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Feature: The Rise of The Dream Factory: Dharma Productions

Amitabh Bachchan, Jaya Bachchan, Shah Rukh Khan, Kajol, Hrithik Roshan and Kareena Kapoor in Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham... (2001)

Dharma Productions was conceived nearly forty years ago by the late Yash Johar, and since then it has produced some of the most successful films in the history of Bollywood. Once Bollywood had reached its zenith in the early 1980’s, many assumed high-quality cinema would see a steady decline, yet with Dharma Productions headed by the visionary Johar, who not only nurtured acting, directing and screen writing talent, but pushed the cinematic boundaries, a new golden age would begin.

Since his days spent working with Ajanta Arts, the production house of Sunil Dutt in the early 1950’s, Johar had garnered much respect as a producer, being one of the first of his kind to think big when it came to a production, often filming in far flung locations, including lavishly designed sets, something which his son Karan has continued. When Dharma Productions launched in 1976, the reaction from the press and Bollywood elite was one of vague interest, but from small acorns mighty oak trees grow, and Dharma would eventually reach the dizzy heights of global success. The first film to bring major recognition was in 1980, with Raj Khosla’s Dostana, starring Amitabh Bachchan. It became the second highest grossing film of the year, confirming that Dharma had finally arrived, and was a force to be reckoned with.

Abhishek Bachchan, John Abraham and Priyanka Chopra in Dostana (2008)

In the process of creating films that delight the public and Hindi film industry alike, Dharma would also launch the careers of, arguably, one of Bollywood’s most recognised actors Shah Rukh Khan and the fashion designer Manish Malhotra, who had previously been chosen to design costumes by Karan in the mid-nineties. Since the death of Yash Johar in 2004, Dharma has been Chaired by Karan, who has proved just as much of a creative visionary as his father, with films such as Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, My Name is Khan and Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham...which were all directed by Karan, bringing Bollywood into the 21st Century and, some would say, crossing the cultural and geographical boundaries like no one has done before.

Reminiscent of the great Bombay Talkies, the Production Company founded in 1934 that, almost singlehandedly, created the Bollywood we know today, Dharma has given cinema goers a wealth of cinematic gems, from comedies to dramas to horrors. The tremendous successes at the Box Office of Ayan Mukerji’s Wake Up Sid, which starred Ranbir Kapoor, Punit Malhotra’s I Hate Luv Story’s, which starred Imran Khan and Sonam Kapoor, and Tarun Mansukhani’s Dostana, which starred Abhishek Bachchan and John Abraham, have proved Dharma is the true dream factory of the modern age. Appealing to a broad sweep of society, from the teen and youth market to the emerging cross cultural audiences in Britain, the U.S and Europe.

Shah Rukh Khan and Kajol in Kuch Kuch Hota Hai (1998)

In essence, Dharma Productions have solidified the unique magic of Bollywood, yet at the same time incorporated new and ground breaking elements into their productions, never afraid to go against convention. It is this which has proved the key to Dharma’s success. As a father and son team, the Johar’s moved Bollywood into unchartered territory, and now with Karan at the helm, Dharma’s position as an innovative production house looks set to continue for many years to come.

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