Karan Johar’s memoir lays bare all; reflects Bollywood’s ambiguity
Title: An Unsuitable Boy; Author: Karan Johar (with Poonam Saxena); Publisher: Penguin India; Pp: 216; Price: Rs 699
This much-anticipated memoir of filmmaker Karan Johar has been creating waves on social media after chapters describing his fallout with actress Kajol were leaked on Twitter — and for candid talk about his sexual orientation.
But contrary to the initial reports as well as expectations, “An Unsuitable Boy” is much more than just the narrative of a fallout. Honest, decisive and compelling, it lays bare the other side of Bollywood’s pomp and gaiety.
It’s also brutally frank about Kajol. “I don’t have a relationship with Kajol any more. We have had a fallout. Something happened that disturbed me deeply which I will not talk about because it is something that I like to protect and I feel it would not be fair to her or to me. After two-and-a-half decades, Kajol and I don’t talk at all,” he writes.
The problem was not so much with Kajol but with her husband Ajay Devgan, Johar says in the next para, without elaborating. And when did this happen? Before the release of Karan and Ajay’s films “Ae Dil Hai Mushkil” and “Shivaay” last October.
Not only does the filmmaker write extensively about his sexual orientation, the time when he lost his virginity and about his “two unrequited love situations”, but the dark side of Bollywood — its insecurities, jealousies — also find sufficient mention.
Much has been said and anticipated about Karan Johar’s sexual orientation in the past but he has somehow maintained a low profile on this, avoiding the topic on many occasions. It is for the first time that the filmmaker has talked at length about this aspect.
Johar had his first sexual encounter at 26 but this is not something he is “proud” of. Completely inexperienced sexually up to that point of time, he paid for sex in New York. “It was a nerve-wracking experience for me,” Johar says in his memoir.
He did it twice, the first time he paid the money but could not consumate. A week later, he was back again. “This time, I walked out with guilt. I felt miserable. It’s not that the sexual release was fun. It just seemed a bit stupid; it seemed fake because obviously the person assigned to please you is going to please you artificially,” he notes.
Johar also points out that, somehow, people equate being in the entertainment industry with having a lot of sex.
“But I don’t want that much. Actually I don’t care about it. People think that since I am travelling a lot, I am having a lot of sex. But it doesn’t happen that way. A boarding pass is not a pass for sex. I am not in love with anyone anymore,” the filmmaker writes.
There is a strong reason behind the importance that he gives to sex in this memoir. Johar, in his own words, “was very backward in this department” as a child.
“There was a big age-gap between me and my father, and no one else told me about these things. I had a very square group of friends: we were all very good girls and boys. We were the Gujarati bunch who would go for picnics. We were the most uncool, unaware and innocent lot,” says the book about Johar’s childhood.
However, there are no full stops or ambiguity as one moves from sex to cinema, something Johar has been passionately involved in. The filmmaker feels that the new trait he has acquired is honesty, something which, according to him, he did not have in the last decade because he felt the need not to be honest in personal or professional situations.
“There was a time when I was very concerned about what other film-makers did… it was borderline jealousy, competition… I used to sometimes wish their films wouldn’t do as well as they did. I used to be troubled by Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s brilliance. I used to be affected that I couldn’t write a film like Raju Hirani,” Johar regrets.
After all these years, Johar is no longer bothered. “If I hear a film has done well, great. Good for you.”
Another significant issue that find mentions is his feeling that he never gets credit for his work.
“I feel no matter what kind of films I do, I never get credit. It gets forgotten immediately afterwards. I am still associated with popcorn, frivolity, NRIs and rich people,” he writes.
One thing is clear, Johar is not delivering a sermon or projecting the faults of the film industry or offering advise on what to do and what not to do in Bollywood, he is rather telling a story — his very intimate personal story — which is replete with all things contrary to common belief.
Has the filmmaker been honest in his narrative? One cannot say for sure, but given the fact that most of those he writes about are still very much around, some as powerful in the film industry as this filmmaker himself, one would imagine so.
Despite the controversies that are already doing rounds and those that may crop up in the days to come, this is a significant memoir, opening doors to the troubled minds of Bollywood. More than anything else it tells us that beneath those happy faces smiling and posing for paparazzis, lie oceans of sorrow, disappointments, heartbreaks and, yes, even obsession for sex.
(This review is based on a review copy received from Penguin India. Saket Suman can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)