Book Review: An Unsuitable Boy
Karan Johar with Poonam Saxena
Released in 2017
Rating: Four stars
Karan Johar is a brand name for success in the movie industry and it’s no secret that he is a man with the Midas touch, having a strong business acumen on the winning formula at the box office. There are very few people in the industry who are ready to make open revelations on what goes behind the curtain or bed sheet, giving an insight into his private life, paid sex or the different power games or the relationships balance that gives fillip to our minds. KJO has a larger than life personality and like his movies and chat show Koffee with Karan, An Unsuitable Boy offers a king size adventure not only in the life of the filmmaker but his growing up days, film-making journey, taking the mantle of Dharma Productions, Bombay days and grappling with sexuality. An Unsuitable Boy is similar to Karan’s movies, the ups, and downs faced in both his career and personal life but at the end of the day, triumphs with style.
The book starts with his growing up years in this building called Acropolis in Malabar Hill in Bombay and according to the film-maker, finance was a real struggle at home. Now, that’s quite a revelation when Karan says that his Dad, producer Yash Johar was able to make both ends meet by profits earned through the family export firm. The only hit in Johar senior’s two decades old career before Kuch Kuch Hota Hai was the Amitabh Bachchan-Shatrughan Sinha starrer Dostana so much that Karan as a young boy was discouraged to get into films.
The book traces his interesting journey, right from assisting Aditya Chopra on DDLJ, to write sequences in the film, the story-teller quality that was always inherently present in him, to be clueless on the first day of shoot, striking a close friendship with Shah Rukh Khan and Kajol to ultimately making Kuch Kuch Hota Hai (KKHH). It’s quite hilarious to read about the film’s premiere when the new film-maker received death threats and was confined inside Liberty theatre while all he wanted during all these years was to see Shammi Kapoor walk out of his Mercedes to see his premiere. He did. It was his moment of fame and glory but was soon sent back inside the room where two body guards played darban.
The book is honest to the core, right from taking over Dharma Productions to bringing back his college friend Apoorva Mehta from London to see things over and Anil Ambani handing him a chit that contained investment, bank account, and go-to-people details. Of course, Karan confesses on what went behind the scenes during the shooting of Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna which is based on extra marital relations. How many film makers would open tell that most of his actors, right from Amitabh Bachchan to Shah Rukh Khan, Rani Mukherjee and Preity Zinta, except Abhishek playing the wronged guy, whined about the subject-matter? That’s quite a confession to make because as a creative person, there is a certain ego to justify your work but here is a man saying how he hated KANK and the reality behind the whole saga.
He provides a sharp, bare it all and insightful take on marriage and extra relationships that most of us prefer to hide:
‘You find me one marriage that has opportunity and hasn’t succumbed in it. They experience it at home, brush it under the carpet and move on. There is a huge latent hypocrisy in our society…sometimes you do love your spouse but you’re not necessarily turned on by them after two decades of marriage. So they come back with a guilt and a present…Is this the reality of our times? Where is that old school resilience? Is divorce the new marriage?’
How interesting! The questions asked by the film-maker are not something many of us are comfortable to face but we wilfully run away from. It’s the reality in today’s times. The confession of joining an online dating service, unrequited love in the past and the nerve-racking experience of paying for sex deserves respect for the filmmaker choose to come out in the open in a brazenly honest manner. He openly confesses of seeing a counselor after facing depression and the need for medication to calm him or experimenting with popping a pill in Goa that did nothing to him ecstasy wise but went to sleep. There is a certain fun in the seriousness that KJO injects in the book. It will make you laugh and cry at the same time.
KJO is not shy in speaking about the fall out he had with close friend Kajol following Ae Dil Hai Mushkil, gently broaching on his sexuality, an entire chapter devoted to his association with Shah Rukh Khan whom he consider as a brother or his closeness to Gauri and the kids.
Of course, being a celebrity in the age of social media is no easy task where you are subjected to all forms of ludicrous public scrutiny. It’s something that he assesses in a competent manner on how the younger kids are too worried about failure or too careful to take risks. Compare it to the Khans who hold a controlled megalomania but the people feel close to them because of their relatable quotient and endearing quality. Or, Amitabh Bachchan is an exception where no one knows what goes inside his head but there lies a certain mysticism and silence that makes him relevant and so loved even in today’s times.
Karan Johar should have been more open about his sexual orientation taking into account that he speaks about the lack of relatable factor when it comes to the younger brigade of stars. Perhaps, that would have broken the ice and make his personality more endearing that people could have related more to him. But, then, it’s his personal calling and something that we should respect. The book is an odd 216 pages which give the feeling that it’s quite short on the enigma that Karan Johar is becoming in the film industry. Salacious and juicy, something which I feel is somehow missing in parts.
‘There is no nepotism any longer. Film-makers are bringing in new cultures with their own style of film-making…Hindi cinema is actually not an invasion, it’s an inclusion. A new kind of content is being made and appreciated.’
An Unsuitable Boy is not just a book but a vivid journey tracing the life of one of the most successful film makers in the Hindi film industry. It’s a bold account. The best thing about the book is that he touches the various issues with a certain raw reality and credit goes to him for saying how Indian cinema will become more relevant globally with the kind of experimental movies being made. I have always been against this commercial versus art debate for it’s my firm belief as a film critic and passionate cinema goer that either you make a good or bad product. Casting aside the whole nepotism fracas, An Unsuitable Boy gets so real and whether you adore or abhor KJO, this book is a compelling read and a page turner so much that you will laud the man for the courage shown. It’s the book’s USP for it lays bare everything under the sun. A must read in the world of glitz, glamor but also what lies behind the curtains.