I skipped this episode when it first aired, because what do I care about cricket players? But then it turned into a whole “thing”, so I tracked down an illegal copy (since the legal copy has been pulled) so I could judge for myself.
After the episode aired, social media and others criticized Hardik Pandya for being “misogynistic” in his responses, and KL Rahul came into similar critiques for being there and participating. Within days, the Indian Cricket Committee had called a ban on both players and they were flown home from Australia where they were in the middle of a match, and Virat Kohli (team India’s captain) had personally criticized them as well. Hardik Pandya offered an apology:
Cricket in India is something I cannot fully understand because I am not Indian, and it is an essential part of the Indian experience in a way that just does not make sense to me. In America, my identity, sports are private and for profit. Every 2 years we have the Olympics and turn folks into national heroes for a brief period and then we forget about them. Most of the time athletes are appreciated when they do something right (a public service campaign, an important public statement), and get a shrug and a “well, what else would you expect?” when they do something wrong. There’s a lot of layers to these reactions, but the bottom line is that it is just not that big of a deal. And it is certainly not a National deal.
But in India, the most important players are the ones on the National team. And they are seen as representing the nation, of being the brightest perfect shining lights of India. At least, so far as I can see from the outside. Maybe less about being athletes and more something like the way Astronauts were treated in America back in the 60s. And so when Hardik and KL Rahul appeared in Koffee, they were breaking the “perfect clean ideal Indian boy” image that is required for all players on the Indian team. I think? Maybe? Honestly, I am just struggling to understand this on any level and I am counting on my Indian readers to help me out.
Karan’s goal with Koffee, as I have said in every review this season, is to force people to open up, to be real, to give the public a chance to know them and learn to love them. That’s why the games that throw you off your practiced persona, the questions aimed at bringing out personal stories and emotions, and so on. And he succeeded in this episode, he brought out a real side to these players, they showed themselves for who they are. But India didn’t want to see who they are, they wanted them to remain perfect and untouchable.
What I find interesting is that the criticism is over what they said, not what they did. No one is saying “they should be off the team because they have sex outside of marriage”. No, they should be off the team because the TALK ABOUT having sex outside of marriage. Essentially, as good Indian Cricket players, they should be lying about themselves all the time and presenting a false image. This is the same argument that was made about the Miss India contestants. They were taught what to say in order to best represent India, and what they were supposed to say is “I am free, I am modern, I am western, I wear a sari all the time, I will have an arranged marriage, I will live with my parents”. That isn’t who they really were of course, but as good Indian girls and as their patriotic duty, they had to lie and pretend it was. Because India needed/wanted the lie, not the truth.
Now, let’s look at the actual episode! Karan comes out in a nice spangly shirt and explains the point of this episode. It is very sincere, he says how he never liked sports because he was never picked as a kid, but then 1983 happened and he saw his parents cry when India won and he started to think that sports was a good thing, he shouldn’t hold his personal experiences against sports in general. And so this episode his his effort at supporting a wonderful thing that can unite the country and mean so much to people. He is inviting Cricket players for the first time.
I believe in his speech and his sincerity. Through out the episode he references details of their playing history, and he has personal questions designed around their personalities. He did his research and worked hard to give them the best possible Koffee experience. The only problem was, he didn’t realize that the Koffee experience itself, the expectation of telling the truth in interviews, is not something that is allowed to National level players.
Hardik and Rahul come out then and right away in the way he is dressed and acts, there is something different about Hardik. Karan puts his finger on it and says that Hardik looks like a “boy from the hood” and Hardik owns it, says yes, his whole life he’s been drawn to Black American culture, used to tease his parents about being adopted. It doesn’t feel racist to me, he isn’t saying “Black people are cool”, he is saying “I personally like and relate to Black American culture”. But it is part of a whole picture of himself that cannot be removed from the public reaction to his comments. He acts “black”, and he later jokes about how he failed to pass 9th grade and can’t even read Hindi, that is how bad he was in school. He’s not the nice middle-class educated type that mainstream India can relate to, he’s something a little odd and different and dangerous.
Karan starts right out by bringing up all the stories of Hardik having girlfriends, and Hardik jokes that there are even more than that, a few others he kept quiet. So far as I can tell, Karan is bringing up things that are public knowledge, that Hardik has dated multiple women. And Hardik doesn’t deny it, confirms it and says that there were even more. But the way he says he kept them quiet feels like, to me, he was respecting their wishes, not every woman wants her name published. And he refuses to give an example of one of them now.
Hardik breaks it down, there are 3 separate things: “seeing” a woman, “dating” a woman, and in a “relationship” with a woman. Karan pushes and Hardik doesn’t fully explain, but it makes total sense to me. “Seeing” is when you are maybe making out at parties, texting a bit, sort of testing the waters. “Dating” is when you are officially meeting up on purpose to see if you like each other. And “relationship” is when you definitely like each other and are making a decision to be together. What jumps out, for me, in this break down is that none of these definitions are insulting to the woman. Or say anything about the women. They just say something about the connection between the two people. Hardik isn’t saying “there are women at clubs and women you take home to your mother”, just that there are 3 different ways of interacting and there is no need to mix them up.
Karan then turns to Rahul to lead him to his little intro story for the audience, getting him to tell the story of how he first met Karan. It was at a party at Sonam’s house, they were waiting for the bathroom, Karan asked who he was and then talked about how he made the name “Rahul” popular with his films. Karan is embarrassed that he didn’t know him and was so braggy, it makes Rahul look better and Karan look worse (Karan is being a good host to guide towards this story). And then Rajul admits he actually was named after Shahrukh characters, which is just a cute thing to admit.
Being at Sonam’s party kind of leads into Rahul talking about he knows all the actresses. He doesn’t date them, isn’t dating anyone, but he is part of a whatsapp group with them. Two things about this, from what he says later, Rahul is following Hardik’s definitions, he may not be “dating” anyone since college, but he is “seeing” women. Which is fine, he is young and healthy and works a lot, “dating” might be too much to expect from his schedule but “seeing” is his own business and the business of the women he is with. And second, being friends with women without dating them in any level, that makes me feel “safe” about Rahul. If he can go to Sonam’s party, and be part of her friend group, then he sees women as people, not just prey. Of course, another interpretation would be that it is always wrong for a young single man to message a woman no matter what.
And then the first really extreme sex stories. Karan leads them to it and Rahul and Hardik pick it right up. Rahul first, how his parents found a condom in his wallet when he was around 18. His father yelled at him in front of his mother, and then pulled him aside later and told him that it was good if he was doing those things, that he used protection. This is a slightly risque story but ultimately has a good relatable message, middle-class families maintaining propriety, mothers being ashamed and afraid of sexuality, and then a slight secret softening to reflect the modernization and westernization of Indian culture. Plus it’s just a nice story, a little father-son moment of honesty and caring.
Hardik’s is a bit odder. And Karan and Rajul acknowledge that at the end, talk about how crazy his family is, they are all so open about sex stuff. Hardik told them when he lost his virginity “I did it today”, and at a party “I won’t say which party it was”, his parents asked him so he pointed out to his parents all the women he had a “scene” with, “her and her and her and her”. This is, indeed, very odd. But it is how some families are. He isn’t saying he told his parents explicit details of what he did, and he isn’t saying his parents picked out women for him, or anything like that. Just that he was open and honest with them about his sex life, and not full of shame or guilt. But there is still an odd protection of the women involved, not even being specific as to what party it was so that there would be no way of knowing who they are. I mean, yes, if this was someone I knew in real life even in America, I would say “that’s odd”, and I would expect him to tell these stories in the way he does on the show, as jokes because he knows how odd his family is. But I wouldn’t say “I feel unsafe with him” or “this family is unhealthy”. Does that make sense?
There are some other stories in this section and later about Hardik and Rahul and women. At clubs, Hardik will always have a woman he is “talking” with, but not always know their name. He likes to watch how women move at clubs, because that can help him get a sense of if he likes them. Rahul seems like the nice one, but can be so charming he can steal a woman away from you. Hardik is always texting women, sometimes texting them the same thing. Hardik took a woman Rahul was seeing away from him, Hardik doesn’t feel bad, it was her choice. Karan asks what they would do if they both went after the same woman, and assumes they would decide between themselves, Hardik says no, “her choice”. Karan asks about photos of Rahul having coffee with Niddhi Agarwal and Rahul acknowledges that it was blown out of proportion, and probably Niddhi tipped off the photographers, Hardik says that is why he learned to enter restaurants through kitchens.
Karan asks about them being distracted by cheerleaders at matches, Hardik says “no”, Rahul jokes that it is because he has been with all of them already. Both of them have borrowed a teammates room and “done it”. Rahul has “connected” with a fan, but not Hardik. Rahul has used the line “Kuch kuch hota hai” on girls. Hardik would want to go on a date with Kareena, just a date and nothing else since she is married, the first time he would want that. And now I am getting a picture of both these men. They aren’t celibate, and they aren’t in love with the women they sleep with. But they aren’t rapists.
There are men who are famous and charming and attractive, who flirt with women at clubs and over texts and sleep with them in their friends’ rooms, who never go on dates without hoping for something physical, who will even occasionally take advantage of female fans. And there are women who want an exciting sexual encounter with a charming attractive famous man. Who go to clubs looking to flirt with men just as much as men are looking to flirt with women. Who may not want their parents or greater society to know what they are doing, but also are doing it of their own free will for their own sexual satisfaction. And from the very little Rahul and Hardik let drop, I think that is the kind of women they are finding. They text them, they flirt with them, they use lines with them. They don’t “date”, they “see” them. They are wooing them to gain consent. And they are wooing them openly for a sexual encounter, not lying about what they are doing or what they want, pretending this is “dating” or a “relationship” when it is really just “seeing” them.
We’ve seen this from the other side a bit, female guests on Koffee talking about who they want to “hook-up” with, Twinkle openly saying she was just looking for a location fling to pass the time with Akshay. But you don’t see women in India really saying it anywhere else, I don’t think. And you certainly don’t see Indian society necessarily accepting this as a reality.
And so, when I look at the part of this episode related to how Hardik and Rahul relate to women, I am seeing nothing wrong with what was said and a lot wrong with what was assumed. What they are actually saying is that they have consensual sex outside of marriage, and outside of serious relationships. That the women know they are not the only ones in their lives, that the women have the right to choose if they want these relationships or not. And they never ever in the course of the episode gave any hint as to who these women might be, never embarrassed any particular person.
But it is assumed that just because Hardik had a “scene” with multiple women, that it was not consensual. It is assumed that they talk about these women and ruin their reputations, that these woman could be ruined by being talked about (instead of existing in a community where no one cares). It is assumed that all Indian women will only have consensual sex inside of marriage or a relationship and therefore are “tricked” if it happens else wise. That all Indian women, as a community, will be harmed by being talked about as potential sex partners. That young men and young women don’t have equal sex drives, and don’t have the right to go out in the world and be young and healthy and sexual together.
But, let’s put a pin in that, and look at the rest of the episode. On the whole, I found it interesting that Karan was trying to bring in new kinds of guests and make them welcome. He kept the same tone, the same “tell me the stories you would tell at parties” kind of attitude. But he changed his questions a bit to allow for their different lives (asking if they prefer Dhoni or Virat as captain, for instance), and he changed the quiz at the end to be entirely Cricket based, and he also let their film industry questions go without insult. Rahul mentioned being disappointed in Dhadak, Karan laughed about how that was his film and Rahul didn’t even know, for instance. Karan treated them similar to how he treated Diljit and Badshah, guests on his show and within the Hindi industry in general, found a common ground and built from that, and wasn’t insulted when they didn’t know everything. It was a well-intentioned attempt to broaden the appeal of his show, and bring new people to a new audience.
And it failed, because the kind of honesty people use on the Koffee couch is not the kind of honesty that can survive in broader India, or maybe just Cricket fan India? It’s been 6 seasons now of brutal honesty, people saying they had one night stands, they had hook-ups, telling true stories of relationships and childhoods and everything else. And the film fan world and the film media is used to it, they know that the stars exist in a bubble, the film industry exists in a bubble, freer and farther forward than India as a whole in all kinds of ways (global connections, sexual freedom, religious freedom, etc. etc.). But I guess this episode succeeded in reaching a new audience who had never watched the show before and they were SHOCKED by what they saw.
Anyway, from the perspective of a non-desi who has seen a lot of Koffee episodes, that is how it looked to me. As I said at the beginning, feel free to explain to me in the comments all the things I was missing.