As a self-confessed Bollywood enthusiast who’s spent many hours daydreaming about a life that’s out of a Dharma movie and spent hours at the tailor’s trying to get the entire costume collection stitched (all at the age of 6), the most terrible part of ‘growing up’ was realising that this world that I’ve always been so in love with was far from perfect.
At the risk of being thrown out of the many (imaginary) Karan Johar fan clubs, here are the things that I wish Karan Johar hadn’t taught me (Cue: the longest sigh of my life).
The scene that made Kanta Ben one of the most lovable characters of the film was the one in which she enters the room carrying breakfast and ends up seeing Aman (Shah Rukh Khan) and Rohit (Saif Ali Khan) sleeping in the same bed. She’s later shown chanting exorcism spells to ‘save’ Rohit from the evil spirits that had gotten to him. (Side note: Welcome to India, where there’s nothing a puja can’t fix. Not the girl. The prayer.)
It was much later that I realised that this was one, and not the only instance in which Johar’s films have mocked homosexual relationships, using them for laughter and entertainment value.
It was probably encouragement from this that lead him to produce a three-hour long film about John Abraham’s underwear, and platitudes about same-sex relationships. “Dostana” is on our conscience, everyone.
Bollywood has always been one to promote unhealthy ideals of masculinity, be it a business tycoon patriarch who doesn’t understand the concept of equality in marriage (“Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham”, “Student Of The Year”), the one to save the ‘Damsel in Distress’, and even to the extent of not hugging your best friend lest it appear “gay”. These ideals of hypermasculinity insist on socially conditioning men to be the protector, to appear strong, to conceal their emotions at all times and are usually, homophobic in nature. A man who is effeminate is usually considered to be a closeted homosexual or will be mocked as one. Furthermore, this idea insists on taking male bodies and sticking them onto a promotional poster, making them available to and in sync with the hetero-normative Indian sensibility. It leads to the creation of a ‘macho’ man.
“Kuch Kuch Hota Hai” is my favourite Karan Johar film. As a teenager, I pledged not to be satisfied with my love life until I had exactly replicated the famous scene with the red dupatta. I swore that it was the best film ever, completely disregarding the fact that Rahul, the man who handed out friendship bands like loose change was… not very nice. Rahul is attracted to Tina the girl whose outfits and makeup are more put together than my whole life, and blatantly mocks Anjali for trying to adhere to the stereotypes of femininity to impress him.
Later, when Anjali is engaged to be married to Aman and is now a sari-wearing woman who wields perfectly manicured nails and high heels, he suddenly falls in love with her. This is after he claims that love happens only once. Hey Rahul, what happened to those principles? (Hashtag Team Aman.)
If it wasn’t for the music (and Fawad Khan), I’d gladly wish for “Ae Dil Hai Mushkil” to be a film that was never made. Sadly, handsome bearded men and Arijit Singh can only be saving grace so many times. And with this film, Karan Johar once again told us that no just means keep trying. Bollywood, look in the mirror and repeat this every morning – stalking is not romantic. Rejecting a person’s advances does not mean having to constantly face fear and exasperation, and being rejected does not mean hounding someone until they agree to be with you.
Sidenote: How could you ruin “Channa Mereya” for me with scenes of Ranbir Kapoor spread out horizontally on the floor to prevent Anushka Sharma from getting married? I did nothing to deserve this.
Repeat after me – A love triangle is not a valid plot point. Karan Johar’s directorial debut (“Kuch Kuch Hota Hai”, for the uninitiated.) was a love triangle, and he hasn’t looked back since. (“Student Of The Year”, “Ae Dil Hai Mushkil”, K3G). If the lead couple isn’t having enough problems already, you can add some more drama by pushing in a completely unnecessary love interest for one of them. (Or both, if you have a particularly large budget.)
But it isn’t just drama, these love triangles just become an excuse to play out the angle of abuse, virility and classism, packaged as a tear-jerking love story and sold to you.
Karan Johar’s trademark is a ‘larger than life’ film, in other words, one which is a prolonged celebration of affluence. Picturesque locations, expensive clothing, and a life that seems more like an extended vacation, they have it all. When I first told my father about my love for these films, he told me they were to sell to me a world that wasn’t like my own and one that I would crave being part of. And it was true, Johar has often created worlds in which rich is the norm – the schools, families, opinions and social gatherings are all about a certain upper-class circle. Even the ‘poor’ are rich, and there’s always an ‘us and them’ distinction that exists, even if it’s never mentioned explicitly.
Apart from being completely hetero-normative, it promotes an unhealthy gender equations. “2 States”, “Baar Baar Dekho”, “Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham”, “Gori Tere Pyaar Mein”, “Student Of The Year”, even “Dostana”. Why can’t we have more films centred around friendship, successful professional partnerships and quirky living situations without forcefully inserting the love angle (or worse, triangle) into it? The worst of the lot is “Ae Dil Hai Mushkil” where the ‘hero’ refuses to believe that he isn’t the heroine’s one true love.
Bollywood, you’re 100 years old. Act your age. I don’t want to be told that every relationship I have with men is invalid or meaningless because eventually, there will be some form of sexual attraction between us.
Come on, KJo. I know you’re better than this. And there’s only so many times I can defend you citing Poo as an example. Give me some more material. Please.
Aakanksha Sardana is an intern with Youth Ki Awaaz for the February-March 2017 batch.