One of the darkest periods faced by Bollywood was in the 90s when the underworld cast its ugly shadow. It was quite usual for film personalities to get threats from the various gangsters. A lot of filmmakers and actors were compelled to take up certain films or hire certain people after they got the orders from these anti-social elements. The assassination of T-Series founder Gulshan Kumar in 1997 by gangster Abu Salem sent shockwaves and further scared the Bollywood fraternity members. One of the lesser known ‘encounters’ between a filmmaker and gangster happened during the release of the much loved flick, Kuch Kuch Hota Hai. On the 20th anniversary of this flick, we throw light on this episode, narrated by its director Karan Johar in his autobiography ‘An Unsuitable Boy’.
Yash Johar, father of Karan and producer of the film, was supremely confident about the film’s prospects. He decided to have a grand premiere on Thursday October 15, a day before the release of Kuch Kuch Hota Hai. Trouble began on Monday October 12, 1998, four days before the release. The Johars were busy with the preparations for the premiere and KJo’s maasi also dropped by to help write the invitation cards. When the work was done, Karan went down till the building entrance to drop the maasi. Nobody was present in the house except his mother, Hiroo Yash Johar, including the servants. The phone rang and Hiroo picked up. An underworld gangster told her, “Your son is wearing a red T-shirt. I can see him right now. And we’re going to shoot him if you release this film on Friday.” The caller was none other than Abu Salem.
Hiroo Johar obviously panicked and had some really tense moments till Karan came up from the elevator and she saw him safe and sound. Immediately the cops were informed. Yash Johar, lead actor Shah Rukh Khan and Karan’s closest friend Aditya Chopra too reached the house. The cops recommended that they should go ahead with the premiere and the release of the film and that they are there to protect them.
Karan Johar, in the book, also mentions that Kuch Kuch Kuch Hota Hai was not a solo release. David Dhawan’s comic caper Bade Miyan Chote Miyan was also to release on October 16, since it was the beneficial Diwali week, with the festival of lights falling that year on Tuesday October 20. That film starred Amitabh Bachchan and Govinda in double roles and was produced by Vashu Bhagnani. Whether the call by Abu Salem was made at the behest of Bade Miyan Chote Miyan makers is unclear.
Kuch Kuch Kuch Hota Hai’s premiere was held as per the plan, at Mumbai’s iconic single screen theatre, Liberty. Sadly, KJo didn’t get a chance to welcome or mingle with the guests. For security reasons, he was kept in a small room with two guards outside. Prominent celebrities came out in full force at this premiere thanks to Yash Johar’s goodwill.
Karan Johar had always waited for the day Shammi Kapoor would step out of his Mercedes car to attend the premiere of the former’s film. But now that he was holed up in the room, it was not possible. When Shah Rukh Khan was told about this dream of KJo, he dragged Karan Johar out. Karan panicked and so did Hiroo Johar. But SRK told his mother, “Nothing’s gonna happen. I’m a Pathan. Nothing can happen to me and nothing will happen to your son. He’s like my brother.” And thanks to the gutsy SRK, KJo got a chance to see his dream come true!
Unfortunately for Karan Johar, he couldn’t even go inside the auditorium to gauge the audience reactions. His assistants did the needful, informing him of where the viewers laughed or how the patrons reacted to certain scenes. After the film ended, two of his assistants and now prominent directors, Nikkhil Advani and Tarun Mansukhani, informed Karan that all viewers loved the film like anything and that they have given Kuch Kuch Hota Hai a standing ovation!
The same night, Karan Johar and his parents were told to leave the country to be on the safe side. They went to London for a month. Hiroo Johar’s fear still didn’t subside and KJo mentions that she even hoped that the film would flop so that it would go off the radar.
On Monday October 19, Aditya Chopra called Karan. This was the pre-internet and pre-social media times and Karan didn’t quite know how the film was faring. But Aditya revealed that Kuch Kuch Kuch Hota Hai is a blockbuster and that the advance booking lines for Week 2 are longer than the first week’s! Sadly for Karan Johar, he missed the euphoria generated by his debut film, also one of Indian cinema’s landmark movies, in India during the initial weeks.
Kuch Kuch Hota Hai ultimately emerged as an all-time blockbuster at the box office. Bade Miyan Chote Miyan, meanwhile, also was a decent hit.