The Oscar-winning documentary filmmaker Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy sat down with Bollywood producer Karan Johar at the World Economic Forum in Davos on Wednesday for an intense one on one about film, fame, society and the arts.
It was a landmark meeting between two industry giants who are similar in how their success has forced them to contend with both praise and criticism, at the WEF meeting.
Their conversation couldn’t escape a mention of recent tension between India and Pakistan especially with regard to the two nations’ film industries, famously illustrated in Karan Johar’s public pledge to refrain from working with Pakistani talent even though he’d just featured Fawad Khan in Kapoor & Sons and cast him in his upcoming film Ae Dil Hai Mushkil.
“You know what I went through and it was a tough time for me. I don’t think I would want to repeat that experience ever,” said Karan, when Sharmeen said she hoped to watch Fawad Khan directed by him again.
Karan, however, included “I have a great regard for talent and for Fawad Khan’s talent. So just like you [Sharmeen], I hope and wish Fawad finds the best platforms because he is a prolific actor.”
This wasn’t all that the two talked about. Karan complimented Sharmeen on her Oscar win saying that it made him feel really proud as a filmmaker that your film travelled the way it did, the point and perspective it made, and more than anything else… I think the result of what happened… that’s what every artist aspires for, the impact of his or her work.”
The two talked about how they took and interpreted the nature of filmmaking; Karan said that he was “swept by the narrative structure of film… you can create the world, you can destroy it, you can do what you want with it…” he said that this was the work of the filmmakers and they could dish it out however they wished. Sharmeen had her own interesting point of view on this topic, “I think [of] filmmakers [as] pregnant because you carry this thing in you, nobody else knows about it, you hold it close to you, groom it, then you put it out in the world and hope the world will embrace it just the way you embrace your kid.”
Sharmeen told about the criticism that she received “Initially, very early on in my career, when I would face criticism it would make me upset. And I’d wonder why because I wasn’t the one doing the atrocity, I was the one who was showcasing it so that it would stop. I was doing something that I believed in, that was close to my heart… And so now it doesn’t matter to me anymore. Criticism doesn’t faze me. I know my work is having an impact.”
Karan empathised with the two-time Academy Award Winner, “When you talk about criticism I completely feel connected. I feel like you’re my soul mate… Initially, it was anger that moved to complete indifference and now it is amusement. Like, now if I’m not criticised in the morning or trolled or abused to death I feel like it’s something missing in the day… What amazes me, Sharmeen, is the way your approach is and your demeanour, considering that you have to go back home and combat much more than I do. You’ve been much braver than I am.”
A member of the audience then asked Sharmeen and Karan if they would ever consider making a film on whether Partition was a mistake.
On this, the Indian film-maker said he would never make a film on India-Pakistan in his ‘sane’ mind. “I think telling stories about today would make more sense than revisiting what has happened,” he said. In a bid to justify his stance of not treading the dangerous waters, Karan said he was being strong not “retardedly brave”.
When Karan asked Sharmeen about how she felt about people saying she paints her country in a negative light, the two-time Oscar winner said she was either loved or hated by people back home, adding that she preferred that to indifference.
Sharmeen is the first documentary filmmaker to co-chair the forum. Established in 1971, the World Economic Forum is committed to improving the state of the world and its annual meeting in Davos-Klosters remains the foremost creative force engaging top leaders in collaborative activities.
This year, the forum is highlighting five distinct challenges: a breakdown in global collaboration; loss of identity; slow economic growth; a crisis in capitalism and preparing for the oncoming Fourth Industrial Revolution.