Karan Johar is arguably the second most influential person in today’s Indian Film industry after, again arguably the numero uno Aditya Chopra. Aditya Chopra is reclusive and inaccessible to press personally while in contrast Johar is all over all kinds of media and every who’s who in Bollywood is his best friend. He is most accessible director/producer in India, afterall how many Indian film maker would agree to get roasted in a comedy show?
Johar surfaced as Shahrukh Khan’s bestie in Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge (DDLJ), a reel role which fast became real life. He shot to fame with his directorial debut Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, which was a big time hit and a trail blazer in the fashion of Indian film Industry. This followed by many more hits by him and by his production house. His father’s Dharma production was nowhere near the top but once he got the mantle he took his company to the pinnacle.
His films have never interested me much to say the least. The women in his films are clad in the most modern and fashionable outfit yet inside they are the ideal traditional woman of patriarchy dreams. The plots are not anything spectacular, different or original. If you have seen enough Yash Chopra flicks and American sitcoms then all stories and situations are familiar. The presentation is good but then if you have seen one Karan Johar’s execution you have seen it all; good looking people wearing good looking cloths and living in good looking places. And the most shocking part is the way he has depicted homosexuals in his films like Dostana and Student of the Year when his own sexuality is constantly under scanner.
In the year 2004. He started a celebrity chat show “Koffee with Karan”. It’s less of an interview and more of a voyeuristic peep while friends take coffee with loving banters and reminiscences a la the famous sitcom Friends. First time I heard him talk and he sounded intelligent with great sense of humour. Maybe his films are like that because he is too intelligent to know the pulses of mass. He knows what he is doing to reach at top and stay at top. In fact he has mentioned many times in his memoir, which came up in 2017, how he has an instinct to know which movie will work and which will not.
In the beginning of 2017 Karan came up with this memoir titled An Unsitable Boy co-written with Poonam Saxena.
I am generally not a fan of the genre autobiography or memoir. Because non-fiction when recounted is always fiction and also because no one’s memory is perfect or everyone wants to disclose everything truthfully. Autobiography is generally read for two reasons. Either the reader is deeply inspired by the subject or because the subject has something sensational about them which the reader wants to know. Paint me guilty but me too went for sensationalism. I wanted to know how is it to be one of the most successful Indian, someone who is always in limelight with alternative sexuality. So a little inspiring too.
If we need to discuss the book in purely from literary angle then I would say the book An Unsitable Boy co-written by Karan Johar and Poonam Saxena is inconsistent in terms of narration, tone, language, editing and emotions.
The prologue of the book is brilliant, sincere and relatable. Then came childhood, which was honest. After that things went south. Finally it turned into something where Karan is talking without thinking and readers are listening while trying to figure out contexts.
First of all there are so many repetitions that one wonders if the book was published when all editors of Penguine Random House, India were on leave. There are long speeches in defense of his style of film making, then long repetitive lines on love and affection among him and his big shot friends, then there are his part of stories in his feud with people like Kajol, Sanjay Leela Bansali, Ram Gopal Verma with hint of malice. In short a self indulging ego trip. And if someone says five times “now I am at peace with myself” then he is obviously not at peace with himself.
If you want to read about technique of film making sine he is such a great filmmaker then this book is not for you. He has made film making seem like a fun get together with friends. There’s nothing about his struggle, it felt like everything handed out to him on platter because of his father and his friendship with Aditya Chopra.
And if you don’t know Hindi or anything about the Hindi film industry then don’t read the book. Because he talks about people from the industry without giving them any kind of introduction. Then in many places in the book there are lines written in Roman script but in Hindi language. And there is absolutely no translation given anywhere.
He has fired the critics and “intellectual” people again and again in the book for stereotyping his movies as good looking films about rich people. According to him “rich people have problems too” and more importantly he knows more about rich people’s problems. He is of the view that the intelligent pretentious people may not like his movies but his movies give pleasure to general public. Here the interesting part is in the beginning he kept on insisting although he is from a “filmy” family he is not totally filmy he is intelligent too hence people like Shahrukh Khan and his wife became friends with him instantly. And so far as being pretentious goes – he was not friendly with many filmy kids because they talked in Hindi while Karan Johar always talked in English. And in so many places he has mentioned how he is a South Bombay kid and how it’s a pain to meet people who are not from posh SOBO.
The relationship, love and sex part of his book is much more honest and sincere.
His father Yash Johar a part of film fraternity, was in his forties when he had Karan. His father was a good man with lots of affection for his son. He always pampered his son but apparently was clueless about his son because while suffering from terminal disease he was worried about not being around for son’s wedding and grandchildren.
Karan was most influenced by his mother. His mother is educated and sophisticated. From the book his mother came across as someone who is extremely strict, passive aggressive and even manipulative. Both Karan and his father Yash Johar were afraid of her. She forced Karan to be in boarding school knowing well he didn’t want to leave home. With help of his father he fled from the boarding school and then got a big lecture from his mother about excelling in some field. That turned his life around and Karan became star public speaker and very good in his studies too. So one has to feel his mother meant only well.
The rumour about his sexuality has been around since the beginning. From the talk show even someone clueless like me it was obvious he is not straight. That’s the thing about him he never tries to hide anything only he never spells out, in his own words, “the three words” (that would be – I am gay). I personally feel he should come out and help openly the cause of homosexuals in India. But then who am I to give opinion in a country where homosexuality is a criminal offence and how do I know how the people with whom he does business with would react to when he comes out openly. In the book he has written about the criminal offence. But Apurva Asrani, an openly gay film personality, who wrote the movie Aligarh, in one of his article has written how only saying “I am gay” is not a criminal offence in India, when one is caught in the act then only can be prosecuted. Still he has to think and take care of his business empire.
He was conscious about his effeminate look and gestures from the very beginning, He was getting ragged some time or other for that. At the same time he was lucky to get a group of great vegetarian Guajarati friends starting from middle school.
Rumour mills have linked him with Shahrukh Khan. This is shocking for him because in his words Shahrukh is like his father and elder brother. Yet when he first worked with him in DDLJ asked to a blushing SRK to wear tight jeans to show his butts and also to keep his Adam’s apple exposed.
In almost every movie he has written there’s a part of him. He was the best friend watching bestie falling for another person from Kuch Kuch Hota Hai. He was the fat kid from Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gam. He was the man child with unrequited love from Ae Dil Hai Muskil.
Unrequited love seems to be theme of his real life. There were many episodes and mostly because difference in sexuality. He had only one serious relationship with someone from America. But he himself broke it up. Because for Karan Johar being in love is more important than sex. He didn’t feel the love in the serious relationship. Like the princess from fairy tales he wants to be swept off the feet with love of prince charming. People think being in film industry and with his frequent travel to abroad he must be getting laid a lot but that’s not true according to him because he is not emotionally involved with someone. He is still waiting for “the one”. Now he has stopped looking for, he is only waiting. He has very low self esteem about his body. This lack of confidence in body image is not helping his love life obviously.
He loves to eat hence he was always fat. Now he tries to control but all his diets go yo yo making his weight ever fluctuating. He hates to go to gym regularly. He puts attractiveness above all in love. He has written this while defending Kuch Kuch Hota Hai where the hero fell for heroine only after she made herself attractive.
May be his distorted body image or maybe his ignorance about physical relationship as told by him or may be his sexuality he was a virgin till he was twenty six years old. He lost his virginity to a professional sex worker. In London he hired someone from a high end escort service. I feel it is extremely brave of him to tell this story to public.
He has come out in the book by not coming out. The title of the book is a big wink to his sexuality by being a parody of Vikram Seth’s famous book’s title A Suitable Boy. Every person he has been ever involved with is unnamed. All nouns and pronouns are gender neutral, which screamed of the hidden information even more. In his own words
At the end of the day, this whole homophobia is so disheartening and upsetting. And then they say, ‘Why don’t you speak about your sexuality? You could be iconic in this country.’ But I don’t want to be iconic anywhere. I want to live my life. The reason I don’t say it out simply that I don’t want to be dealing with FIRs. I’m very sorry. I have a job, I have a commitment to my company, to my people who work for me; there are over a hundred people that I am answerable to.
With his kind of money and influence one would think at least he can have more positive gay characters in his films; if not lead then supporting roles. He can sponsor some political lobbies etc. He has introduced many new directors along that he could hire more struggling newcomers who are not related to anyone in the fraternity.
In the end however you can’t help yourself feeling sad for him. When one grows old friends become absolutely busy with their kids and providing for kids. His old friends like Aditya Chopra and Shahrukh are growing distant. He is not in good equation anymore with some other old friends like Kajol. His love life doesn’t exist. He can’t be in a legal relationship in our country. He doesn’t want to leave India to get married. Visiting hospitals with his mother he can’t help thinking about who would be there for him when he is old. Inside all money, fame and crowd someone who is entirely alone.