Hindi Film 101: Karan Johar, Self-Hate Hidden Behind Pretend Self-Love

It’s Karan Johar’s birthday week! So what better time to finally do a 101 on him? 101s on living active people are always tricky, because if people are alive, they change. But I will do my best by Karan as he is right now and we will see if I need to do an update later.

Usual disclaimer: I don’t know these people, I have no special knowledge, this is just the truth as I see it based on publicly available sources.

Karan is someone who has spent his life struggling with the disconnect between how he feels inside and how he is seen by others. Everyone has this same disconnect, but Karan I think struggles with it on the higher end of things. Which means he can be shockingly honest about himself, but still not be truthful. Because things as he honestly sees them, are not always the truth. He always sees himself as the worst possible light, when the truth is a far far better man.

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The misconception is that Karan sees himself as better than he is, but I think the reality is the opposite. The way Karan sees himself and describes himself is actually as a far worse person than he is in reality. For a simple example, in his memoir he talks about how he never felt like his mother loved him, she as always stern with him while his father was indulgent. He knows logically that she did love him, that she thought the best thing to do as a parent was to be stern, but he doesn’t really believe it, and that comes through in his writing about their relationship. Obviously Karan’s mother does love him, that is clear to anyone who sees a photo of them together. But if you read Karan’s description of their relationship, you can see his doubts and conflict, and you would come away thinking “he is trying to make a bad situation sound good, his mother must really hate him”.

Karan loves to talk about himself, it can appear narcissistic, but I believe it is the opposite. He is still so insecure, has such low self-esteem, that he talks and talks to silence the voices in his head, and avoids saying the things he truly believes about himself because he is afraid if he says them aloud, they will go away. Does that make sense? If you listen closely, what he is saying are the opposite of humble-brags, more like brag-humbles. He won’t say “I am handsome”, he will say “Clearly I am the most handsome man in India”. Because he thinks maybe he is handsome now, but if he says that and people laugh at him, it will hurt. But if he makes an outrageous claim and people laugh at it, he can pretend it is because it is outrageous and not because it is an out and out lie. At the same time, he doesn’t make big claims about the things that are really important, he doesn’t talk about them at all most of the time. In his memoir, way way at the end, he says that he thinks maybe he might be an okay father. That is a really sad statement if you think about it. The confidence that you deserve to be a parent, deserve to have a family, deserve love, is something that is a basic human right. And Karan doesn’t even believe that about himself, it took him over 40 years to believe it of himself.

His queerness is the most obvious place this manifests. Karan doesn’t say “I am gay and I want a loving committed monogamous relationship with someone who loves me and I love him”. Instead he jokes about sex and flirts harmlessly with married men and so on. He is afraid to say the truth, it’s easier to make himself into a figure of fun so that when people laugh at him, he can pretend he is in on the joke. And people do laugh at him, all the time. How is Karan going to come out of the closet, for real, when even his closest friends treat his journey towards acceptance as a joke? When the whole world treats it as a joke?

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I think this behavior keeps Karan safe, but it doesn’t make him happy. And I think it is behavior he learned very very early in life, to put on a mask with most people, to think of any love he earned as a miracle he didn’t deserve, and to never ever count on it lasting. Karan clings to the people he thinks love him not because he thinks they owe him anything, but because he is always waiting for the other shoe to drop, for them to tire of him and move on.

Karan in his memoir tries to explain why he feels like this by talking about his childhood and so on, but it doesn’t quite track. Somehow what is inside of him never let him feel the love he had, kept him always feeling lonely. Karan was the only child of older parents, who were both only children, he didn’t have a childhood surrounded by a lot of family his own age. At least, that’s how he felt. He remembers his older father being always loving and understanding, his mother being more strict and expecting things from him. He remembers loving when his glamorous “aunts” (his mother’s cousins) would visit, sitting in the room while they talked to his mother. He remembers not having friends in school, not feeling part of a crowd. But he will also talk about how Shweta Bachchan and Twinkle Khanna were his close friends, how Shweta would even ask for him to go with her family on vacations. How Twinkle befriended him at boarding school (at the same time he claims to have not had any friends at boarding school and being horribly lonely). The two things can both exist in Karan’s mind, because in his mind despite all these friends, he was lonely and no one loved him and everything was terrible. That’s how the mind works, no evidence could convince him he wasn’t lonely and unloved because he felt lonely and unloved. So Karan says he was unhappy as a child because he didn’t have siblings or cousins, because no one liked him at school, and so on, even if it wasn’t true.

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Reading between the lines of his childhood, you can also see the way his parents struggled to find a way to make their unusual little boy happy. And half the time, did the wrong thing, just like parents do all the time. He clung to his parents, was teased sometimes by other kids, struggled in school. They could see he was smart but just wasn’t working hard enough, so they cracked down on him, his mother played the “stern parent” about his report card, and it made him cry, so his father jumped in as the “nice parent” and comforted him. They tried sending him to boarding school, maybe getting him away from his safety net would force him to grow up a little bit, acclimate. After a couple weeks he was so miserable they gave up and brought him home. A family friend suggested he could try acting in some soaps, they tried that, hoping it would give him some self-esteem, and it worked for a bit but then he got more conscious about his body, so they let him stop. Finally he found debate in high school and was spectacular at it, his parents gave him huge freedom to spend all his time with his friends, whatever he wanted, they were just so relieved he had friends. He went to a local college, still living at home, they found the money for him to hang with a richer crowd, let him stay out at all hours, he was just so happy at last. He got a prestigious overseas scholarship, his Dad let him put off joining the family company to take it, and then went along when he decided to turn it down at the absolute last minute to try making a movie with friends. These are not parents who don’t love their strange son (as Karan feared), these are parents struggling very hard with a child they can’t fully understand but want to be happy somehow.

Karan’s parents weren’t rich, or powerful. They weren’t poor either. They were hard to categorize. His father started as a bagman on films. Like, he would carry the bags, arrange the location shooting, do the boring low level stuff. He was called “Tom Uncle” as a joke within the industry, and he went along with that. It wasn’t a nickname of loving respect, it was a nickname of loving disrespect. People saw him as the “uncle” servant figure. Karan’s mother was glamorous in his eyes, smart and sophisticated. She met his charming lovely kind father and fell in love, all of a sudden. They married when Karan’s father was already 40, he was 43 when Karan was born. Even wikipedia WRONGFULLY says that Karan’s father was connected, his mother was part of the Chopra family. That’s simply not true. I suspect it is misinformation spread to smear Karan, to make his achievements seem less because he is gay and people don’t like it that a gay man succeeded so much on his own. His father was a middle-aged man who eked out a living as an import-export broker, and occasionally produced flop movies to relieve his happy youth as a bagman on film sets. His mother was an educated woman from a good, but not famous or wealthy, family. Literally his only relative on earth is a maternal cousin. His father’s family were all dead or lost to partition by the time Karan was born. His mother’s parents and aunts and uncles were dead, there was just her and a couple female cousins. Now they are dead, it is just Karan and one second cousin, that’s it. He has no family wealth, he has no family power.

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What Karan has is a startling talent. His whole life now is built on pure talent. When he was finishing college, he met Aditya Chopra. They had known each other as boys from the occasional party, Karan says he didn’t even really recognize Aditya, it had been so long. Aditya befirended him and they started talking about films. Karan says he had always been part of but apart from the film industry, as the son of a casual producer leaving in South Bombay. This is another one of Karan’s statements that I both believe and don’t believe. I believe he felt like he didn’t belong, like he was apart from things. But I also believe despite how he felt, he made an impression at those occasional film family parties, as the smart funny kid in the corner. Being the “smart funny kid in the corner” is something that gives you a leg up because you are smart and funny, which is maybe why Karan doesn’t believe in it? To acknowledge he made an impression despite his father’s low status would be to let himself believe he had value, and he can’t do that.

So Karan met Aditya, and Aditya convinced him to help him on the script for DDLJ. And then convinced him to give up his international scholarship to work on the set. No one disputes this version of accounts, and the bare facts say that Karan must have been brilliant. So brilliant that despite having no experience at all (most of the other kids on the DDLJ sets had previously assisted on other films in some capacity), Aditya wanted him to join. But Karan sees this as Aditya’s generosity, being kind to him, giving him something he didn’t deserve. Poor Karan.

On the set of DDLJ, Shahrukh befriended Karan and insisted that he should write a script and direct his own movie. Again, Karan sees this as unbelievable kindness. I think Shahrukh is a kind person, I don’t think he is so kind that he would pick up some 21 year old AD and insist he write a script just because he felt sorry for him. I think Shahrukh saw talent there. The proof is in the pudding, they made KKHH and it broke records.

Karan’s version is that he barely knew what he was doing, Shahrukh carried him, his father carried him, everyone was so kind on set, it was “luck”. Then he made K3G and was humiliated because Dil Chahta Hai came out at the same time and it was obviously so much better than his film, his film was trash in comparison. He wrote KHNH and let Nikhil Anand direct it, and that was a mistake, he was mean to Nikhil on set, he messed up by trying to imitate Dil Chahta Hai. He made Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna and he did it wrong, he should have listened to Shahrukh’s problems with the script, the tone is all off. He made My Name is Khan, and it was hubris, he was just going after an award. He made Student of the Year, it was just light and silly and pointless. And on and on and on. These are the standard critiques of his films, but they don’t come from outside, critics, their origin is in Karan’s own mind. He doesn’t think anything he has made is worth watching, is worth doing. Everything good he created is because of the talents of others, all the flaws are his own.

That’s how he runs his production house. When a Dharma film fails, Karan comes out and says (every time), it is my fault, it is my mistake. When it hits, the credit goes to the director. That’s how Karan sees the world and the sad thing is, he’s convinced us all to see it that way too. Everything bad is because of him, everything good is someone else.

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If you read between the lines, Karan’s life is a series of fits and starts, accomplishments and set-backs. As a teen, he felt so bad about himself that he secretly found an add for a “voice trainer”, basically a “gay to straight” trainer. He paid for it out of pocket money and lied to his parents, for years, as he learned to speak in a deeper voice, not use his hands as much, and so on. And then he finally found his group of college friends and somehow didn’t feel the need for the voice trainer any more. He was “ugly” and “fat” when he made KKHH, refused to be part of the publicity because he thought he looked so bad. And then it hit, he felt good about himself, Shahrukh was his new best friend and loved him, he was embraced by Shahrukh’s family, he started to blossom. He struggled to figure out how to expand himself during the KHNH shoot, was beginning to think about producing, to accept that he deserved credit for the success of his own films, and his father died suddenly and the legs went out from under him. His first film after his father died was a declaration that all love is a lie, there is no happiness in the world (Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna, made because he found all the marriages around him fake). This is Karan’s world, everything good goes away just as he gets it because he doesn’t deserve it.

Karan took his father’s hobby production house and turned it into one of the top forces in Hindi film today, unarguably true. He has mentored and launched multiple talented young writer/directors, unarguably true. Karan has many longterm devoted friendships with people who truly love him (Aditya Chopra invited him to his wedding as the only non-family guest, Shahrukh and Gauri trust him as a third parent to their children, media shy Shweta Bachchan will show up for his birthday parties, and so on and so forth), unarguably true. And yet the vision the world has of Karan is the gossipy toxic talentless hanger on. His greatest creation is his own image, because it is the fiction he most believes in himself.

With all of this in mind, let’s look again at how Karan is most often portrayed in the press now, as a kind of puppet master who forces the careers of his protegees on the public. Why is this somehow seen as Karan as the puppet master instead of his protegees using him? When Jhanvi Kapoor is announced as the lead in another Dharma film, why is the anger directed at Karan, instead of at Jhanvi for using him? He has no benefit to doing this, in fact he is hurting his production studio by making these casting decisions. But Karan himself sees this as his fault, his responsibility, his “kids” are innocent. And somehow that is how the public sees it too. Why is the party line “Alia is a super talented young actress who I love, Karan is horrible for forcing her on us”? That makes no sense! Why is Karan blamed for killing his own interests in the service of the people he loves? Why aren’t those people he loves seen as equally to blame? Or more to blame?

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Let us take a moment to look at how this plays out on a personal level. Karan meets this very young person, and cares about them. He loves them like a father does, gives them unconditional love and support just as his father gave him. Karan has so much love to give, he is susceptible to anyone who will accept it. When Sridevi died, Jhanvi’s first call was to Karan. He was the person she trusted to take care of her, the person she wanted to comfort her. And now he is taking over running her career in place of her mother. Karan says he wrote much of the script of DDLJ and Aditya Chopra does not deny it. But he never got a credit on the film. Karan’s version is to just be grateful Adi accepted his contribution, not to consider that Adi maybe should have done more beyond encouraging him to write his own script later, maybe should have made sure the rest of the industry knew about his contribution. I think Karan is that friend it is easy to take advantage of. He truly wants to give love, wants to be needed, giving to others is what makes him happy. Only it’s not healthy for him. A true friend would do what Shahrukh eventually did, and Aditya, and Manish Malhotra, pull back, ask for less from him. In contrast there is Ayan Mukherjee, convincing him to spend all his money on a film project he doesn’t fully understand. Ananya Panday, brought up with Karan as a loving “uncle” type always around, happily and thoughtlessly accepting his support for her career without thinking how it reflects back on him. Anurag Kashyap even, publicly critiquing Karan for years, than taking his money to fund his films without bothering to publicly support Karan as much as he used to publicly critique him.

Everyone around Karan, for years, has taken from him. Because it is just so easy to do it, to take and give very little back. Even the public does the same thing. We can enjoy the movies he funds (believe me, with the wide range of talents Karan supports, there is a favorite movie of yours, or a favorite artist of yours, that only exists because of him), take his talent and generosity, and give back hate an ridicule. Over and over again, he will accept what you say about him, because it is better than what he secretly believes of himself.

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My hope for Karan is that, slowly, he is healing himself. Letting himself be a father is a big step forward, believing that he deserves this thing he wanted so much. ADHM was another step forward, acknowledging that he is loved by his friends, that the love of friends is real true love even if it isn’t the romantic love he dreamed of. It’s all little stepping stones to learning to love himself.

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25 thoughts on “Hindi Film 101: Karan Johar, Self-Hate Hidden Behind Pretend Self-Love

  1. I wish there was some way for Karan to read this. I think you have nailed it. There is a whole twitterverse of people who blame him for all sorts of things. He has had his ‘girl gang’ around him for a long time (Kaajol [not the actress, the friend) Gauri, Shweta, Panday…and others..and I think that has helped. If you’ve ever seen the Koffee with Karan episode when he asks Shah Rukh,”what would you do if you woke up as me.” and Shah Rukh answered,”Its more likely I would wake up NEXT to you.” Karan giggled and blushed and Shah Rukh went on. I think that that kind of acceptance from a man who at one point he was clearly in love with has gone a long way to boost him up. I don’t know if you have seen any of the insta stories he has been doing with the his kids…but they are wonderful and very real.

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    • Writing this made me think about how much better it is for Karan now that he and Shahrukh AREN’T working together so much. He knows that Shahrukh loves him for himself, not what he can do for him. And that’s not something he has in a lot of relationships, being as powerful as he is. His true friends are the ones who resist the temptation to work with him, to take the things he is offering. I would not be surprised if Shahrukh doesn’t let him be involved at all in Suhana’s launch, because it’s better for everyone to keep that line drawn.

      And yes, I am addicted to his insta stories with his kids! He sounds so happy with them, and they clearly just see him as “Dada” and not anything else. I hope Karan can hold onto that kernal of complete happiness and love and acceptance and bring it with him into the world and other relationships.

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  2. This is such a great post, Margaret. I agree that you’ve nailed what I think is his core issue. He has always struck me as the kind of guy who either needs therapy but won’t get it because of the stigma attached to mental health in India, or secretly has a therapist but is very slowly and painfully working his way through his deep seated lack of self-esteem. I do firmly believe that becoming a parent will inspire you in one direction or another…at the end of the day will he see his mom as a wonderful multi-generational partner in child-raising or will he worry that his kids love her more? They call her mumma and not Dadi. It clearly sets her up as co or main parent and not grandparent. If things stay the way they are, she’ll likely get all the credit for whatever Yash and Roohi accomplish.

    I love the videos he posts with the kids but does he err on the side of self-criticism by choosing to post the ones where they criticize his dancing, or say his kurta is mumma’s or call him monkey? If anyone else posted those I wouldn’t give it a second thought but maybe from him it’s another way of expressing his issues with his self worth. You don’t choose to have kids to have someone to love you…it’s not a balanced equation. You initially have to give way more than you get and there’s a lot of work, and in many ways that’s what he’s accustomed to with his protégés. It’s really interesting.

    I think the change in the relationship with Shah Rukh that you note is important. I am guessing that Gauri and Shah Rukh are better for him in the position of close, loving friends vs. co-producers.

    For his birthday I’m wishing him love, the romantic love he’s probably been waiting a lifetime for. Not the replacement fantasy Shah Rukh love that’s easy for him to imagine, but the real deal. And we all know from life experience that it’s hard to find that for real and make it last unless you’re ready to love yourself, and more importantly VALUE yourself.

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    • According to his memoir from a few years back, not only is he FINALLY in therapy, he also went on antidepressants for a while when he needed them. And he says he should have done both those things years ago, which is of course true. The memoir is a stream of consciousness of a work in progress, and we can see just in the few years since then how much better he has gotten. He ends by saying, just now he is beginning to think he deserves to be a father. And now I think he would say that he is a good father, which is something different. He talks about feeling betrayed by Kajol, like she doesn’t love him any more. Which reading through his low self-esteem says that he can’t believe she loves him and so on. And then he got over it and accepted that she does love him after all, which is healthy.

      Karan talks about his protogees as his “children”, and through his eyes, it is because he is so touched at the moments when they show love to him. But through the eyes of an outsider, he is talking about things like being touched because Alia comes to his kids’ birthday party, and he GAVE HER A WHOLE CAREER! It’s so unbalanced, and in his mind it is unbalanced towards him, not her. So yes, they are his children. In those early years when a parent has to give everything and is grateful for anything they get back. Maybe seeing it with a little kid, who truly isn’t capable of empathy and deep thought, will make him see that this behavior is really not okay when it is a relationship with a grown person. Or that the people who started in that role with him and moved away from it really love him the most. Shahrukh stopped being in his movies because he loved him more, not less. Kajol took a breath and moved back because she loved him, not to hurt him. And on and on. He has to learn to take from others, not just give. My hope is that, as a parent, all his energy is being redirected towards giving to his kids and he just can’t give to his friends as much any more.

      Karan’s reaction to his gayness is also so fascinating to me, he seems to have moved on from pretending to be something he isn’t, but somehow still isn’t able to see that he isn’t alone. That loneliness of being the only gay boy that he could see, of believing he was the only one in his whole country, just hasn’t gone away I think. He can’t feel himself as part of a larger community. Even with Manish as his friend of decades, even with mentoring young gay men like Ayan Mukherjee, he somehow can’t get past the trauma of always being alone, of being the “only” one like himself. And of course his genius really does set him apart from the rest of the world, and now his power does. He isn’t the only gay man in the world, he doesn’t have to hold himself apart and not find love, but he is the only Karan Johar in the world, and I think the two things might have gotten confused in his head. Plus, of course, the constant external messages telling him the only way to be gay is to be celibate and sad and lonely, or else have a string of meaningless one night stands and lonely. Where are Karan’s models in his culture for the sort of loving long term relationship he desires? Where is the message that it even exists and he can believe in it and deserves it? Heck, where are the people he can look at it in his social circle as models?

      It’s just so sad! To see him acting as though he is the last of his breed, no partner existing for him, when it doesn’t have to be that way.

      On Sun, May 24, 2020 at 3:18 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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  3. I agree with most things on here, except for the part where you say the star kids are the ones taking advantage of Karan Johar and Dharma. Those relationships don’t appear to be as black and white as you make it seem – he’s not casting them totally out of the goodness of his heart, nor are the star kids exploiting him because they know he’s easy to take advantage of. At the end of the day, despite his insecurities, Johar is a businessman who is aware that all of these star kids do bring in revenue and building a professional relationship with them is beneficial to his company. Both parties benefit off of each other, even if the public is criticizing the relationship, and this is something that he is aware of. The reality is that even if people criticize Janhvi Kapoor’s performances, people do go watch her films to see Sridevi’s daughter. Compared to casting an unknown actor, Johar does benefit from casting her. Yes he may have insecurities and a difficulty childhood, but he is also a complex human being and powerful businessman who uses more than just his emotions to make decisions.

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    • You are right, absolutely. Karan is a savvy businessman and he can see the advantage in terms of publicity for casting these kids with names. I’m sure that’s part of it for some of them, although I have to say “Bhatt” and “Dhawan” are hardly names that would bring people in to movies. Connected in the industry, sure, enough that Karan had a soft spot for them. But only Sara and Jhanvi and maybe Ananya had any real excitement before the film release. Even Shahid’s little brother, I think of him as “Shahid’s little brother”, to this day I’m not 100% on his name.

      But what surprises me is when these films flop, like Kalank for instance, and it is obvious to anyone that it is because of flawed casting. Karan is the one who loses from this, it’s his money, but he stands up and takes the “blame” for letting everyone down and somehow we think of it as him doing something cruel to the audience and remove the blame from the actors who benefited from his support. Same with, for instance, casting Sid M. in Baar Baar Dekho. He isn’t a big name, just a friend of Karan. the movie ended up not doing well and Karan lost money, but instead of saying “Sid M took advantage of Karan’s friendship”, we say “Karan forced Sid M. on the audience”.

      Of course, I am on record as being pro-nepotism 🙂 So no matter how it happened, I don’t think there is anything wrong with Karan picking and choosing who he wants to cast in movies he himself is privately funding based on whatever criteria he wants, including friendship. I’m just interested that he seems to take the blame for letting down his protogees when he miss-casts them, and never considering that maybe they should have said “no” and not taken his help. And because he feels that way, the rest of us believe it too. That it’s a matter of Karan doing wrong by his protogees, not mutual.

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      • Very interesting arguments by both. My question is, can an actor/actress who is a Karan protégée/friend say no to Karan? I am thinking of Kareena. He held a grudge against her for years for saying no to KHNH. Yes, they resolved it now and are friends. But some actors, especially new ones or ones that feel like they owe Karan, might not feel like they can say no to him.

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        • Perhaps, but I think Karan has calmed in the years since then. It sounds like he gives them advice on every movie they take, and that maybe is enough. Sid M has done a lot of movies outside of Karan’s producing, but I suspect he has asked advice on whether or not to take them from Karan.

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  4. Even though he is raising his kids with his mother and they call her Mama, I think his relationship with her is a bit fraught. She nevers seems kind or warm and I think that part may be true. He does have a “brat pack” of gay friends: Manish, Ayan, that other guy who briefly had a chat show young with grey hair, big nose, and I’m sure there are others. I also think Karan has hinted that he used to have affairs abroad..but it is sad that he can’t have an open life partner.I’m glad he has his own children. By the way, the surrogacy must have been in the works when he wrote his book so he knew.

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    • Karan is his memoir described his romantic experience, and it is just sad. Three times he has been passionately in love with someone who didn’t feel the same way, one of those times sent him into a deep depression and eventually therapy and anti-depressants. He is clear that none of these people were Shahrukh, and in fact he finds it deeply offensive when the possibility is raised, like as a gay man he can’t have a deep bond to another man that isn’t romantic, so I try not to say it any more. And those relationships, from how he describes the pain and shock of them (the hope that his feelings were returned, and the trauma of seeing they weren’t), clearly influenced the first half of KKHH, and all of ADHM. I think ADHM is hopeful, since it ends with our hero accepting his pain but moving on to accepting that it is on him, and he can never expect more from the other person than they can give. Would be better if Ranbir at the end of the film had gone out and found someone else to love who could feel the same way, but at least it’s something.

      He has had casual sex enough to know he doesn’t like it at all (my impression was somewhere between 2 and 4 encounters, he just did not enjoy it and quickly realized he did not want to try again). He tried to hire a call boy once, and it made him feel dirty and ugly. He had one long term relationship which lasted a year. He wasn’t super in love with the person, but he liked the feeling of having someone who cared about him, having a “person”. He sounds like a person who cannot enjoy physical intimacy without emotional intimacy. But somehow he can’t seem to make it work, out of his whole adult life he has had only one relationship like that and it wasn’t with someone he actually loved. Reading between the lines it feels like more self-hatred and self-sabotage. He only lets himself fall in love with people who, deep down, he knows will never feel the same towards him. And he makes himself willfully blind to any possibility of an actual love story. The closest he came was letting himself have a relationship with someone he knew he would never really love. It’s not just not having an open relationship, he seems to never have had any kind of real love relationship at all. I was so sorry to read that, I liked to think he had a loving relationship we just hadn’t known about. But no, never happened, even in secret.

      On Sun, May 24, 2020 at 9:39 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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  5. I don’t know a lot about him, but I think your understanding of him is definitely the best I’ve seen. I’ve always felt people see him as a person as a direct representation of what a lot of his movies say. Which is very silly, but at the same time, I also don’t find most of his films appealing at all and consequently don’t find him very appealing so I can’t pretend to be superior. That kind of weird love-hate relationship in his films with people who are (born) rich and beautiful and the way women are portrayed are very off-putting to me and I think they are to a lot of other people too. But at the core, I think his movies have a lot of very radical ideas, so when you combine all those things you get something way beyond what most people can accept or understand. And then people project that onto the person.

    I don’t know, maybe after decriminalisation he will sort something out.

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    • Glad you liked it! I do think most of Karan’s issues with his queerness stem from self-hatred. Decriminalization may help a lot in terms of making him feel less hated in his society, but I think it’s gotta be a long LONG process of learning to love himself. And Indian society as a whole is still not great with helping him with that, no matter what the legal system says. Poor Karan.

      I feel like both Karan and Yash Chopra choose primarily to set their films among rich people because they are interested in relationships, and they want to remove all external factors. In K3G, we didn’t have to worry about Shahrukh starving because his Dad threw him out or anything like that, it was purely about their relationship.

      On Mon, May 25, 2020 at 1:25 AM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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  6. I’m about to cry. This is so well written. It’s all these things (both in the post and in the comments) that I’ve tried explaining to people I know about Karan Johar and his movies and which nobody wants to accept because of the popular point of view that he sucks, he’s always sucked, and that he will continue to suck, both in his personal and professional life. All of which, as has been so brilliantly pointed out by you, is untrue. Is he a bit of a jackass and not perfect? Yes. And so is everyone. Can his movies be a bit cliche? Yes, but they’re the movies that actually make so many cliches happen and have these amazing depths to them which other movies which only copy the motions don’t. He has talent and honestly, because he sticks to his brand of only making silly movies and downplays their importance and impact, as well his achievements in making the more serious movies, nobody bothers to look beyond the surface.
    I really hope Karan somehow finds this. Can we all bombard him with twitter wishes and a link to this article?

    Liked by 3 people

  7. Well, I don’t know a lot about him, but your post was so emotional and portrays someone who has struggled to find himself, to love himself and it’s written so beautifully that I find myself in need of reading about him.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. Beautifully written, Margaret! You know I love your blog, and a post like this shows how exceptionally well you can articulate something I have felt for years. Agree with every single thing you have written here.

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    • Thank you! And so glad it resonated. Somehow when Karan talks about himself, I always come out feeling a little sad and it’s hard to know why. I think it’s because he is saying nice things about himself, but he doesn’t believe them.

      On Mon, May 25, 2020 at 12:30 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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  9. Very empathetic! Some may even see you as being a Karan-apologist! I firmly believe people find it acceptable to troll him because he lets himself be vulnerable and accessible in the public eye with his self-criticizing interviews, quotes, KwK, whatever. If he had a serious persona, they wouldn’t feel so entitled to do that.
    Having not read his book, the part where you describe how he evaluates his own films – are those his own words? If so, it’s sad that he can’t see his own merit! I wonder if he has always felt that way or only in recent years, given that they were massive hits?
    Regarding casting his favs, as someone said above, can we really expect upcoming actors to turn down a Dharma film (not everyone is Bebo)? People wait years to get the chance! So obviously the blame goes to Karan, the power imbalance is heavily in his favor. I feel similarly to you on why he does it perhaps, but it’s too much to expect people to believe that it’s all out of love. And I hope he stops!
    I’m interested in your pro-nepotism line. If you’ve not done a post on this, I’d love if you do since I see both sides of the argument.

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    • Yes, he was immediately critical of all his films. K3G in particular, came out the same weekend as DCH I think and Karan immediately felt dumb and regressive. And the film industry around him agreed, he thought of the film as an embarrassment and a bit of a failure in his heart. It was only years later that he was in London and heard people talking about what a record breaking hit it was there and how it changed things that he started to appreciate his own work. I think is immediate reaction is always disappointment and unhappiness in his own work, he is his severest critic, and only with the distance of time can he appreciate anything he has accomplished.

      I do think “nepotism” as it is defined by the film industry (which isn’t even the dictionary meaning) is completely fine. The film industry is obviously singled out because people are so angry at the unfairness of other parts of Indian life, that sense that you can’t get ahead unless you know someone, that the boss’s son is promoted above you, and so on and so forth. But you just can’t compare the film industry to that, it doesn’t work that way. For one thing, it requires an apprenticeship period for most positions. Is it “nepotism” for Karan to give a film to be directed to someone who previously worked for him as an AD, or is it promoting from within the company? For another thing, the whole “nepotism” question only looks at faces in front of the camera. Karan is constantly called out because he put relatives of people he knows as the leads in some of his movies. But behind the camera, he has probably done more than anyone else in the industry to nurture outsider talent. If casting a known name in his big banner films makes enough money for Dharma to promote films like The Lunchbox, I am okay with that. Most of all, the studios are privately owned for profit companies, if Karan or anyone else wants to cast movies based on having a pre-existing relationship with people and trusting them, it is not inherently immoral. Lots of business owners prefer to put people they know already in responsible positions. Making a movie is a very intimate experience, and a very risky experience, why not work with people you already know?

      Oh, and here are my posts on it: https://dontcallitbollywood.com/2017/04/04/hindi-film-101-nepotism-through-history-in-hindi-film-part-1/

      https://dontcallitbollywood.com/2017/04/06/hindi-film-101-nepotism-in-the-hindi-film-industry-part-2/

      And Karan’s particular numbers, which show the “nepotism” is a myth. No one ever looks at the whole Dharma picture, just focuses on the data that supports their argument: https://dontcallitbollywood.com/2019/05/28/hindi-film-101-karan-johar-what-do-the-numbers-say-nepotism-or-no/

      On Mon, May 25, 2020 at 1:43 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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  10. I think Koffee with Karan is significant. Here is an obviously gay man, who isn’t trying to hide, but still isn’t announcing it, interviewing celebrities and they all want to talk to him. I like his movies, while accepting their critiques. He can launch stars and be an easy dart board. But this TV show, seems like a cultural moment. Maybe it is a moment that has passed, but it’s impacts I think, at least in LGBTQ acceptance in India, is huge. I wish him and his family the best. He has a huge heart, despite all the insecurities, if he follows it I suspect success will follow him. A complex man, as is his friend SRK. I have a complex child, I like knowing that the world is made of more than simple people.

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    • Yes, a complex man, I like that way of saying things. I think he would always tend to think deeply and originally about things, to feel things deeply, and to have this crazy drive towards following his artistic passion. But when you put this horrible shame and guilt and secret on top of the rest of it, it puts him in a place where it is very hard to feel happy.

      I agree, KWK was amazing. Not just because he was the public face of queerness in India, but the way he opened the doors on celebrity and brought the public in to see them as real people, that was special. That was his stated intention with this show, he believed the film industry could only survive if people loved celebrities, and to do that, they had to know them. So he structured a show to let us see them the way he did, as regular people. Come to think of it, the whole film culture has taboos. Love marriages are still considered shameful and wrong for huge parts of Indian society, women working, extramarital relationships, all kinds of things that people came on KWK and talked about like they were normal.

      On Mon, May 25, 2020 at 10:35 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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  11. I don’t think Karan is as faultless as you make him out to be. It’s not what he does (nepotism) but how he executes it that draws the flak he gets. He makes sure to rub it in everyone’s faces and goes out of his way to squish any competition that his talents face (gets other actors/actresses dropped for the actors he mentors etc).
    I don’t know for how long you’ve followed Koffee with Karan, but there was a criticism that Rishi Kapoor had for the show that I think is very valid. Karan tends to go into the Mean girls zone a lot – now this could be because of his own complexes, but a better person would try to break the chain and not propogate it.
    Karan is also quite petty (which comes across on his show). His feud with Kajol for example – he made sure it was printed in a book, and now they’ve apparently made up but it is archived for posterity. Now I’m no fan of Kajol but there is dignity in silence, and thought she handled it pretty well. He on the other hand spoke about the fight every chance he could. It’s great he has his kids because he has a lot of emotional capactiy that was spent on other folks and he can finally channelize that on his kids now.

    Like

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