The frightened Karan Johar

The lack of a desire to be political or to take stands on issues that go against the majoritarian grain is symptomatic of Bollywood


Karan Johar.
Karan Johar.

By the time you read me this week, Karan Johar’s new film would have made some impression. I am guessing, the right kind. The film has an eyebrow-twitching, ravishingly cosmeticized Urdu poet (Aishwarya Rai Bachchan), a pillar-hugging, tear-shedding, rock-star hero (Ranbir Kapoor) and a north Indian heroine whose peppiness only a booster dose of oestrogen and mood-enhancers can explain (a familiar Anushka Sharma).

These days I prefer reading film reviews on Monday, after the box-office fate of a movie is sealed. But I will read the critics on Ae Dil Hai Mushkil this morning itself. How good is the movie that turned Maharashtra’s chief minister into a mediator between Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) chief Raj Thackeray—who threatened to jeopardize the release of the film because it stars Pakistani actor Fawad Khan in it—and Johar?

And why did Johar turn so craven?

The producer-director owns Dharma Productions, which hasn’t been very successful at the box office this year. Personally, however, I think the man is at an all-time high. I wait to read his column on the NDTV website, the subjects of which range from chronic sexual diffidence to rants about psychoanalysis, among other miasmic life experiences—all written in honest, searing, humorous and conversational prose. He is candid about trolls who label him chhakka every time he tweets, about why he does not want to talk about his own sexuality. In the last year, he has been unequivocal about his support for free speech. So the video plea that he put out after threats to the film’s release surprised me.

When the MNS threatened to vandalize theatres if Ae Dil Hai Mushkil was released, Johar’s video aired on social media. The summary of it: Allow me to release my film, I promise not to hire talent from Pakistan in the future.

The ongoing verbal war on the use of Pakistani talent empowers the MNS. It is a pointless but convenient show of nationalism. Further show of shabby nationalism in this drama: The MNS demanded that Johar, who has directed the film, donate Rs.5 crore to the Indian Army’s welfare fund.

Johar’s grovelling sent out only one signal. That no matter what the politics, or who the censor, the film world will do anything to be in business.

Tomorrow’s targets could be the young actors coming from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.

The lack of a desire to be political or to take stands on issues that go against the majoritarian grain is symptomatic of Bollywood. I hate to compare Bollywood and Hollywood, I love cinema from both these industries, but the stark contrast between the two in being meaningfully engaged with society and politics is staggering. While Hollywood is becoming increasingly vocal against gun violence, the Hindi film aristocracy is frightened.

Besides keeping alive Punjabiyat, what Bollywood does best is being apolitical. Very “cutie pie”, as the Ae Dil Hai Mushkil song goes.

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