Hindi Film 101: Shahrukh and Karan

This is fun, I should be able to write this whole thing without doing additional research. On the other hand, this is also a topic that many of you in the comments know more about than I do. So feel free to correct me, or expand, as needed.

This is inspired because of yesterday’s recent little twitter explosion when Karan’s account “liked” a nasty quote about Shahrukh, and Shahrukh had to respond to everyone getting excited about it:

On the season before last of Koffee with Karan, Shahrukh made a joke about how Karan is always having to defend his love of Shahrukh the same way Shahrukh has to defend his love for his country, and it’s true. And odd. I’m not sure why there is this pattern, why the media and public are always so focused on looking for a rift between then. Maybe because it is such a very unusual relationship we just can’t accept it is true? Maybe because it is such a beautiful relationship we want to tear it down? Maybe just because it is a passionate close friendship between a gay man and a straight man and we don’t believe it is possible? Anyway, most of us who are Shahrukh fans have accepted that, while he and Karan may have their ups and downs, at heart it is the kind of lifetime bond that can never truly be shaken.

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In his memoir, Karan tells the story of the first time he saw Shahrukh. He was in high school, a fat funny looking kid, and a friend of the family suggested he do a few TV roles. He was in a waiting room at a TV studio, waiting to meet a producer, and he saw this very handsome young man sitting across the room doing a crossword puzzle. Finally the office man came out and told the young man he was sorry he had waited so long but the producer wouldn’t be able to see him today. The young man said it wasn’t a problem, he just wanted to meet him face to face to tell him he wouldn’t be doing his TV show. He was going to concentrate on movies from now on, he was going to be a movie star. And then he left, and the office man turned to Karan and said “he’s a fool, you will never hear the name Shahrukh Khan again”.

It’s a great story, but I always take these Karan stories with a grain of salt, because he is a writer and he knows how to tell a good story. What I do believe happened is that Karan saw Shahrukh in a waiting room 5 years before they met for real and remembered that moment because something sparked, even then. Even if Shahrukh didn’t notice him.

Their real meeting was on the sets of DDLJ. Aditya Chopra had met Karan first. They knew each other from the occasional children’s parties as kids, but then met again when they were both finishing college and Adi kind of adopted him. Adi had grown up living and breathing film, it was all he knew or cared about. Karan grew up in South Bombay, living and breathing the whole artistic and social life of the city. Adi brought Karan into the world of film and encouraged his interests to blossom, Karan let Adi pick his brain for fashion and western styles and ideas. And then Adi invited Karan to help him make DDLJ. Karan started in the costume department (where he met Manish Malhotra, another young friend of Adi), and one day was brought in to meet the star, Shahrukh Khan. And he told Shahrukh “you should wear tighter jeans, my friends say your butt is very good and you should show it off”. And Shahrukh blushed bright red because he was so embarrassed, but was also impressed.

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Over the course of filming DDLJ, Shahrukh and Karan circled around each other, slowly getting each other’s measures. Karan helped right that final speech Shahrukh gives in front of Amrish Puri about why he and Kajol shouldn’t elope, and Shahrukh was so impressed when it was over that he told Karan he shouldn’t do costumes, he should write his own movie. Most importantly, Karan won over Gauri. She hated film people, thought they were boring and didn’t have anything to talk about. But during the European leg of the shoot, when she came over to be with Shahrukh, he handed her off to Karan to entertain her and show her around, and she loved him. She told Shahrukh he was the only interesting person she had met on a film set.

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Here’s Gauri and Karan together recently, in the nursery she made for his babies.

At the end of the shoot, Shahrukh told Karan he had another commitment coming up, but he would be free next October and Karan needed to have a script ready by then because they would start filming. He even called across the room to Kajol “Kajol, clear October, we are making a movie for Karan”. But of course Karan didn’t really believe it, that’s not how movie stars behave and that’s not how films are decided.

At this point, Shahrukh and Kajol were the hot new pair onscreen. They weren’t the top actor-actress, but they were very good and getting better with every film. And then DDLJ came out, and Shahrukh was rocketed to the stratosphere. Suddenly he was the biggest name in town and everyone wanted him. The idea of him doing a movie for this kid on his film set seemed even more fantastic.

And then one night Karan was in his bedroom at home and his father came in and asked to speak with him. His father looked very shaken, and Karan was alarmed. And then his father sat down and said “Son, today Shahrukh Khan came to see me. I’ve been wanting to sign him for my movie, and he said yes, he would do it. But he wanted to sign two films with me as producer, and he wanted the right to pick his director for the second one. I said of course, and he said he wants you to direct the second film”.

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This was the first film. Mahesh Bhatt directing, and then Shahrukh wanted to work with a 24 year old kid who’d never made a movie before.

So that’s how Karan became a director. Because Shahrukh forced him into it. They made Kuch Kuch together and by the end of the shoot, Karan was part of the family. From Shahrukh’s side, he talks about how meaningful that relationship was for Gauri. She was only 21 when they got married and she moved from Delhi (where she knew everyone and had a large loving family) to Bombay (where she knew no one and their first apartment was one room with a mattress and a hotplate). Shahrukh was working 20 hour days trying to get his career started, Gauri was bored and lost and lonely and felt out of place in the film world, and then Karan appeared. He was Gauri’s first real friend in film, the first person she felt comfortable with in Bombay. And if she hadn’t been comfortable, there was a real chance Shahrukh would have lost his career. They agreed when they got married that if it wasn’t working after a couple of years, he would move back to Delhi with her and get a “real” job.

Shahrukh’s first child, Aryan, was born while Kuch Kuch Hota Hai was being planned and made. Karan was there for all of it, supportive and understanding to both of them. And then Suhana came while they were planning Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham. At this point, Karan and Shahrukh were essentially joined at the hip. They did everything together, went every where together. This is when they started the joke of calling each other “Bhai”. Because all the other movie stars had these tough gangster-like friends, and here was Shahrukh with fey Karan, and shy serious Aditya, so they called each other “Bhai” to make a joke of how un-gangster they were.

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Aditya Chopra, Karan, and baby Aryan. Very gangster.

This is also when Shahrukh offered to protect Karan from gangsters. KKHH was premiering opposite a mob-backed picture, Bade Miyan Chote Miyan. Karan started getting threatening phone calls telling him to change his release date or they would shoot him, giving details of the clothes he was wearing that day to show that they were serious. He was terrified, his parents were terrified, the police told him to avoid going out and making himself a target, he was thinking about not even going to the premiere. And then Shahrukh came to see him and told him it was his night, he should go. And if he was afraid, no worries, Shahrukh would stand in front of him and block him so any bullets would hit Shahrukh instead. And that’s what he did.

In 2002, 8 years after they met, they were making Kal Ho Na Ho in New York. Karan was the writer and producer, his father Yash was there as well to help with the production stuff. And in the middle of filming, half a world away from home, his father started to feel sick and they went to see a doctor and learned he had cancer and only months to live. Karan was in a daze, he was an only child of older parents, his family had always been his father, and his mother, and himself. His mother was strict with high standards for him, his father was the soft loving blindly supportive parent. And the big strong cheerful nothing-can-stop-me parent. And now he was sick. And they had to finish the film, and they had to explain why Yash wouldn’t be on set any more. Karan went back to the hotel and went to see Shahrukh, he told him the news and Shahrukh fell down on the ground, sobbing, saying “I can’t do it, I can’t lose another father”. He was so upset Karan ended up comforting him, not the other way around.

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Here’s Karan at the funeral, with Shahrukh at his shoulder

After Yash died, Shahrukh didn’t leave Karan’s side. The first film Karan tried to produce after was Kaal, Shahrukh jumped in as a co-producer just to be supportive. Karan saw the first cut a couple of weeks before the release date and knew it would be a flop, just knew it. He was in a panic, his production house was going to go under and he was going to fail his father’s memory. He called up Shahrukh, and Shahrukh made a song for him to slap on the front of the film, literally within days. Kaal was still a flop, but not so bad that it killed them, and Dharma lived on.

This was the era when Karan was Shahrukh’s official costume designer on most of his films. For Main Hoon Na, he was air mailing in sweaters and jeans and fancy looks. He picked out Shahrukh’s FilmFare outfits and everything else. On a recent Koffee, they also joke about how Shahrukh is most embarrassed by Karan when they are shopping together. Karan picks out outfits for him to try, then goes into the dressing room with him to see, and even asks passing folks “what do you think? Does this look good?” and Shahrukh HATES it. At this point in time, Karan was the most successful producer/director in Hindi film, and also the guy who bought Shahrukh’s sweaters. Gauri used to be that person (she went to school for design), but she had two kids now, so Karan stepped up.

Karan had an idea for a movie on infidelity, Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna. Shahrukh agreed to do it, of course. During filming as they got farther and farther into the plot, Shahrukh got more and more uncomfortable. He questioned Karan, do these characters really need to have sex? Will the audience accept this and forgive it? He didn’t think it was a good idea for the film, thought it wouldn’t work. And he was uncomfortable with those scenes as an actor. But Karan told him no, he wanted this, so Shahrukh said “okay” and did whatever was asked just because Karan asked it. And then he was right, the audience was uncomfortable with the film and with Shahrukh. But it was still the right thing to do, because his friendship with Karan was more important than any audience.

The first “rift” between Karan and Shahrukh was around the time of Student of the Year. Karan had always sworn he would not make a film without Shahrukh in it, said he didn’t even know how to direct without Shahrukh. Varun Dhawan, one of the stars of Student of the Year, Karan’s first Shahrukh-less film, confirmed that. He said in an interview he was nervous about working with Karan, because he had seen him with Shahrukh on the My Name is Khan set, they didn’t even talk any more really, Karan would just look at him and he would do the scene exactly as Karan wanted it. He was worried he would be expected to be like that, and he just couldn’t.

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When I have a rift with my friends, or family, we don’t talk or see each other for a while. And then you get over it and come back together. Karan and Shahrukh’s relationship, it was too close for that. There was a difference, everyone could feel it, but it wasn’t the kind of difference that breaks up a friendship because their friendship couldn’t be broken ever, they have a bond that is too strong to snap. This was when Aryan was preparing to go away to boarding school, Karan was over to the house all the time helping him get ready, keeping Gauri calm, making sure Suhana was okay. He talked to Shahrukh to coordinate visits and kid pick-ups and dinners and all the little minutia of life. I guess it gets down to the explanation Karan gave for why Shahrukh co-produced Kaal. They were together all the time, it just made sense to produce a film together, it was easier. They weren’t together because they were working partners, they were working partners because they were already family. The “coolness”, that just meant they weren’t working together any more. They were still family. And like family, it blew over eventually without anyone doing anything. One day they just called each other up and talked and said “I miss you”. And then it was done.

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Here’s Karan picking Suhana up at the airport when she came back from school

They are maybe in another coolness period now, it’s hard to tell. Three years ago Karan had his birthday party in London so it wouldn’t conflict with Aryan’s graduation from high school and he could go to both. Two years ago, Karan had his birthday during location filming and Shahrukh wasn’t there. They co-produced Ittefaq together last year, but that was the last time they worked together. And Shahrukh wasn’t on the last season of Koffee With Karan. These are the little clues we see, this is how close we expect them to be, if they aren’t flying around the world to be together on Karan’s birthday, if they aren’t producing every film together, then it means they aren’t as close as they have been in the past. But that’s nothing. The kind of closeness they have, the history they share, the way they are embedded in each other’s lives, the surface of the relationship may ebb and flow but the core will never be touched.

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16 thoughts on “Hindi Film 101: Shahrukh and Karan

  1. Karan and Shahrukh might be best friends forever. But you can see from the quote that Shahrukh is a little bit annoyed with him.It’s his version of a rap on the knuckles.And just because they’re besties, they need not collaborate on every project. And unlike Ittefaq, it was a good thing Shahrukh didn’t cast one of Karan’s talentless protegees in Badla. And the film was better for it.

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    • I still just see that twitter comment as a rap on the knuckles to SRK’s fans who are trolling for a controversy, not Karan. But I agree that they aren’t working together now and it is for the best for both of them. They both need to build their own separate studios, is the bottom line, and how can they do that when they are only known for working with each other? Red Chillies has to producer its own films that survive on their own merit, and Dharma has to do the same.

      On Sun, Mar 24, 2019 at 8:32 AM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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      • It’s a two-fer.It’s a message to his fans to stay out and that he can take care of his problems with his friends -no defending needed from 3rd parties. There was however enough sarcasm in the tweet that it’s clear he’s slightly annoyed with KJo.That dig about “good things about Karan such as his fashion sense” and “Karan is clumsy” makes it clear.

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  2. I don’t think not appearing on KWK has significance. That is a commericial show. Shah Rukh appears on it if it makes commercial sense. That’s it. He didn’t want to promote Zero on that show which I understand. I think this whole tweet debacle does have significance. That Shah Rukh “clarified” something he says often and repeats in the tweet that he hates to do, speaks to how important he thought it was. That (stupid in my opinion) selfie in SRK’s vanity van at Filmfare with Karan was absolutely for Karan and to stop the trolling. There is a group of fans on twitter who think Karan is a snake and disloyal. I think your read might be better. I’m I imagining things or did this post at one point have a comment about the other debacle that Karan was a part of: the PC rumors…

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    • You are imagining things, this post had no comments at all until just now! I was shocked, I put it up thinking I could relax and enjoy my vacation because it would be a comment bonanza, and then bupkis!

      My memory of the PC situation was that Karan got angry at her publicly and it became a whole thing, is that your memory? And my impression was that he was angry on behalf of Gauri more than SRK. The Gauri-Karan friendship has always be referred to, among all three of them, as as strong or stronger than the SRK-Karan friendship. Which is another thing I think the people pushing the “feud” or “disloyal” storyline just don’t get, that even of SRK and Karan are angry with each other, his relationship with Gauri is separate from that and he will still be in Shahrukh’s life constantly. It’s not as simple as being “disloyal” and then Shahrukh can punish him by shutting him out, how can he shut out one of the most important people in the lives of his children and his wife?

      And anyway, the trolling about a break-up is damaging to the public image of both of them, I think. Karan needs to be seen as reasonable and sensible and not a hysterical vicious Queen (which is what these stories sometimes sound like they are painting him as), and Shahrukh needs to be seen as someone with friends in the industry and a connection to the younger generation of actors. They both benefit by shutting it down. Not to mention that these stories can only distract from what they are actually trying to promote, they both have films in theaters right now, they need people to buy tickets for both without feeling like they are picking sides.

      On Sun, Mar 24, 2019 at 8:44 AM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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      • Karan’s involvement in the PC mess was part of the reason for the cooling off between him and SRK earlier, not just that they were not working together anymore.

        No matter how close friends you may be, there is always a limit that should not be crossed. Meddling in someone’s marriage is one of them. Both SRK and Gauri were keeping quiet during those rumors but Karan decided to publicly jump in and give more wind to the controversy. People still to this day use his tweet as confirmation that something must have indeed happened between SRK and PC. And all for what? Nothing at all since he went back to PC within days, invites her to parties, went to her wedding, calls her on his TV show, and more. It was the kind of thing a gossip fiend does, not a friend. It did not protect Gauri at all and made the controversy bigger and more public.

        Since then, I think SRK has always been slightly wary of Karan even during the good times.

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        • That makes sense. I like your phrasing of “wary”. It’s not that he likes or loves him any less, but there is an awareness that he has the ability to do PR damage and that makes you cautious about what you might say. It’s very relatable, I think we all have that friend who is bad at keeping secrets and so, although you don’t blame them for who they are, you accept and understand it and are a little more cautious about what you tell them. And maybe keep them at arms length some of the time for that reason.

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  3. I think Karan begged SRK (or Gauri) to put up that tweet for him and asked for a photo. His fat fingers incident had turned into a pretty big thing. At one point, there were almost 100K tweets shaming Karan and it was trending all day on twitter. It’s not something SRK would have done on his own. He never replies even to his own controversies. Not only that, his tweet did not even sound upset. He seemed amused about having to rescue Karan.

    They are definitely in a cool period in their friendship. At one point, SRK gave a revealing interview that he sent his kids off to the UK/US primarily to keep them away from Karan. He felt Karan was pressuring them towards films and he didn’t want his kids in that environment. Most of their circle also works as assistant directors for Karan. For example, Sanjay Kapoor’s daughter Shanaya is currently doing that for one of Karan’s films. Varun Dhawan and others had done it before their careers too. But again, Suhana has been kept away and she worked for Gurinder Chadha instead.

    I could be wrong but I think even Gauri is not as connected to Karan as she once was. It was a different time period when she was bored and had nothing to do but gossip with Karan. Nowadays she is busy with her work and she is mostly seen just with her family. Karan is off playing out his mid-life crisis and hangs out mainly with people half his age.

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    • I think you are right about them not being as connected. But that’s just life, you know? If they weren’t famous folks, it would still make sense for them to be drifting apart at this moment in their lives. They became friends at a time when they were all very lonely, Shahrukh was an orphan, Gauri was separated from her family and had no job or life of her own, Karan was struggling with his identity and had always been kind of a lonely odd only child, it makes sense that they would cling together. And then Karan’s father died, the kids were babies which means Gauri had a harder time leaving the house and was isolated again, all of these other life reasons for this friendship to be very important from all sides in those first 10-15 years. And now Gauri’s career is blossoming, Karan has his own kids, Shahrukh is exploring new artistic and business challenges, it makes sense that they are less close than before. Give it another ten years, Karan’s kids will be older and less demanding of attention, Shahrukh and Gauri might be semi-retired, and they can go back to taking vacations together and spending every minute together. It’s the kind of friendship that is never going to really go away, but it will change. Which is very rare and I am a little jealous of them, and of everyone else I have seen who has that kind of friendship.

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      • You may be right but I tend to see it differently. I think the closeness was a result of the fact that they were working together a lot, not the other way around. When you’re seeing each other every day on set, it’s natural for a friendship to form. Gauri used to go on all the location shoots too because she had nothing to do either in the earlier years.

        That started changing once SRK and Karan stopped working with each other. It’s been almost a decade since MNIK. Even during MNIK promotions, Karan was asked about the bonding time he has with SRK and he immediately said there is no such thing because SRK is way too busy. He had said in other places too that he can’t even get in touch with SRK unless he goes through Gauri and she tracks him down and makes him reply.

        SRK is too old for the kind of young movies Karan wants to make so they will never work together again so that kind of closeness is not going to happen. SRK is a workaholic so I never see any time coming when he will be semi-retirement. Even if he’s not acting, he will be busy with other things and if nothing else, he would be playing with his grandkids, not hanging out with Karan Johar.

        Of course they will be friendly and attend parties and gatherings together but I don’t see any special kind of friendship in that. Karan also tends to exaggerate a lot so I would never go by his over-the-top words. On KwK, he was even calling Anil Kapoor’s family his own family and I was flabbergasted. He is a bit of a show-off and not to be taken that seriously.

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        • It does totally make sense that they’re in a phase of life that doesn’t really match right now. Karan’s on his first set of babies, and out figuring out how to be a movie mogul in the modern age, and working his marketing and connections and stable of talent, and the semi-reality gossip celebrity thing. SRK is building up Red Chillies to where it doesn’t need him as an actor to be successful, and helping his older kids transition to adulthood and independence, and navigating the political headwinds and what that does to the SRK business, and figuring out what to do as an actor and artist if his movies aren’t guaranteed hits anymore. Not a lot of overlap. I don’t know when that changes. It’s possible to see a business convergence that plays to both of their strengths on streaming, but they’ve even married different platforms.

          On the other hand, the argument for the unbreakable bond is that they were together for many years during a young, very formative period in all their lives. And also, something not to be taken lightly given who they are now, at a time when they weren’t powerful and they could become friends as people instead of personalities. I feel like the people who helped you at a time when you were unimportant and disposable are the people you hang onto and feel loyalty towards even many years and many changes later. Also, as an only child for most of my life, the people who are important to you and help see you through hard family stuff can come to feel kind of like adopted siblings (though this doesn’t always keep you together either).

          Anyway, I agree it feels like a family connection, but not necessarily an easy one – more like the complicated kind of sibling relationship you see sometimes, often between brothers, with plenty of undercurrents and distances.

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          • Thinking about it like brothers, with Karan as the younger and Shahrukh as the older (which is how Karan has referred to their relationship himself) made me think about something else, Karan has kind of outgrown Shahrukh increasingly over the past few years. Which is what happens with siblings and is always awkward, when you hit that phase where you need to learn how to interact as equals instead of as older- younger. All the things I talk about here, Shahrukh was the big brother. Shahrukh was 30 and telling Karan he should direct when Karan was 22. He gave him confidence and encouragement and guided him, he and Gauri adopted him into their family, even made him an “uncle” to their kids. And now Karan is directing his own films with Shahrukh, is having his own kids. It’s healthy, but it means now they are fathers together, and producers together, heck Karan is even more experienced than Shahrukh as a producer! I haven’t seen anything that makes me think Shahrukh resents that difference, but it is a hard thing for a relationship to navigate, find a way to move beyond that advice giver-advice taker kind of relationship. I mean heck, the difference between 30 and 22 is a vast chasm, the difference between 52 and 44 is nothing. That alone is something every relationship with an age gap runs into, that moment when the gap doesn’t matter any more and you have to figure out how to be in the same stage of life together.

            On Sun, Mar 24, 2019 at 8:21 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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  4. Yes, that’s a good analogy. Neither of them has an elder sibling or even father with whom they might have had a chance to go through this kind of transition. When your elder sibling or mentor is no longer more powerful and successful than you are, and you have to renegotiate your roles. Especially in this case where their connection started and was always surrounded by the films, but now the industry is fragmenting in ways that, based on their natural strengths and inclinations, push them apart instead of bringing them together.

    I was thinking too about the social media and internet moment when this is all unfolding, it complicates the personal. Like you were saying about that friend who can’t keep a secret, except what that friend does in public is amplified by ten thousand or ten million and can have real world effects, economic and political, for not only you and your family but for your company and the people who work for you. The stakes are so much higher, if SRK loses his temper, or if Karen goes on one of his petty benders. I imagine it constrains even the private relationship to some extent, things can never get to point where it might leak out.

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    • They are also close enough that these rifts don’t need words. In Karan’s memoir he talks around their last problem period, and there was no fight, no words were said, but the both knew something was wrong. And then they both knew something was right. Which is another reason I don’t think we will ever see them fighting on social media or a public arena, because I don’t think they “fight” even in private. It’s more “you are being extra polite when you answer the phone, and you say ‘bye’ instead of ‘I love you'” kind of fighting. They know it when it is happening, and the people closest to them know it, but it won’t come through to anyone else.

      On Mon, Mar 25, 2019 at 6:11 AM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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  5. Wow, you did another post about Karan and ShahRukh…even a 101 (I missed a more Dharma-orientation because Yash Johar had asked ShahRukh to kind of supervise/help/contribute… There had been a much more big-son/big-brother-of-Karan relationship between Yash Johar-ShahRukh than between the kind-of-son – Yash Chopra relationship (I think, ShahRukh is closer to Uday than to Aditya…without being gay himself he has a soft understanding for – unaggressive – gayness, I think).

    I always perceived the relationship ShahRukh Karan as one of big brother-little brother (even before having read Karan’s take on that…because I never believed Karan’s take…he was in love with ShahRukh…and maybe still suffers from this unrequited sexual love).
    In a family, one would talk of ‘cutting the umbilical cord’ what Karan did (not in a nice way, but in general that doesn’t happen in a nice way).

    Despite the kids, I think that Karan is an unhappy man and not very balanced (since some years). Yet that are my own feelings and they may be wrong 😉

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