousine into this stunning lobby and this feeling continues as you go up into the apartment where you have a bathroom that is 20-30 square metres and not just 5-10. The idea of really designing your bathroom or kitchen has not yet reached India. Bathrooms are still rather compact and practical since the idea of spending quality time in your bathroom doesn’t seem to exist yet. Customers definitely do not request a spacious bathroom when we discuss their projects. For me, personally, a great bathroom is extremely important, as it is the first thing you use in the morning. Afterwards you go to work, and you come back home. But I believe the areas that you use most need to have enough space for you to move and thrive in.

Q. Do you have any role model in the field of architecture? Maybe a building or a person?

HT: The Bauhaus is still my role model. Back then they designed products for day-to-day life, affordable for the general population. But those products have become classics today like the lounge chair by Le Corbusier. Those were project works but Bauhaus thought further ahead. The idea was to give people light, air and space, and to free them from elements that were poorly designed and uncomfortable like big stucco ceilings. The focus needs to be light, air and sun. For them, architecture and product design were always very fluent concepts. Le Corbusier, for instance, designed fantastic buildings as well as whole cities, but on the other hand also designed furniture. Gropius had even designed a car once and furniture, too. This school of thinking has influenced me, and once you have all those “tools” and this way of thinking, you get very far. With this “toolbox” of modern design, you can create anything and influence society. The times back then aided this development; everyone was opening up, living in and with nature, not hiding away in little holes. And the world evolved from there. And today you can see they are daring even more spectacular things in Asia than they used to in Old Europe.

Q. You have already gained quite some experience in India. Is there something that you would define as a typical “Indian palate”, and if so, how does it differ from the international projects? You already mentioned the differences in bath and kitchen design, but are there, for instance, taboos like colours you wouldn’t use or something in room composition?

HT: I haven’t encountered anything like that. What I do experience is that many projects are influenced by religious thoughts and by Vaastu, something like Feng shui. So the master bedroom has to be in the south-west and the kitchen has to have a certain location. Those rules need to be followed exactly, no matter if it makes sense for the building or not. Here in Mumbai it’s a little more liberal but in other regions, Hyderabad for instance, every centimetre has to be exact as per Vaastu. Sometimes they want a dedicated room for pujas. All this changes while designing a project, of course. But overall the ground plans are not that different. The families might be bigger so houses and apartments are bigger as well, or they are trying to utilize each and every square metre and avoid hallways, for example.

Those projects are also in the centre of a lot of marketing. We are not used to that in Europe but here in Mumbai or even more in other cities like Bangalore, along the entire highway from the airport into the city you only see 50-metre-high billboards announcing new real estate projects. You don’t see anything else! And it’s very creative marketing with catchy headlines and slogans. That isn’t happening in Germany. One more difference: when designing upper class buildings in India, they require a maid or servant room, maybe a separate entrance from the staircase and so forth. Here, you can still afford having a maid. In Europe you might have someone coming by for three hours once a week but certainly not living in.

Q. Let’s talk about the Lodha Altamount. What was the challenge?

HT: The design of Altamount was strongly influenced by being a Lodha project and by its location. Next to Altamount stands a luxury highlight of architecture, the Ambani tower, the most expensive home in the world. How do you want to top that? The Ambani tower is very structural. It shoots through the air, it combines all sorts of crafts and structural design elements with gaps and open spaces. You can’t top that and definitely not with our type of design. That’s why we decided to hold back and instead develop a dark and sleek building. That type of building doesn’t exist a lot here in India. Usually buildings have many structural elements like beams and balconies. By creating a calm building in the skyline of Mumbai, we will make Altamount stand out. Plus, the top of the building is very unique. Many structures are either simply cut off straight or completed by a dome. We have two geometric pointy tops so that the building is properly completed and doesn’t look as if it could grow further. It has a head and feet and is finished. So for us to hold back was our way to stand out. It doesn’t devalue the building design in anyway. It is meant expressively in the sense of “less is more”. And the interior is of course very luxurious: it is designed through and through, there is the green car parking podium, each balcony has a mini pool. So all those luxury features are present but the architectural design is based on the idea of “less is more”.

Lodha Altamount (Mumbai) designed by Hadi Teherani.
Lodha Altamount (Mumbai) designed by Hadi Teherani.

Q. Luxury can drift into the eccentric, depending on the client. Have there been any projects that were very eccentric which you still accepted or projects that you had to turn down because they were too eccentric?

HT: As architects, we create a space. What happens, of course, is that people buy an apartment in a great contemporary building and then furnish it in a baroque style. But that freedom has to be there, of course, because we can’t also tell the client which curtains to use or clothes to wear. At a certain point our job is done. However, when it comes to public buildings, the public is supposed to benefit from, so I have to be strict and dictate. In private buildings you can leave it up to the individual but publicly I have a responsibility and cannot consider each and every taste. I have to do a clean job so that in the end every individual can find himself or herself in my design. Anyway, taste always stems from a certain upbringing, culture and environment, so I also have the duty to educate and that’s what I do with my projects. When a small child walks by a building, she recognizes when the proportions are right even if she has no idea about architecture. But if the proportions are off, the child will pick that up too, because every building also exudes energy, either of unease or comfort. So we have quite a big responsibility as well. I always say doctors have it easier than us. Their mistakes get buried, but our mistakes will always be there for everyone to see.

With one residence per floor and a host of bespoke luxury services, Lodha Altamount is the epitome of unrestricted luxury. Designed by Hadi Teherani, and a part of the Lodha group’s Luxury Collection that has homes present at only the globe’s most-coveted locations, Lodha Altamount is the last word in luxury in India. For more information about Lodha Altamount, see here.

This article was produced on behalf of Lodha by the Scroll.in marketing team and not by the Scroll.in editorial staff

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