In a bare-all session, An Unsuitable Boy, at the Jaipur Lit Fest, Karan Johar revealed how his friends haunted him and called him ‘pansy’, why Bollywood is not a place for personal bonding and why he left India at the most crucial time of his career. By Karan Bhardwaj
People have always been curious to learn about famous people’s personal lives. Tabloids and gossip websites are huge business. So it was no surprise that the Front Lawn at the Jaipur Lit Fest was jam-packed with fans, eager to hear popular Bollywood film-maker Karan Johar speak about his unreleased memoir An Unsuitable Boy.
An Unsuitable Boy, co-authored by Johar and Poonam Saxena, is a frank and riveting account of the Johar’s life, including his relationship with his famous father, the film-maker Yash Johar.
Johar described harrowing experiences of being bullied for his mannerisms by friends at school and in the colony where he lived. They would mock him mercilessly for being ‘pansy.’ ‘It was very disturbing. I had a troubled childhood for several reasons. I grew up in South Bombay where Hindi films were not considered ‘cool’. So I would say my father was a businessman. Our neighbourhood was very snooty and I was mocked for being feminine. Now this word ‘pansy’ is not even used, but it haunted me for a long time.’
Johar openly criticised India’s criminalisation of homosexuality, quipping that ‘If you come out of closet, you will be tortured in 377 ways,’ in a reference to Section 377 of the IPC, which criminalises same sex activity. He called for a change in the mindset of those people who do not accept the LGBT community, urging for a collective drive to make people more comfortable with individual preferences.
As Johar grew up, he struggled to find his calling. His parents were worried about him, and his mother in particular did not want him to enter the film business: ‘They have seen a lot of success and failure in the movie business. I have seen them crying due to bankruptcy. She found it really scary. So she asked me to look for secure jobs. She also wasn’t very confident of my first movie (Kuch Kuch Hota Hain).’
Kuch Kuch Hota Hai went on to be a blockbuster hit, making history in the film business and creating a new style of story-telling for the youth. Poonam Saxena requested that Johar recount the story of why he did not attend its premiere. Johar explained that he had received threats from the underworld, who were trying to extort money from him. ‘They called my mother and threatened to kill me. So she locked me in a room three days before the premiere night. As cops and my father came home, we rushed abroad and didn’t come home for several days. My mother wished my film to fail so that we could get rid of those threat calls.’
Having worked for over twenty years in the film industry and made many successful movies like Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham, Kal Ho Na Ho, My Name is Khan and Student of the Year as well as taking home-production house Dharma Productions to new heights, Johar observed that the film industry has changed a lot: ‘It’s more detached… corporatised now, led by big ambitions. Earlier, films were a product of inter-relationships of film-makers, actors, musicians and other stake holders. Now, we are made to produce cut-throat cinema, which has no space for personal bonding.’
KJo also asserted that his friendship with Shah Rukh Khan remains intact. “Shah Rukh Khan, his wife Gauri and kids are an important part of my family and life. They are very special to me,” he said.
Johar’s first appearance at the ZEE Jaipur Literature Festival was a thrilling insight into the film-maker’s world. The star, who rarely gives interviews, spoke with riveting candour about his journey from a bullied young boy to one of the most successful directors in India today. We are looking forward to reading his book!