Nobody in modern India, nobody alive, at least, has been untouched by Karan Johar [I speak metaphorically, of course, but then again…].
Will the real Karan Johar please stand up? Is he the 3am confidant to the superstars? Box office mogul? Starmaker? Pop icon? Twilight dancer? Influencer? Fashion iconoclast? iPhone reflection lover? All of the above? Brand Johar is fourth only to Coke, McDonald’s and Haldiram’s in its universality, spreading across Ludhiana to NRI London. His chat shows are so intimate in their references, even the guests look slightly bewildered.
What an episode of Koffee With Karan is telling you, dear viewer, is this: I am Karan Johar. I have a lot of money. I am a genius. But I will disguise it all brilliantly in frivolity, meaningless banter and endless names dropping. I will have you glued to your television set, because your best friend is not Gauri Khan, because Katrina Kaif doesn’t ‘consult’ you about her love-life at 2:30am, and just try air-kissing Mrs. Joglekar in your building society B block, the way I do Janhvi Kapoor or Sid Malhotra.
“If anyone can walk all over Karan Johar’s heart, and send it into somersaults, back flips and a few surya namaskars, it’s his kids, Roohi and Yash”
We want to wear all those clothes he is wearing, Spanish designers with 10-word names, but on our five-figure incomes. We want to schmooze on WhatsApp with film stars, but only intimately so, with their pet name personas: Kadso and Bebo and Sha [a certain Mr. Khan, but no prizes for guessing]. We want to watch people who earn average yearly incomes about six times the annual GDP of Poland fight over the hamper like us normal real life folk trying to snatch a seat on the Virar local, next to the lady slicing bhindi for her dinner when she gets home.
We want, for one full hour, to be painfully thin, gossip about everyone and everything outside our immediate presence, pretend-sip cups of coffee, be asked ‘rapid fire‘ questions and wish we had Zoya Akhtar or Stella McCartney on speed dial [Zo, can you say, “Hello Karan it’s me?”].
Karan Johar’s twins are named after his parents: his son is called Yash after his late father, and his daughter’s name is Roohi, which is a rearrangement of the letters of his mother’s name, Hiroo
To show that he is “one of us’’, that is the average Mumbaikar who travels through two-and-a-half hours of traffic to reach work, Karan will plod to a far-flung suburban studio where he judges ordinary people on superhit reality shows. Now this is a humbler, more ‘regular’ Karan, the clothes get cheaper [Ungaro, prêt-à-porter vs Comme des Garçons, haute couture], one who cries remembering some traumatic childhood incident [My best friends Adi and Duggu got Toblerones in their school tiffin boxes, but my father was a struggling producer, so I only got, [wipes away a tear], KitKats.].
“[On Koffee With Karan], we watch people who earn yearly incomes six times the GDP of Poland, fight over a hamper!”
When a contestant will faint mid-way between a dance step, Mr Johar, in the spirit that the show must go on, will rush to the stage and perform his soul-stirring rendition of Dafliwale Dafli Baja. Here Karan could be one of us, baring his insecurities, his private traumas and beautiful vulnerabilities. Of course, that would make perfect sense, if we got paid a crore upwards an episode, pretend-chatted with Barack Obama during off takes, mock-flirted with Malaika Arora, real-ignored Kirron Kher and introduced us to new words like ‘Toodles’ and wondered how we ever said normal goodbyes before this?
One gets the sense that Karan will do anything, even sit through one of his own home productions in the cheap rexine seats of a regular movie theatre, if the price were right.
This calculated silliness might make us forget that Karan Johar is also one of Bollywood’s mega power brokers. A role in a Dharma Production isn’t just a role, it’s a career on a platter in Bollywood. Karan has gifted Indian film-going audiences with a whole new generation of stars. Start counting. Alia Bhatt, Janhvi Kapoor, Ananya Panday, Varun Dhawan, Sid Malhotra and Ishaan Khatter. And a young new breed of directors like Ayan Mukherjee, Shakun Batra, Tarun Mansukhani and Puneet Malhotra.
“[As a realtiy show judge], we see a more ‘regular’ Karan. The clothes get cheaper: Ungaro vs Comme des Garçons. He mock-flirts with Malaika Arora and introduces us to new words like ‘toodles’…”
He is a shrewd predictor of what we want to see on a Hindi film screen, before we even know it ourselves. Perhaps his greatest contribution to cinema might be the reduction of film titles to their crispest, barest essence. So “Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham’’ is a cooler K3G. And “Student of the Year’’ is a succinct SOTY.
A Karan Johar film is virtually a Yellow Pages of the Who’s Who of Bollywood. Very often there is a script. Often written by Karan himself through large Tom Ford glasses, on cocktail napkins, in first class airplane suites on the way to pose with Natasha Poonawalla on the slopes of Davos.
Script or no script, there is always high drama, grand emotion, a chubby child actor, superb song numbers, a haunting background score and some great dancing. There are certain givens. The locations will be spectacular. Jaya aunty will be there. And Amit uncle. Best friend Gauri Khan’s husband will have the leading role. Farida Jalal will play the role of the household help. And Kareena Kapoor will play the part of Kareena Kapoor. The background dancers will always be blonde. And there will always be a song and dance number with one English or Punjabi catchphrase [It’s the time to disco! Say shava shava! That’s the way, mahi ve!]. There will be laughter, tears, great costumes, helicopters, grand mansions and silver thalis.
In each of his films, Karan pays tribute to his father, producer Yash Johar
All this always, always ends in big, big bucks at the box office. In that sense he is the Sindhi Zubin Mehta, orchestrating a dream cast to make the kind of film Bollywood dreams about.
I know Karan Johar like I know Donald Trump, Yehudi Menuhin, Neil Armstrong or Rekha. Which is to say, not at all. But can anyone truly say that they don’t know Karan Johar? If you have ever been to the movies or owned a television set or a smartphone or have ever trolled someone, chances are you would know of Karan Johar. I got to know him closer during the recent lockdown.
And I got to know him through the eyes of his little children on Instagram.
One gets the sense that if anyone can walk all over Karan Johar’s heart, and send it into somersaults, back flips, lunges and a few surya namaskars, it’s his kids Roohi and Yash. And so, in between baking banana bread and watching countless Netflix reruns in lockdown, we got to see yet another avatar of Karan Johar. The father. Or dadda. On his Insta stories. Yash and Roohi both have inherited his sense of scale, drama, emotion, nuance, dialogue, spectacle and theatre. But luckily and all fingers crossed, not his dress sense.
“This calculated silliness makes us forget that Karan Johar is a shrewd predictor of what we want to see on a Hindi film screen”
So we see the kids frolicking through bedrooms and brunches and inside TV cabinets, bouncing off walls and dadda’s bed, performing impromptu dance numbers, jumping into closets and mistaking vaults for washing machines. Few kids have Karan Johar as their cinematographer and Yash and Roohi know this only too well, and they strut their stuff for dadda’s iPhone. And if I were to guess whether Karan enjoys directing Bollywood’s biggest stars on the screen more or his newest superstars Yash and Roohi, I think I know the answer.
There is Karan’s mother, the lovely Hiroo Johar eating sevpuri happily with her three loves, diamonds sparkling softly all around her, almost as dazzling as her smile.
The twins call Karan “Dadda”, but refer to their grandmother Hiroo Johar as “Mumma”. “I wanted them to feel like any other family,” Johar says on Page 8
There are no London or New York locations or Scottish castles, but there are romps through Gucci-lined closets and whoopy rides on LV steamer trunks. There are screen tests and there is dancing and singing, not around trees but piles of the latest Balenciaga collections. There are high teas and brunches, khandvi and dhoklas. And family chats over hamburgers. But above all this is the sound of Karan Johar laughing contentedly, having a ball. Over the years, if Karan Johar has been in love, it has been in private, as all love should be. And one gets the sense that he has squandered all his love, all his films, on his stars, on his life and on the world around him at large.
But finally, after all these years, Karan Johar, the real KJo, not the director, not the producer, not the starmaker, not the talk show host, not the serial selfie taker, is spoiling himself silly for a change.
Happy Father’s Day, Karan Johar.
Freddy Birdy is India’s most-awarded Copywriter of the Year, winning the title 13 times. He is also featured in the AD100, a collection of the best interior designers and architects in India. He is also an artist, and a recent Instagram superstar @freddy_birdy, whose witty quotes have found fans amongst millennials and Bollywood superstars alike.
The remarks expressed in this column are personal and made in good humour by the author.
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From HT Brunch, June 21, 2020
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