I’m trying to catch up on Koffee. It’s hard, because you know how detailed I like to be in my discussions! And this is probably going to be another detailed one. But then, it was also a really interesting episode. I can always hope the others are dull and then it will be easy to write about them.
Karan’s intro here is vital to setting the tone for the episode, it isn’t just a light amusing story, it as an explanation. A story that is familiar to me from his memoir, that he felt like an outsider in the film industry as a child because he was from South Bombay, not Juhu/Bandra like everyone else. If you don’t know Bombay, this is more sort of geographical and cultural that class or cash based difference. Both areas are very expensive and very nice, it’s just that Juhu/Bandra is where all the film folks are and South Bombay is a little more varied. Karan’s point is that, at those children’s parties, it was Shweta and Zoya who took him in and made him feel safe and became his friends. Meanwhile, Abhishek was a brat and bullied him his entire childhood. And he is telling us this now to prepare us, as an audience, for an episode that is going to feel a little insider and a little intimate, because they know each other so well. Forgive them for that.
And then Abhishek and Shweta come out, both in very cool clothes. These are not the formal evening kind of things other people have been wearing, but way more kind of club attire. Don’t know what the meaning of that is, besides that is how Karan sees the two of them. And maybe how he wanted this episode to feel, more friends hanging out at a club and less fancy award show look.
Abhishek right away starts bullying Karan, just like he warned. Says it’s the annual “let’s be nice to Karan, he comes to all the Sangeets and weddings, so we come on his show and be nice to him”. Abhishek says he took a long time to get ready because it was Karan, and all the stylists and make-up people that he supervised took a long time. Karan says he looks like he is in a band, Abhishek does a quick fake laugh, a kind of joking “I am pretending to find you funny but I am really mad at you” laugh. Yep, this feels exactly like bullying of a little boy from the wrong neighborhood. But in a nice way, nicer for old friends to treat you like they have always treated you sometimes than with a lot of respect.
Karan starts the questions off easily, asking about their parents in terms of what they are like as parents. This is a version that isn’t totally new, Jaya and Amitabh have always been involved and public parents, from candid photos in the press to Amitabh’s fatherly pride tweets. But it’s nice to get a little more confirmation of it, and set the stage from the start that Jaya and Amitabh in this show will be referred to as parents first and celebrities second. Shweta says obviously Abhishek is Jaya’s favorite, her eyes light up when he walks in the room. Abhishek agrees that Shweta is Amit’s favorite, God himself could be in the room, and if Shweta walks in it is all over, she is the only one Amit cares about.
That’s really nice to hear! I mean, Amitabh isn’t exactly good at hiding his preference, I think the whole world knows that Shweta is his favorite person on earth. But I always like it when we get a reminder that the greatest “Patriarch” in Indian film far prefers female children to male (let’s be real, you can see the same preference in how he treats Aaradhya and Navya Naveli versus Agastya). Come to think of it, Rajinikanth is the same, isn’t he? And Kamal. All the big old male superstars just adore their daughters. Oh, and I like the way Abhishek puts it, while Shweta just sort of teases about Abhishek being Jaya’s favorite, Abhishek makes it almost poetic, saying that Shweta outshines God himself so far as Amitabh is concerned.
With parents out of the way, Karan moves on to sort of establishing who Shweta and Abhishek are now in their profession. Starting with Shweta, who surprises me by how she answers. She doesn’t promote her book, or her fashion line. She is kind of humble about it, just says that when she hit 40, Karan told her “it is time to do something with your life”, so she is trying to do things. I like that she doesn’t try to explain or excuse beyond that, to add on that she was a full time mother until 40 or anything (which we know she was), just leaves it that she is “trying”. And she doesn’t even claim to be succeeding. It’s still totally unfair that her family connections are getting her published and so on, but at least she isn’t saying “and I am super successful right away!”, she knows she is just starting out.
Abhishek gives a really good answer about his career! In a very graceful way, he talks about the shift from being a background player to a lead again. This is the explanation his team always gave for him dropping out of the JP Dutta movie and it didn’t make sense, because it was such a strange last minute decision. I still think there was more going on, but it makes a little more sense hearing him explain it. He didn’t take a reasoned career decision to go after lead roles, he had an emotional catharsis. A personal crisis after years of feeling the little hurt of being pushed aside, placed behind or next to someone instead of in the center. It was easy, but it was painful. And he needed the pain, because ultimately it was the hurt and humiliation that made him decide it was worth it to take risks again, to shoulder the burden of a film instead of simply being a supporting player.
It’s a fascinating look at the inner workings of an artist. As an audience member, I am very aware that it is easier for Abhishek to be a supporting player. I can’t think of a movie where he played a support where he didn’t save the film. He is brilliant at coming in and with a few lines or scenes immediately entertaining the audience and making everyone else look good. But for the first time I am thinking of that from the other side. He is good at it, it seems effortless, and maybe it is effortless for him. Maybe that is the problem, he can do these roles without trying at all and eventually, that feels like stagnating, like failing, like running from the challenge. As an audience member, I don’t want him to go after leading parts, because I will miss him so much in the supporting roles. But I can also understand why, as an artist, it is what he feels he must do.
In return for Abhishek’s very personal response, Shweta gives her own. Not as an artist, but as the relative of artists. Is this kind of thing why Shweta doesn’t want her children in the business? Shweta says yes, that’s why Navya isn’t acting. It’s for a selfish reason, it hurts to see the things people say about Abhishek, it gives her sleepless nights worrying about it, she doesn’t want another member of her family going through that for her to worry about. I hadn’t thought about that before. I knew from other interviews (mostly with Amitabh) that Shweta has always feared the limelight and not wanted it for herself, been sensitive. But I like the way she puts it here, aware that she is different from the rest of her family, but still selfishly wanting to protect herself from the pain she would experience if her children were to be attacked the way her parents and brother are.
Writing this out, I am realizing how coordinated the sections and topics are here. It felt organic while I was watching it, but I think that is because Karan knows them so well, he could predict exactly what would be discussed and let the conversation just flow but still have control over it. First we have the Bachchans as a family (who is the favorite of each parent) and then a personal/professional section, discussion what their public life means to them personally. And now moving back to their parents to talk about them as parents and public figures. Starting with Jayaji (who Karan calls “Aunty J”, very cute), give us the flipside of her public persona, the way she always looks unhappy in candid shots, and is regularly videoed yelling at paparazzi videos. All three of them confirm that it is their guilty pleasure, watching her yell at photographers. But also reveal it is a sincere “thing” with her and has been her whole life, she is claustrophobic and doesn’t like the paparazzi scrum, but even before that she had a strong feeling that it wasn’t right, they people should ask before they take her photo. Kind of explains why Jaya always looks so stiff and miserable in photos. And why the rest of the family looks stiff around her, Abhishek jokes about how if it is the 4 of them (him and Amitabh and Aish and Jaya), they say a little prayer and go with her, but if Shweta is there, they just send her with Jaya.
Of course the unspoken thing, which is true in so many families, is that this story shows how much Shweta is her mother’s daughter more than her father’s. Amitabh and Abhishek are comfortable with the public, like the attention. Shweta and Jaya are sensitive, hide from it. But of course, Amitabh loves and understands the child who is less like him more than the one who is like him, and Jaya is the same. If I were ever to meet Abhishek and Shweta (very unlikely), I could probably point this out to them and they would be like “yeah, of course”. But I find it funny that we have the juxtiposition of these stories without anyone bothering to point out that Shweta and Jaya are the same.
And then it is time to move on to asking about the public/private divide of Amitabh. Which gets surprisingly emotional, I think. It doesn’t start that way, Karan asks Abhishek about working as Amitabh’s son and Abhishek answers sincerely, but still seems to be giving a planned answer, something that is hard for him to say but he wants to say it. Part of his desire to change his career, I guess, he can’t just laugh off these questions or duck them, that’s what being the “center” actor means, the one who carries the film instead of the one off to the side. So Abhishek, honestly, says that it is very difficult having Amitabh as your father. He is his biggest fan, thinks he is the greatest actor on earth. And the few times he says “well done”, you don’t know how to handle it. He is always brutally honest, and has been honest when he doesn’t like a movie. One thing I find interesting about the way he puts it is that he is focused on the work, on acting. It’s not about fame, it’s not about success, it is just about doing the work. Similar to Abhishek’s previous reply about why he shifted his career, it was about himself as an artist, not as a star or a moneymaker. In fact, it probably means a step down in public success and money. Abhishek is in a place right now where he is going internal and only caring about the work.
And then it takes a turn into something that I think they weren’t planning to talk about. Karan asks if Amitabh has seen Manmarziyaan, a nice natural question since it is Abhishek’s last film and one of his most impressive acting jobs. Abhishek and Shweta tell the story together, when he saw Manmarziyaan he was crying from the previews on. Shweta was with him and told him he has to call Abhishek, because she thought it would make Abhishek happy to know how moved Amitabh was by his performance. So she called Abhishek, he was in Bangalore, it was 10 o’clock at night, and she said Pa wants to talk to you, and then Amitabh picked up and said “I can’t talk to you”. And Abhishek was terrified. But Amitabh doesn’t know what to say in moments like that. And that’s when Karan calls a break.
This is a touching story, and also kind of a raw story. I would be touched no matter what, the idea of a son who wants his father’s approval and is constantly hurt when he doesn’t get it, of a daughter/sister who tries to act as a bridge, and this final point when the father just can’t say it, can’t reveal the depth of his feelings to his son, and the son can’t really process that level of humanity in his father, the whole thing is so full of love that doesn’t know how to express itself, from Shweta wanting to give this gift to Abhishek, to Abhishek being more alarmed by Amitabh’s show of emotion than flattered, to Amitabh knowing Abhishek can’t process that kind of reaction from him.
But what makes this really feel “real” to me, is that Karan calls a break. It’s a terrible time for a break, it is right in the middle of this story that hasn’t completely finished, we leave off at Abhishek in Bangalore trying to call back and find out what is wrong. It’s so awkward and odd that it was immediately noticeable. And it makes me think that Karan must have seen or known something about this story that makes him call for commercial before a natural breaking point. He knew Amitabh wouldn’t like it being told, or he saw that Abhishek or Shweta were about to cry, something.
Post commercial, Karan turns to another touchy family topic, Aishwarya. Only this one they were clearly more prepared for, very nice practiced answers here. Karan starts with Shweta, to ask about Aishwarya in terms of how she handles no longer being Abhishek’s person, and she has a very nice answer of “it’s always better to have two hands”, now he has someone else to go to with worries, including things he may not feel comfortable sharing with Shweta. This is clearly what they say to people, I have no idea how Aish has actually been integrated into the family. But the truth it actually reveals is that prior to Aish, Shweta was Abhisheks one and only and primary person. Which I wasn’t really aware of. I guess because Shweta keeps herself so private, tucked away in Delhi with her kids, I didn’t realize that for all those years she and Abhishek were a team and now Aish is the interloper.
Moving from that, Karan spins back to general family stories. For instance, how they are all afraid of Jaya because she always tells the truth. And this gives me one of my all time favorite quotes, she told a filmmaker after a screening “I have to tell you, no matter what anyone else tells you, you have made a very bad film”. And because of this, and because she cares about Abhishek so much, she won’t watch Manmarziyaan because she is afraid she won’t like it. That’s a sweet ending, but I am still stuck on her “don’t believe what anyone else tells you, you suck” words of wisdom.
And then Amitabh gets his cute story, talking about how they have a WhatsApp group, Shweta is irritatingly active, and Amitabh doesn’t know how to use it. Which I think we all could guess, based on his regular tweets of “My —— won’t work! Can anyone help?” (my favorite part about this is that he uses twitter as his tech support. That’s a truly Grandpa move.) Anyway, the family has a thing about never flying in the same plane, and always sending a message when they take off and land. And Amitabh will reply hours later to a “taking off” message saying “have you landed?” Not noticing the other messages that say “landed” “in car” “at home” and so on. But also, what is with the family having a thing of never flying together, and always sending a message when you get on the plane and when you land? The only plane disaster anywhere related to them I can think of is Sanjay Gandhi. Maybe it is just a family thing, people are weird about flying.
And that’s it for the talky section! So, we started with “light joke” then moved into “let’s briefly establish your parents and your family as regular parents and family” then “who are you as people and professionals” then “how do you relate to your parents as people and professionals” then “let’s tell cute stories about your parents”. All very tidy, setting up the tone of the episode and getting us into thinking of the Bachchans as people, before dealing with anything else and kind of giving equal time to the kids and the parents. But it felt natural, even with this clearly planned path, it still felt like a normal conversation. And it still had an unexpected moment of emotion.
And now, Rapid Fire! Which completely fails. Because they all three know each other way too well. Instead of quick question-quick answer, it turns into more “question-general conversation-next question”.
Couple of cute stories did come out. One that I liked was talking about how all the grandkids, Agastya and Navya and Aaradha, at one point thought the crowds around the car or the house were for them. Like, Aaradha sitting on Amitabh’s lap in the car (poor car safety! BAD GRANDPA!!!) waving at the crowd and taking his hand and saying “Grandpa! You wave too!”. Such an odd sort of family tradition of childhood, to have that moment when a child is so innocent they don’t realize that it is their grandfather who is the special one. When Aaradhya grows up and marries Prince George, it will be a nice bonding thing, the only two people in the world who understand this right of passage.
It really descends into anarchy when Karan asks Shweta about her crushes, and then Abhishek says it was Aamir she had a crush on, not Salman, and it descends into stories about teen years. Which mostly reveal that Shweta and Abhishek were far more of a “team” than I realized. Shweta was in London living with their uncle and had a crush on Salman from Maine Pyar Kiya, Abhishek was the one who had to buy a bunch of “Friends” caps and fly to London with them for her. When they were in Boston for college, Abhishek paid her bills, but Shweta defends that she cooked for him. When she was depressed, she would go shopping at her favorite resale store (Abhishek remembers the name) and then call him up to come with cash and pay off the bill.
These are all really cute stories, especially the way they tell them layering over each other. And it fills in a whole picture of what it is like for star kids, at least these star kids. The unspoken thing is that they both had to go to school in London because their father was too famous. And then they went to college in Boston to have a normal college experience. All of these moments of exile, of independence-but-dependence. Having their own budget and living alone and cooking for themselves and everything at a very young age (Shweta married at 21/22, Abhishek is about a year and a half younger, so this would have been when they were both under 20). And because of that, clinging together all the more. No wonder Karan asked what it was like letting Aish join the family, Shweta and Abhishek were their own little family within a family for a long time, all the way back to high school when Shweta was more likely to ask Abhishek to buy and bring her the gift she wanted from India than to ask her parents.
Oh, and it also has some primo brother teasing, Abhishek telling how Aamir got to hear about Shweta having a crush on him and used to write her a letter every birthday (so cute!!!! Now I have an alternate fantasy in my head where Shweta and Aamir get together as adults). And Abhishek says about how he will do in the Rapid Fire, that his family told him “let her win the hamper, let her do something in life, let her have something.”
Abhi’s rapid fire isn’t as interesting as Shweta’s, mostly because Shweta doesn’t jump in as much. But she still does a little. For the love-hate-tolerate question, he says about Aish that he loves that she loves him, hates and tolerates how she packs. But for Jaya he loves that she is his mother, hates that she is a bit picky, tolerate that everything has to be placed correctly, she will interrupt some serious conversation to get up and rearrange something on a table. Shweta points out the obvious, he is WAY more careful about what he says about his wife than about his mother. Clearly he has no fear of Jaya because he is her favorite, but is afraid of Aish. Abhi tries to blow past it, but Shweta is totally right, he is playing it closer to the chest about his wife than his mother.
My favorite moment from this is when Karan asks “when was the last time you cried?” and Abhi says “yesterday”. And Shweta immediately goes on alert, asks “Why???” with real concern. Not the usual way that question would go! It’s one of those open questions for Rapid Fire, you can give a quick answer like Abhishek did, or you can tell a little story if you want, like “when India won the [sports event]”. But having someone give an quick answer and the other guest immediately dig for more details is not usual! Another moment I think they forgot they were on TV, or at least Shweta did.
And then moving right on to the quiz! Abhishek does better in general, partly I think because he thinks better under pressure. Shweta even messes up the date of their parents marriage, which cracks me up because she was born within the first year of their marriage so by putting the date in ’74 instead of ’73, she is making herself legitimate.
Abhishek, on the other hand, even has the presence of mind to challenge the answer for “first movie Jaya and Amitabh acted in together”. Because they acted in Guddi, even if Amitabh was replaced later. But if Karan had asked for the movie they stared in together, he obviously would have given the right answer because he has the poster for it in his office. This whole thing is just so adorable! I can picture the family stories/jokes about how Amitabh was replaced on Guddi. And obviously the first real movie together is important enough for Abhishek to track down a poster of it and put it in his office.
And finally the phone round, Karan has them call their parents, Abhi gets Jaya, Amitabh doesn’t pick up. Karan suggests spouses next, but then doesn’t follow through on it. Which is the one thing that I am VERY curious about!!!! Shweta has been living in Bombay more or less for the past 4-5 years. But her husband is still living in Delhi. In this episode, there was talk of Aish, of Shweta’s kids, or Shweta’s new life as a writer and a stylist, and absolutely no discussion of her husband.
Which could be nothing. The Nanda’s are a very private family, Aish is a celebrity in her own right, the two spouses are not equal. In fact, Karan’s description of how Shweta started a new life at 40 could even answer the question of why she is in Bombay without any relation to her marriage. Maybe she and her husband are perfectly in love forever, but she as a person wanted to explore herself and try new things after hitting 40 and her kids hitting teenage years, and it is easier to do that in Bombay. And he can’t leave the factory in Delhi. I’ve known plenty of couples that went through a semi-separation phase around that same time, a midlife crisis that makes you want to explore yourself in a way that may pull you apart from your spouse geographically but not emotionally. And so Shweta’s husband is not mentioned here because she is her own person and Karan is talking about her, and her husband isn’t famous.
Or maybe Shweta and her husband have separated for real, emotionally and physically, and it is none of our business, and Shweta already can’t sleep when her brother is trolled for bad acting, she would probably have a nervous breakdown if her personal life was spread around on Koffee with Karan.
That’s really the only thing that felt less than honest to me in this whole episode, the why Shweta’s marriage was erased. And that was weirdly honest in its own way, she didn’t want to talk about it and rather than dancing around the topic or coming up with excuses, she just didn’t talk about it.
Anyway, that’s what I think, how about you?