Karan Johar: The Unsuitable Gent With The Suitable Midas Touch

I’m going to kickoff with a disclaimer. This edition of Stevie Scribbles may induce nausea, polarising opinion, cringe, and potential eyeroll. This is also the only edition that shall ever be laced with bias, love, and decades of observation.

“I can make cake…I can also make careers,” Johar proudly stated at a press conference in Mumbai when asked what he cooks best.

Cocky? Maybe. Massively self-aware? Most certainly.

Karan Johar, globally referred to as KJo, is an artist who polarises like none other. You either love his craft, or despise it. You either subscribe to his school of thought or consider it as relevant as unicorn cake (i.e. irrelevant, for the ease of those who don’t know about this chemical-and-colour-laden treat). But if you scratch a little further and attempt to dive deep into his wonderfully curated pool of urban-settings-urban-problems-international-locations, there is more to this man than even what he projects.

Son of Hiroo & Yash Johar, owner of the regretful statement “Nepotism rocks!”, he has had a cinematic upbringing. Synonymous with commercial success, Johar kick started his career in the Indian film industry playing the character of Rocky in the iconic Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge in 1995 (also Assistant Director & accidental Costume Designer for this billion-grosser production). Six years before, he dabbled with the small screen and portrayed Shrikant in Indradhanush on Doordarshan in 1989. Aditya Chopra (KJo’s mother is Yash Chopra’s sister, making Aditya his cousin) and Shahrukh Khan had been instrumental in encouraging the then gawky 20-something to realise that filmmaking is his calling. By his own admission, the journey of this H.R. College graduate was (and in my opinion, continues to be) punctuated with insecurities, body issues, and tumultuous moments of self-doubt. For a man with every possible resource at the gentle snap of fingers, his often-masked vulnerability is an anomaly.

Writer, Producer, Director, Actor, TV host, Writer, TED talker, Father, Designer, Son, 4am pal, Fashion enthusiast, RJ, Interviewer – he juggles many balls, but the one that he always has his eye on is the one everyone least expects – Businessman. If you strip your first visual from the gem-encrusted Louboutins, velvet jackets, perfectly styled coif, you will see a man who knows his numbers as cuttingly as his French. His debut directorial project clocked in an estimated INR 1 billion at the box office (INR 100 million budget). His last directorial project, Ae Dil Hai Mushkil, clocked in an estimated INR 2.37 billion with an estimated budget of INR 800 million. Under his production house, movies like Badrinath Ki Dulhania garnered INR 1,14,11,50,000 and INR 1,77,99,00,000 for Yeh Jawani Hai Deewani. Socially relevant or not, cerebral or not, what you must applaud this man’s productions are astuteness and whip-smart marketing. Under the helm of his late-father Yash Johar, Dharma Productions had seen many flops, so the anxiety of failure or financial struggle wasn’t alien to him. Equipped with that reality check, Johar and his team have built an excellent worldwide distribution of his production company. His movies are tailored to tap the pulse of domestic and NRI audiences, and whether you like it or not, he is laughing his way to the bank (in Louboutin sparklers, of course).

A self-proclaimed career-kickstarter (“I feel I am the Film Institute of India”), he has launched many a successful career that few others can lay claim on. From actors like Alia Bhatt, to directors like Shakun Batra, he has an eye on how to groom and whizz you off upon the broom of meteorical success. Whilst his personal handles across social media (4.7million followers on Instagram and 14.4million on Twitter) are sprinkled with his love for all things sartorial, this Meryl Streep fan has redefined the film industry’s marketing & distribution strategy. When other peers were still focussing on billboards and traditional media, Johar and his media-savvy millennial team built a complex map of digital touchpoints and closer access & engagement with superstars (almost a religion in India). The way Sonam Kapoor unconsciously upped the style-game of her peers spotted on the red carpet or airport, Karan Johar has pushed his peers to market their craft in line with new-age Digital India.

Other than the rare exception of Kal Ho Na Ho, Johar only writes for the movies he directs. He is an encyclopedia of movies (Hindi films, in particular), songs and dance moves. Often observed to find solace in New York, the Big Apple is the oasis where he seeks inspiration to write. And when he does, his focal point is often relationships and family values. Interlaced and woven in a superficial (albeit stunning) setting, the fundamental core is all about loving thy family. This multi-hyphenate is one of the country’s deepest and darkest vaults, the never-spilling gatekeeper of secrets and confidential information ranging from personal matters to professional “arrangements”. Being in the middle of that tornado of information, one might call toxic, his totem is the value-set he craves to embrace and possibly project.

His storytelling is often dismissed as frivolous and candy floss, but the very same unintelligent cinema has flashes of his emotional and spiritual being. Masked with first-world problems and perfectly orchestrated chaos, his art often mirrors his loneliness. Loneliness, whose avatar has shown form in different kind of insecurities through the decades. But the single defining reason for his success (after the silver spoon) is this deep sense of loneliness. One may not see it, but his interviews are often honest admissions of that. His favourite hobby is to collect old things, but with that he also hoards old memories and emotions. I would think he would readily choose time with his twins, Roohi & Yash, over his $200 million net worth. Because, a closet full of Loubs does little healing to your soul than unconditional love. Full circle for a man who professes the adage, “It’s all about loving your parents.”

Image: easterneye.eu

In his book, An Unsuitable Boy, he talks about the manic pressure from different quarters for him to discuss his sexuality. “I have become like the poster boy of homosexuality in this country.” He writes in his book, “I’m embarrassed about the country I live in vis-a-vis where I come from in terms of my orientation. At the end of the day, this whole homophobia is so disheartening and upsetting. And then they say, ‘Why don’t you speak about your sexuality? You could be iconic in this country.’ But I don’t want to be iconic anywhere. I want to live my life. The reason I don’t say it out aloud is simply that I don’t want to be dealing with the FIRs.” The myopic view of people condoning him not to support the queer community of India, often misses out on the two important factors – 1. Respecting personal freedom and 2. The basic business principle of never mixing professional with the personal. I don’t know of any other business person of this influential power, net worth, and dangerous implications of professing his/her sexuality, who garners this amount of pressure to speak on the matter. The only commentary should be about his curious narrative about the queer community via the character representation in some of his movies. One would assume more subtlety and less parody.

The man who layers his cinematography with plateaus, peaks, emotion and drama, is a favourite amongst many. Ask any wedding planner, wedding choreographer, nani, dadi, or bride. I know this first hand, because of the following forehead-slapping incident. The gent popped the question (same one from here and here) and when the wedding planning committees from both sides sat down to discuss the overarching vibe of the wedding celebrations, the unanimous scream from all corners of the room was, “KJo style!”*.

* Dear Karan Johar, in the rare occasion you read this and in the even-more-rare chance you have spare time, it would be the collective dream of all the ladies (and secretly, the gents) of the KVSS wedding for you to curate it.


Stevie Scribbles is a monthly feature where Stevie a.k.a Monica a.k.a Tara a.k.a Naina a.k.a Shreya (you get the drift) feels the itch to share her (possibly) wonky observations about the cultural landscape of the city. Please note that all observations and opinions are strictly hers and the Company, affiliates and main boss, Zara, don’t always endorse.


Featured Image Courtesy: easterneye.eu