The unsuitable boy is okay

In middle school, I knew a girl who named herself Poo, after Kareena Kapoor’s character in Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham. She sashayed down the corridors as though auditioning for a beauty pageant, her entourage of two girls imitated and flattered her to the best of their abilites.

I never liked Karan Johar. Not his first movie Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, in which I heard him tell me tomboyish girls are undesirable, making me feel awkward in my cargo pants and sports shoes. Not his second movie, a family melodrama in which helicopters brought children home; there was also a patriarch whose neck had an unusual crick that wouldn’t allow him to bend. I disliked his talk show, which I thought became progressively boring with each season, except when some guests took it upon themselves to enliven the proceedings. I do feel more ambivalent towards him of late, with his most recent work (Ae Dil Hai Mushkil) coming across as an honest movie – in spite of the constant urge I had to yell at the characters, “You have a private jet for fuck’s sake, get over yourself!” He is also the most overexposed celebrity of our times, making us think we’ve been voyeurs looking into his life for years and years. What then is left to know of him? An Unsuitable Boy tries to answer this question – Karan Johar’s life in his own words, written with Poonam Saxena.

We learn of his childhood, his fears and insecurities, how he was almost strong-armed into making his first movie with Shah Rukh Khan and Kajol, his work at Dharma Productions. Some of it is moving, such as his troubles with being an effeminate boy, teased and called a pansy; and later when he deals with the loss of his father. Some of it is cheap thrills, like an entire chapter on Shah Rukh Khan and then one on Love and Sex – because a book from Karan Johar would be incomplete without references to these entities. Some of it makes you cringe – when he talks of his middle class existence that allowed him to live in London in a rented apartment while writing scripts (Really now?).

I did realize a few things though. I was always of the opinion celebrities must be vocal about their sexuality – I imagined this would be serve as motivation for others having to hide in plain sight. But when he explains that he does not want to discuss his sexuality, especially in a country that still criminalizes certain acts, I find myself wanting to agree with him. It makes me think we must not hold famous people to different standards simply because they are famous. I also did not think of how important lowbrow humour is, in bringing conversations about homosexuality to living rooms. If it weren’t for the awful Kantaben jokes in Kal Ho Naa Ho, or two men pretending to be gay so as to befriend an undeniably attractive Priyanka Chopra (Dostana), I wouldn’t be using the word gay at home, when talking to my parents. In our demands for more sensitive portrayals of people repressed by the mainstream, we often tend to forget how this humour has helped.

An Unsuitable Boy isn’t a bad book, just a poorly written (and edited) one. An autobiography indicates a certain level of self-absorption, but even by those standards, the self-involvement is over the top at times. It reads a bit like the director is talking nonstop and nobody had the heart to stop him, which can get exasperating after a while.

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8 thoughts on “The unsuitable boy is okay

  1. I have ordered this book as well as Aishwarya Rajnikanth’s book because…well, I am god damn curious to read what they have to say. From your review, it looks like I am correct in setting low expectations and just look at this book as a chance to understand a bit of what goes on in a creator’s life, warts and all.

    …in spite of the constant urge I had to yell at the characters, “You have a private jet for fuck’s sake, get over yourself!”
    –> That was hilarious! But yes, I thought that Ae Dil Hai Mushkil was Karan Johar’s best work. Fantastic writing, especially the last 20 minutes.

    Also, am curious – does the book go into any detail on the process of writing or film making? Anyways, I am looking forward to reading the book.

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    1. Yes, he does talk about writing his scripts, thinking up characters. Like that detail about Anushka attending a hundred classes in ADHM, elsewhere in the book he mentions he used to love going for many classes.
      I admit it is a bit awful for me to think that private jet comment, in fact, he writes that rich people can have their heart broken too. I agree money doesn’t bring happiness but it comes pretty darn close, hehe.

      I read Standing On An Apple Box too. There isn’t really much to say about it. I couldn’t understand the point of the book at all.

      Let me know what you think!

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      1. I read Standing On An Apple Box too. There isn’t really much to say about it. I couldn’t understand the point of the book at all.

        –> Aiyaiayo aiyo! So, here’s my revision:
        Low expectations for KJ’s book an no expectations for AR’s book.

        I agree money doesn’t bring happiness but it comes pretty darn close, hehe.
        –> I agree. But we have no reason to be politically correct all the time! It’s okay to vent!

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I found myself agreeing to a lot of what you said in the beginning of your post, mainly because I am not a mainstream Bollywood fan. I had the misfortune to watch Ae Dil Hai Mushkil, and absolutely hated it (just as I expected I would) because of the normalization of sexist, stalkerish behavior. I guess I prefer my movies a little less oppressive, an Aligarh over Dostana any day.

    I do need to say this though – nobody owes anyone their sexuality, celebrity or otherwise. I haven’t read An Unsuitable Boy and nor do I intend to, but from what I understand, Karan Johar mentions wanting to remain in the closet and blames criminalization for it (he is wrong in perpetuating this myth, Section 377 does NOT pertain to homosexuality per say, it criminalizes “unnatural sex”, it is an ancient 1862 law that essentially considers all sex that was had without the intention to reproduce, unnatural… which basically includes oral and anal sex between heterosexuals as well). If being homosexual was illegal in India to the degree which he seems to suggest, there would be no Pride marches. None of us would be out of our closets, fighting for our rights every day. It’s a bit rich for someone like Karan Johar with money and resources at his disposal (something a LOT of LGBTQ+ persons do not have!) to make it sound like the police will come knocking on his door the minute he reveals to the world that he is gay.

    It may seem like Karan Johar’s movie jokes may have normalized LGBTQ+ discussions within homes, but they hurt my community with stereotypes that none of us want to be associated with. And to be really fair, have they normalized anything? It seems to me that all they’ve done is tell parents to be extra careful about the boy who likes brighter clothes or has an effeminate gait, and the girl who sports a butch haircut. Anyway, I digress, I do not really have any high hopes from Bollywood. I like the fact that some moviemakers are making intelligent movies that do not make a mockery of our existence, and I am content with that for now.

    (I am an out bisexual woman in case you wondered why some random person went activist on your comment section lol! I hope my long comment doesn’t put you off, I am not trying to school you or anything. 🙂 )

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    1. Please don’t be wary of saying what you think, I am grateful that you read what I wrote and chose to share your thoughts.
      1. I did not love ADHM, but I also did not think it normalized sexist, stalkerish behaviour. The man-child was completely exasperating, but I didn’t feel like the movie was endorsing such behaviour.
      2. Nobody owes anyone their sexuality – this is something I realised after reading the book. It took me a while to arrive at this understanding, but like I say in my post, it is incorrect of me to have held celebrities to different standards.
      3. I think I’ve understood the law the same way. 🙂
      4. I didn’t give much importance to the Kantaben/Dostana type of humour for very long, I was quite dismissive of it, but I do think that these movies have brought this conversation into the mainstream, and these are the kind of movies that many people want to watch. Of course, a sensitive and well-made movie is more desirable any day, I do not disagree.

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  3. I just finished reading Karan Johar’s book. I agree with you that the book was poorly written and edited. In fact, it made me think that there was no editing whatsoever. By the 9345th time I had heard that “Adi’ (Aditya Chopra) could take privileges with him and scream at him and that he really, really, really missed Shah Rukh Khan (during the years that they were stupid enough to not accept the fact that they could work with other people), I felt that I had had enough. But on the other hand, I do appreciate the fact that he has been brutally honest about his insecurities (his yearning for critical praise is at once childish, childlike, endearing and exasperating), upheavals and loneliness.
    Plus, there seemed to be no attention to grammatical detail or punctuation. As you said, it’s as though he pressed ‘play’ on his dictaphone and spoke until he ran out of batteries and the co-author recorded everything, as is.

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