Being Karan

Indian Express

Being Karan

New Delhi : If any celeb in Bollywood has captured our time, it is Karan Johar.

The really compelling celebrities are those who embrace the limelight without becoming moths to its flame. Even when everything they do is geared to make them the centre of attention, there is as much shadow as there is light. It’s a strategy that enhances stardom.

Karan Johar has become that kind of celebrity. He wasn’t always like this. He was a regular, 2D character. A plump, slightly effeminate and sweet guy, born with a non-stick Bollywood spoon in his mouth. He would put that spoon to good use mixing up superhit movies with it. Bored of kesar-pista cinema, we loved KJo’s vanilla with hot chocolate films just as India was waking up to globalisation. Chiffon elitism with Hindustani family values; the Kal Ho Na Ho kind of forever love, kissed by fatalism — all romanticised to the power of hundred. The songs and dances in his films were like spectacular Parsi theatre, fused with fussy rock and roll. He styled them with snow, blue waters and foliage as much with fashion brands and designer drapes. His heroes and heroines simmered with sexual pining but stopped short of the heat and dust of dark eroticism. He never went all the way. KJo showed us what a pretty façade must look like and we wore it happily, mixing up lust with love, wedding with marriage, family power games with paternal loyalty.

“Much of what you see about me is a facade. It is not me,” he told Simi Garewal on Simi Selects India’s Most Desirable recently. Garewal could not have introduced him better. “This man is everywhere,” she said. “He is behind the camera, in front of the camera, at fashion shows, on fashion labels, magazines and parties.” That’s KJo now, a 5D character. And not just because he danced to Sheila Ki Jawani with unabashed simmer. He has not only reigned as Bollywood’s most popular talk show host for the past few years, but is now behind a menswear label he shares with fashion designer Varun Bahl. What had initially started off as an indulgent dalliance with fashion has now become a serious, and successful, affair. Bahl may be the key designer, but there is a KJo-ness in the way their clothes seduce the ramp. Not to mention the hordes of Bolly stars who root for him. He even pulled off modelling — remember him in the Nescafe commercial with Deepika Padukone? It was a funny, avuncular act, a nice bundle of mirth and smugness. Now, as a celebrity guest on other chat shows, he takes the cake with the cherry. If you are a talk show victim like me, you will know that KJo’s conversation with Simi stood out because of the engaging mix of truth and dare he played. He ditched the charm he mints for his fashion ramp bows for self-analysis. He showed some and he hid some, he confessed and he didn’t. He admitted to his love life being a sad story, to one-sided attractions, how he revelled in playing the victim, self-esteem issues and why he treats his mum like his beti. On the one hand, he admitted to being a gift-wrapped self, strategised to protect his easily hurting nature, on the other he took the wrapping off the film industry. “There are no equal friendships in the industry,” he said, adding that one person had to be subservient to keep friendships going, which he did often enough. He even tried to be realistic about Koffee With Karan. He said he knew quite well that his guests didn’t share any secrets with him but repeated in new ways what had already made news.

Some might argue that KJo’s power comes from the commercial success of his films, from the brands that are willing to sponsor his shows, his influence over NRI audiences, his relationships in Bollywood and his extraordinary equation with Gauri and Shah Rukh Khan. But we might want to re-look at the 39-year-old’s impact. It seems to include a mixture of idealism and cynicism, fashion and films, self-love and realism, attack and defence and a tantalising ambi-sexual image. If any celebrity has captured the mystery and essence of our times, it is KJo.