Karan Johar – director, producer, actor – is a man who knows how to juggle many roles. He is a well-known filmmaker, a sensible and smart producer, he has dabbled with acting too, and is now a dad to twins Yash and Roohi, born to him through surrogacy. Karan Johar has been a household name ever since he made his directorial debut with Kuch Kuch Hota Hai in 1998. Before Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, of course, Karan’s most famous cameo was in Aditya Chopra’s 1995 film Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge.
The filmmaker turns 45 today. In the two decades that we have known Karan Johar, he has been more than a name to reckon with. The success of his very first film, Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, made sure it happened that way. After Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, we saw him behind the camera with Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham in 2001.
With Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham, Karan Johar’s films began to be identified by certain traits unique to them. For example, they were almost always made for a family audience, but when Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna hit the screens, Karan demolished all set perceptions. The film, till date, remains one of his most un-understood films.
Karan Johar’s Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna released in 2006. The film dealt with themes of infidelity… and of course the ‘Karan Johar audience’ could do anything but digest these complex relations. Falling in love after marriage? In 2006? In India? These were questions that left the audience aghast. And most of all, what happened to his his feel-good, it’s-all-about-loving-your-parents, vanilla films?
Of course, Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna was not the first time the Indian audience was having to deal with extramarital affairs and infidelity on the big screen. The most well-known example of a film on infidelity is probably Yash Chopra’s Silsila, the film supposed to have mirrored the actual love triangle that Amitabh Bachchan, Jaya Bachchan and Rekha were part of. But how did Silsila end? With the man coming back to his nest. So despite all the feathers that Silsila ruffled, as long as the institution of marriage is saved, no matter at what cost, we’re okay.
In his book An Unsuitable Boy, Karan speaks about Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna at length. “At the time when it released, a lot of scenes in the film were, I realized, uncomfortable viewing for many couples. I remember a couple came up to me and said, ‘If my wife says she liked it, I would say why did you like it? Similarly, if I say I liked it, she’d say what did you like about it?'”
Karan also talks about why he made the most uncomfortable film in his career: “I wanted to be very modern about it because there was so much talk about marriage being a crumbling institution and how divorce was the new marriage and infidelity was a part of every home. I experienced it around me, with friends, with family.”
But trust us sanskaari lot to go all hawww, even today in a lot of circles, whenever there’s talk of infidelity. Our marriages are sacrosanct. Our marriages are supposed to survive no matter what we go through. Our marriages join the man and woman in a saat-janmo-ka-bandhan blah blah. Who is Karan Johar to show the finger to this age-old institution? Hence the result, in Johar’s own words, was ‘uncomfortable viewing for many couples’.
But that was hardly anything compared to what Karan Johar did in his segment of Bombay Talkies, released in 2013.
It was named ‘Ajeeb Dastaan Hai Yeh’. A Strange Story. In Karan Johar’s segment of Bombay Talkies, Dev and Gayatri are a happily married couple. Avinash is Gayatri’s colleague, an intern from her office, and homosexual. Gayatri invites him over for dinner on his birthday. When Avinash enters Dev and Gayatri’s lives, the tension at the dinner table is more than palpable. No, it’s no older-woman-falling-for-young-colleague crap. Dev and Avinash share a love for old music. Dev soon seeks out Avinash, reaches his house, and plants a sudden kiss on his mouth.
This Karan Johar creation was hard-hitting to say the least. The film made many people uncomfortable, but at the end of the day, it received a thumbs up from most people who watched Bombay Talkies.
Out of the four short segments in Bombay Talkies, the anthology, critics, the films’ directors, and many viewers have been unanimous about the fact that Karan Johar’s story was the best of the lot. Director Anurag Kashyap even went on to say how he thought Karan Johar was a misfit in the four-director team comprising him, Dibakar Banerjee and Zoya Akhtar.
“Initially, I used to feel that Karan is a misfit but not anymore. The more I have discovered him, I love him a lot. I identify with him on a lot on many things in life. And he is also who he is because of where he comes from. He aspires to be a filmmaker… he is constantly trying to change himself, adapt to situations, produces films for younger lot,” said Kashyap in an interview.
Kashyap went on to say, “I have seen their (Dibakar Banerjee, Zoya Akhtar and Karan Johar) films and they have done a brilliant job.Everybody has made a magical film. There is a silent secret competition between the four of us but my favourite is Karan Johar’s film.”
Dibakar Banerjee echoed Kashyap.
In Karan Johar’s seven-film oeuvre, these are the two films that stand out thanks to their striking differences from a run-of-the-mill KJo film. As the filmmaker turns 45 today, here’s hoping Karan breaks more barriers without thinking about the ‘box-office sword’ that is always hanging over his head.