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January 17, 2017

Review: Karan Johar’s An Unsuitable Boy

Text by Shraddha Jahagirdar-Saxena. Photograph by Siddhant Jain

Karan Johar – the film-maker the stars love to love – gives us glimpses of his emotional journey, personal life and professional highs and lows in his autobiography

With due respect to the award-winning author Vikram Seth and to the creative minds at work in this autobiography, An Unsuitable Boy is not the title I would attach to Karan Johar’s book – especially since I, amongst a legion of film-buffs have seen, enjoyed, digested and re-seen several of his movies (Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham…, Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna, My Name Is Khan and Student of the Year, to name but a few). What makes him an unsuitable boy is a thought that would prod bibliophiles into reading his new work that has been co-authored by Poonam Saxena.

So, admitting that this review is written by a self-confessed addict of sentimental movies – particular of the K-Jo variety, I would say An Unsuitable Boy is worth a read, for several reasons.

A Blockbuster Book

Although it is about a Bollywood boy – and Johar touches upon and elaborates on several people and incidents that are from the world of the movies – this book is not a historical treatise about Bollywood. The story – and it is his life’s tale – is narrated from the point of view of a child who grew up in South Bombay but whose life was driven by a passion for Hindi movies and one who became along the way one of the most-loved film-makers of all time. The work is packed with personal details, about relationships made and broken, love, sexuality and heartbreak, the magic of the movies – that is coloured by hits and misses. It is peopled with the friends he has made – Adi (Aditya) Chopra, Shah Rukh Khan, Anil Thadani and more. He does here what he does so effortlessly on his free-wheeling chat show Koffee With Karan. Draw you into a world filled with glamorous people – only here, he has also spotlighted heartache, heartburn and fears as well.

The Man

Although, and but naturally, the book has several references to the movies, it is primarily and rightly so a narrative about Johar’s life – from his nascent days to the present. It takes off from his childhood in a small flat in an elite, upmarket locale of South Bombay, touches upon what he terms was a ‘lonely existence’: ‘I longed for a sibling. I used to feel very upset when I saw other children’s brothers and sisters. It really bothered me. But my mother couldn’t have another child. She tried. But she had had a tough pregnancy with me, so when she got pregnant again, she had to abort the child because the doctor said she wouldn’t be able to handle it and it could be detrimental to her health….. It was a lonely existence for me. I had complexes because of my weight, my being effeminate.’

His Voice

For those who have interacted with him personally or professionally, interviewed him in the course of their careers, or as tele-buffs have just seen one or more editions of Koffee With Karan, will realise that the words flow easily through the book. It’s Karan in the printed form! He’s conversational, easy to understand and draws you into his experiences with felicity. Check this moment out, one of the many where he speaks about his equation with Shah Rukh Khan (there is an entire chapter on him even though he appears through different parts of the narrative): ‘Even when there was this minor or mild distance between us, on many levels, he was still my first go-to-person in a situation of distress, or to seek help or advice. When I had a falling out with Kajol, the first call I made was to Shah Rukh…. He had nothing to do with the problem. But I still called him because somewhere, Shah Rukh, Kajol and I have been so close.’

His Honesty

Despite the recent hullabaloo in the media about Johar not saying those significant three words clearly and emphatically, in his tome, he does come clean about all that has filled his life to date. He is honest, real and does not hesitate – unlike other celebrities – to throw the harsh spotlight on himself, when the occasion warrants. Like when he talks about his weight issue: ‘I was very fat, so kids often called me ‘fatty’. That just got me more into my shell. It used to bother me a hell of a lot but it never stopped me from eating. I believed there was no other way – I just had to eat for my own happiness. Now that I think about it, subconsciously or psychologically, my only friend was food.’

Its EQ

Like most of his movies that are characterised by huge dollops of emotion and sentiment (of course, not something like his production Kaal) An Unsuitable Boy is filled with emotions – he speaks eloquently about the rollercoaster he has ridden on through his life. One can almost identify with the emotions he has experienced – the emotions he went through when (and in the period after) his father died: ‘I remember coming back to the house, and there were people I had to meet, but I just went into my room. There was a tiny closet there. I went inside, closed the door, sat down and wept. I just wept and wept. I think it is the last time I’ve ever cried like that.

Or the time when he talks about going to a doctor for treatment, towards the end of the work. That needed some degree of honesty. ‘I project a lot and there is a fatigue that creeps in because of such projection levels. You’re expected to be happy. You’re expected to be sociable. You’re expected to be there for the people. These expectations can drain you.’

After having read An Unsuitable Boy – from cover to cover in one reading that went on till late in the night – I would call his print offering Confident in My Own Skin or Living in the Moment! For despite the personal insecurities that he confesses he has suffered from for a large part of his life, Karan is Karan – unabashedly who he is! He is a boy – suitable or not – who has the spunk to say firmly and clearly, ‘Today, I finally feel liberated. I feel like I can take on anyone or anything!’

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