Indian films have gone 'beyond the diaspora': Bollywood director Karan Johar on international growth
With the Toronto International Film Festival underway and Hollywood’s presence dimmed due to ongoing strikes by writers and actors, India’s movie industry has found itself in the spotlight – thanks to an explosion in the global popularity of Indian films, according to one prominent filmmaker.
“In the last decade, we’ve seen an exponential advancement of our (box office) numbers … with the kind of films that have worked, not only in India’s Hindi-language cinema, but also in other Indian languages,” Karan Johar, veteran film director, producer, and owner of India’s second-biggest film production company Dharma Productions, told BNN Bloomberg.
INDIAN FILMS AND CANADA’S GROWING POPULATION
Johar’s own filmography offers an example of that exponential growth in Indian film audiences.
His last theatrical release, “Rocky Aur Rani Ki Prem Kahani,” was released in July of this year and had earned US$45 million dollars worldwide by the end of August, the film’s director said.
Canadian cinema chain Cineplex has also pointed to the immense popularity of Indian films that have helped boost revenue, such as the Punjabi film “Chhalla Mud Ke Nahi Aaya,” released in 2022.
India’s growing population, as well as its large diaspora community living overseas, has also given the country’s film industry a boost at the global box office.
“One in six people in the world is Indian,” Johar noted, in reference to the United Nations' estimation that India is now the world's most populous country. That trend has positively influenced Indian film earnings – with a significant number of people of Indian origin residing in Canada.
The audience for Indian cinema has been growing for the past two decades, Johar said, but he noted that the rise of movie streaming services like Netflix and Amazon Prime has helped introduce movies from India and other international markets to a wider audience.
“The streaming (services) have really brought the world together,” Johar said.
“We are all watching content from across the world. I am obsessing with K-dramas (Korean drama series). Hopefully, they will start obsessing with us soon as well.”
WHAT IS BOLLYWOOD?
Johar said the Indian filmmaking business has historically been “a beautiful blend of commerce and art,” though he has tried to challenge that perception in his work.
While “one wants to make the best possible films with the best people,” Johar said as a filmmaker, he strives to “ensure that the film is for the (right) audience.” That was the goal behind Johar’s latest film “Kill,” an action-thriller genre film directed by Nikhil Nagesh Bhat, which premiered at TIFF on September 8th, 2023.
Johar said he believes the film has the potential to “not only do domestic business, and create a market for that kind of film, but can also become a cult film globally.”
‘ACTION-PACKED THRILLER’ PREMIERS AT TIFF
“Kill,” produced by Johar and recent Oscar winner Guneet Monga, is “an action-packed thriller that India has never seen before,” Johar explained. It is also a tonal shift for Johar, whose fans are familiar with the family-based romantic, comedy, and drama feature films that have defined his 25-year directing and producing career so far.
Filmmakers usually make films with blood sweat and tears, but Johar said he has made “Kill” with “blood, blood, and blood” – using “ten percent VFX and special effects, but the rest of the ninety percent of the film being organically true blood and gore.”
BOLLYWOOD AND INTERNATIONAL FILMS AT TIFF
There are sixty film submissions at this year’s TIFF, a festival spokesperson told BNN Bloomberg. The majority of the lineup is international titles, TIFF said, with several movies from the United States, France, India, South America, and only four Canadian premiers.
When asked about the Hollywood writers’ strike, Johar said he believes writers “have been in many ways, short-changed.”
“The empowerment of writers is the most critical aspect of filmmaking,” he said -- something that he believes “has not happened to its optimum, even in India.”
Johar added that filmmakers “can blend technology in terms of VFX, but (if) a director-producer brings in aspects that may dilute the importance of the writers,” that is not something he stands for as a filmmaker.