Koffee and a director’s cut: Anupama Chopra on Karan Johar the filmmaker - Hindustan Times
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Koffee and a director’s cut: Anupama Chopra on Karan Johar the filmmaker

Jul 28, 2023 01:00 PM IST

He’s a talk-show host, emcee, fashionista, designer, producer… but it’s Karan Johar the movie-maker that we are most eager to see, Chopra says.

At the Cannes Film Festival late last month, after a screening of Martin Scorsese’s Killers of the Flower Moon, I had dinner with two New York-based Indian critics. Both are terrific observers of cinema who write for some of the world’s most-respected media platforms. After discussing Scorsese, the conversation turned to Karan Johar, and the latest season of Koffee with Karan (proof that the filmmaker is omnipresent).

‘His cinema has given us indelible characters such as Saba and Ayan of Ae Dil Hai Mushkil (2016) and Tina, Rahul and Anjali of Kuch Kuch Hota Hai (1998),’ Chopra says. PREMIUM
‘His cinema has given us indelible characters such as Saba and Ayan of Ae Dil Hai Mushkil (2016) and Tina, Rahul and Anjali of Kuch Kuch Hota Hai (1998),’ Chopra says.

Last month also saw the release of the posters for Karan’s next film, Rocky Aur Rani Ki Prem Kahani. As with anything created by him, the film is star-laden (the leads are Ranveer Singh and Alia Bhatt) and glossy. Due for release in end-July, it marks the filmmaker’s return to direction after seven years.

Karan has so many avatars — talk-show host, awards-show emcee, jewellery designer, fashionista, father, producer — that we forget that he is, first and foremost, a director; and that his cinema has given us indelible characters and moments. These are a few of my favourite ones.

Kuch Kuch Hota Hai (1998): We get our first glimpse of the KJo love triangle in this desi reworking of the Veronica-Betty-Archie tale. In a memorable sequence, the tomboy Anjali who loves Rahul attempts to dress like Tina, whom he loves. Her attempt at glamour only elicits laughs, which brings her to tears. Rahul cheers her up by telling her she can get any guy she wants. Anjali looks at him with tender longing and asks, “Any guy?” After which we get that lovely moment in which Rahul is hugging Anjali, but as Tina walks away, he reaches out and grasps her hand. The bubblegum tonality and shiny veneer of the film are instantly grounded by authentic emotion.

Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham… (2001): It’s the Chandni Chowk ka Mela (of course, this is an impossibly glammed-up version of it), and the Raichand scion Rahul is on a sort-of-date with Anjali, the daughter of the local halwai. She thinks he wants to buy their sweet shop and, confused by his attention, tries to deflect it. They’re standing at a bangle-seller’s stall. Rahul, as he helps Anjali put on her new bangles, explains to her the nature of relationships. This bit hasn’t aged well because he’s talking to her like she’s a five-year-old. But as he pushes the bangles down, he keeps pausing to ask: “Chhub toh nahi raha?” Finally, when the last one goes down, she flinches. He asks: “Chhuba na?” When she nods, he replies: “Mujhe bhi.” And then, with a fluttering of red cloth to signify the fluttering of their hearts, the scene moves into one of the most swoony love songs ever, Suraj Hua Maddham.

Ae Dil Hai Mushkil (2016): First, consider the character of Saba (played by Aishwarya Rai Bachchan), a Pakistani poet whose ex-husband Tahir is played by Shah Rukh Khan and current lover Ayan by Ranbir Kapoor. Saba declares, blue-green eyes glowing, “Main kisi ki zaroorat nahi, khwaish banna chahti hoon.” And then Karan stages a scene in an art gallery that is one for the ages. Saba and Ayan arrive to view Tahir’s work. The two men spar verbally (Ayan addresses Tahir as “Sir”; Tahir responds by asking Saba if Ayan calls her “Ma’am”). It’s a scene filled with emotional tension, awkwardness and longing. Finally, Tahir delivers the thesis of the film: the singular angst and beauty of unrequited love. “It’s the most beautiful feeling in the world,” he says. “Ek tarfa pyar ki taqat hi kuch aur hoti hai. Aur rishton ki tarah do logon mein nahi batti. Sirf mera haq hai iss pe; sirf mera.”

I’m also partial to the errant-vibrator sequence in Karan’s short in Lust Stories (2018). And to the adulterous lovers Maya and Dev checking into a hotel room in Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna (2006). And to so many more. I’m eager to move on from the KJo of Koffee… to KJo the storyteller.

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