Bollywood is plethorically reverential of its actors. ‘Superstardom’ is a term strictly reserved for them. But if there’s one director I classify in that space not just for the way he publicly maintains himself, (or rather not), but also because of his cutting candidness, it’s Karan Johar. He’s one of the opinionated few in the industry and fearlessly so. Unafraid to call a spade a spade.
The 45-year old director does the same with his recently released biography An Unsuitable Boy, a fiercely opinionated, no-holds-barred account of his personal and professional life.
There aren’t the usual sob stories of early career struggle, that make their way into every industry biography. Professionally, things fell into place rather easily for him.
“I signed six stars — Shahrukh, Kajol, Hrithik, Kareena, Jaya, Amitabh on the same day for Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham (2001). Shooting that film was the easiest thing ever,” he recalls.
It’s his personal space — inner fears, grief and insecurities — he talks broadly about.
Of losing his father
It was co-incidentally while shooting for Kal Ho Naa Ho that Karan found out his father was diagnosed with fourth-stage cancer. He wouldn’t have made it beyond 10 months, said the doctors. “Death is such a finality. In the end you just amount to dust. Bones and dust. Spiritually, you go into a realm, to a soul space, but that’s not something that was visible to me. My father was finally dead and gone, and I had to deal with it with all the strength that I had to build up in those 10 months. That shield I had worn to protect my mother and myself had just crumbled. It just fell apart,” Karan writes.
The fear of being judged about his sexuality
Karan subtly and wittily breaks silence on the most talked about part of his life. “Everybody knows what my sexual orientation is. I don’t need to scream it out. If I need to spell it out, I won’t only because I live in a country where I could possibly be jailed for saying this.”
Of ‘letting go’ people and fallout with Kajol
Around the release of Ae Dil Hai Mushkil (2016) which was to hit the screens alongside Shivaay (2016), Johar was accused of sabotaging the latter by bribing someone. And Kajol’s reaction to the entire controversy through her oblique reaction on Twitter (‘Shocked!’) was the final nail. “That tweet validated the insanity, that she could believe I would bribe someone… Kajol is out of my life,” Karan Johar wrote. “She’s killed every bit of emotion I had for her for over 25 years. I don’t think she deserves me. There was still a bit of me that wished we would get back to what we had, but that one-word tweet was the most humiliating thing she could’ve done to someone who loved her deeply.”
Patch-up with Shah Rukh
Karan’s friendship with Shahrukh goes back over two decades. The two met on the sets of Karan Arjun (1995) before they warmed up to each other on the sets of DDLJ (1995) where Karan was an AD to Aditya Chopra. (It was Shahrukh who encouraged Karan Johar to write and direct his own film and promised to work in it. Kajol too was in. He had the two biggest stars of the country ready to work with him even before his career had begun).
A “simmering, silent distance,” however developed between the two, possibly because they didn’t work together for so many years, after having done six feature films. “Shah Rukh is a very possessive friend. I think I may have hurt him when I made a film without him. And I think I got hurt because when I did, I felt he didn’t give me that paternal or fraternal feeling that I had from him otherwise. I think we were two hurt friends for no reason.”
It was at the success party of Piku (2015) when things got back to before between the two. “At one point, when we were talking, we looked at each other. I hugged him instinctively and said, ‘I’ve missed you.’ And he said, ‘You’ve no idea how much I’ve missed you.’ We had this moment,” Karan Johar wrote.
The raconteur regales us with anecdotes and trivia abound. Childhood adventures, unabashed fascination for Hindi cinema, adoration and respect for Aditya Chopra, the AIB roast, the shifting dynamics of the industry in the last twenty years.
A quick, unputdownable read, An Unsuitable Boy is a delightful smorgasbord of the many facets to the life of one of the most celebrated mainstream filmmakers of our country!
By Mansi Dutta