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Monday, October 18, 2021

Karan Johar: A somewhat silly boy (book review)

Besides the soul-searching bits, An Unsuitable Boy is really for fans of Karan Johar and great for anecdotal value on snatches of conversations with Shah Rukh Khan and the mythic Aditya Chopra.

Written by Anuradha Varma | New Delhi |
January 25, 2017 12:59:29 pm

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I read An Unsuitable Boy from the middle (yup, the Love and Sex chapter first!) and then went back to somewhere in the middle and continued till near the end. It was an entertaining read, but nevertheless, I made time to call a friend who is not so much into Bollywood to not buy the book. Because, besides the soul-searching bits, it’s really for fans of Karan Johar and great for anecdotal value on snatches of conversations with Shah Rukh Khan and the mythic Aditya Chopra. Karan Johar’s confession about being a huge Hindi film buff and a fan of Sooraj Barjatya’s Hum Aapke Hain Kaun was also laced with humour and one could almost see a schoolboy Johar judging anybody who had unkind things to say about the film.

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But, then, unkind is what I’m about to be too. When I finally decided to read from the start of the book, I wanted to hit my head against the wall. Okay, not discounting the rigours of an introverted child, who was teased as being “pansy”, I can’t imagine why I would want to know about the one girl in his building who befriended him (and remains his friend even now…they meet up only twice a year now, sadly…know what I mean?). One of the two times his mom slaps him is when she finds he has quietly gone through a box of chocolates. Also when he came back from boarding (we’ve all heard the story about Twinkle Khanna prompting him to run away from hostel), he gained readmission into his old school by the skin of his teeth, but traumatically, somebody put him in 6C instead of his old 6A. I remember thinking, at that point, that this chapter could be essential reading for schoolkids going through a tough time (of course, take out the chapter on Love & Sex).

WATCH: Exclusive interview with Karan Johar

It also sounds a bit vacuous that when he is ready to take the first shot for his debut film, he compares the confidence he feels on the film set with his having led the school debating team. (Of course, by then, he had already assisted on Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge.) Kuch Kuch Hota Hai is also the film he credits with changing the family’s middle-class status and prompting their shift to a bigger place in Bandra. But, to write the film, for which he had Archie, Betty and Veronica as inspiration, he was sent on a flight to London, where he stayed in a flat (on a budget, of course) for a couple of months till he figured out the plot. Well…! We’re not complaining about the result, though, since the film is a favourite for most from that generation.

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What goes in the book’s favour is his generous acknowledgement of others’ contribution to his life and career. His friend and company CEO Apoorva Mehta who came back to India overnight to help him take care of his business when his father passed away, Anil Ambani taking over the funeral arrangements in those critical moments, Salman Khan offering to play a cameo role in his debut film due to Johar Senior’s goodwill in the industry, Shah Rukh Khan literally bulldozing him to make his first film by booking his dates and then calling him for a narration at the appointed time. Also, Shah Rukh Khan dragging Johar out of his room to witness his film’s premiere, shielding him from a threat by the underworld.

It’s Aditya Chopra (not Shah Rukh as the blurb at the back wrongly says) who told him, “Why the hell are you not realizing that you were born to be in the movies? You’re overdramatic, you’re funny. The only thing you don’t have is an interval because you have this non-stop mad energy. You’re meant for the movies.” There’s also a delightful anecdote about Johar encountering a young Shah Rukh Khan, during the Fauji days, in Anand Mahendroo’s office, just before his Bollywood pursuit.

It’s nice to read about Karan Johar, the film-maker, his instincts when it comes to hiring, his great marketing chops, the way he has made a success of his family-run studio.

However, like his movies, the book needed some high-handed editing. It’s divided into chapters, which sound too pat. The list of friends towards the end reeks of teen spirit. The chapter on Shah Rukh Khan, where there’s so much said about the two not having a problem with each other, is practically playing to the gallery.

Johar comes across as a very suitable boy, somebody who is a great son, a wonderful boss, a great friend, but somewhat silly. The fears of being a single child with limited family connections ring true, as do grappling with his sexuality and living up to his father’s sterling reputation. Ironically, his loneliness and lack of a relationship, his unrequited love take up more space than his one real relationship, which is dismissed in a few lines.

It’s equally tempting to dismiss the book as coming from someone who has no “real” problems and is frivolous, driven only by imagined fears, such as ending up alone, but then, isn’t much of our own lives determined by our inner demons, led by an interior monologue?

So, go ahead, read the book, but be prepared to hear Johar’s voice go yakkety-yak in your head as you do so, since the style is chatty, much like his talk show!

(The writer is an editorial consultant and co-founder of The Goodwill Project. She tweets @anuvee) Views expressed are personal.

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