Last month, I trekked with my partner to Falls Church, Virginia to enjoy another mindless, candy floss Karan Johar movie called Student of the Year (SOTY). I expected it to be extravagant and silly, larger-than-life with just the right amount of bromance, ishq wala love and tear-jerking moments.
When the credits rolled, I was sad.
SOTY has been branded Kuch Kuch Hota Hai 2.0, and while it is set in a college, the parallel ends there. The movie is about three students at Saint Theresa’s High School, a fictional Indian Hogwarts, where the swimming pools are Olympic-size, the students drive expensive sports cars, and wear clothes from extravagant labels. Once you get used to the fact that such a school does not exist, you need to shut your brain and reach for the popcorn.
Debutant Aliya Bhatt looks young and pale, and may not have the capacity to become the next Kareena Kapoor, thankfully enough. Debutant Varun Dhawan, playing the rich son of an industrialist, shows a lot of promise and dazzles with his dance moves. And finally, debutant Sidharth Malhotra, playing the new boy in college, is quite expressive, even though a bit awkward on the dance floor. Both boys are sure to become fan favorites. The ensemble is also lends good support to the screenplay and the leading cast.
Rishi Kapoor channels Karan Johar, better than Johar. In the movie, he plays a flamboyant and lonely gay Dean of an extravagant institution, who is in love with a straight married man, and has the privilege of making everyone dance to his tunes in order to win a coveted trophy. He doesn’t have a partner. He is slightly overweight. He has an overbearing mother who tries to get him into shape. The parallels with Karan Johar’s own life are hard to ignore.
And the blame for everything that goes wrong in the movie — namely a huge fight between the two leading male characters over another coveted trophy, a girl — is unfairly laid on Rishi Kapoor’s character. It is astonishing. Why is Dean Vashisht to blame for a love triangle between that ruined several friendships? That’s because Dean Vashisth is Karan Johar, and he is ultimately responsible for the lack of growth, sour relationships, and broken friendships we’ve experienced between Kuch Kuch Hota Hai and Student of the Year. So he makes Dean Vashisth apologize to us for all that Johar has put us through over the past 15 years.
I’ve decided to come to terms with Johar’s closeted homosexuality. He’s obviously struggling to express himself and he does so in the most obnoxious ways onscreen. He has been making homosexuality into a big, fat joke, since the bromance in Kal Ho Naa Ho. While heteros are laughing at the how hilarious it is to be gay, I’m laughing at how ignorant they are so it works out. While I’m comfortable enough in my own sexuality to be able to find humor in it, his portrayal of gay men (and women!) is patently offensive in this movie.
I straddle the line between people who cannot stand Johar and those who love his movies. You can call me a disgruntled fan. He is Karan Johar. He made undeniably great movies like My Name is Khan and Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna. He doesn’t need to hide in a closet and make ridiculous movies channeling his sexuality. He doesn’t need to make his actors dance to ridiculous tunes with contrived and manufactured plot-lines. He doesn’t need to reduce himself down to a stereotype to deliver a magnum opus. He can just be Karan Johar, and it will be alright. But he has decided to make money and earn fame by using his sexuality (and our sexuality) as a comic afterthought.
Yes, it is offensive, but Johar probably sees no harm in making money from his own repression. And therein lies the problem.
It will be alright for Siddharth and Varun to be gay or to display affection without making it look like they are gay. It will be alright if the tomboy is a lesbian after all and she is not parading around her post-marriage pictures to prove her heterosexuality. And goodness, it will be alright if all the leads did not look white, though that is a larger problem with Bollywood movies in general.
When I go to watch a Bollywood movie, I do not need to see the Indian version of “Glee.” We are capable of doing so much better. And so is Karan Johar.