I rarely watch Hindi cinema. As a friend kindly explained to me, I do not understand the “Indian cinematic idiom” which is a pretty fancy way of saying that I don’t get it. But I do watch Koffee with Karan, the TV talk show hosted by director Karan Johar.
After reading Rohan Joshi’s excellent column in this paper last week about Koffee with Karan, aptly headlined, “Bitter Koffee”, I confronted my own discomfort with the show, especially the current season on TV now.
The puerile commentary on Koffee with Karan in this season - especially with younger stars - together with the mind-numbing inanity of the older stars makes you wonder a bit about a creative industry that manages on so little apparent IQ.
There were exceptions (surprisingly, Salman Khan and Emraan Hashmi, neither of whose films I have seen but whose reputations belied their wit) but they were too few to stall the despair.
The puerile commentary on Koffee with Karan in this season especially with younger stars together with the mind-numbing inanity of the older stars makes you wonder a bit about a creative industry that manages on so little apparent IQ
I hear from people that the time to take Hindi cinema seriously again is now. That a variety of films are being made and they are not all formulaic and factory-made. But the evidence is a little thin, given the brain power of the film people on display.
Particularly disquieting was the show’s attitude to homosexuality. A perpetual question was about who the guest would choose for a “gay encounter” if a gun was held to their head. I am uncertain that this is the way homosexuals find partners - it sounds like an assault on one’s sensibilities and on homosexuality in general.
I am guessing that the question is supposed to be funny - I have been helped by the whoops of laughter from guests who archly answer “You Karan” to posit that. But both the question and the reaction cannot be taken at face value.
Urban Hindi cinema has of course been dealing with homosexuality in a somewhat tangential manner in recent times - with nudge-nudge wink-wink gags and innuendo-filled banter. These used to be popular at award shows as well.
People have protested at the homophobic nature of such jokes but in a country where talking about sex fills people with dismay or dread or discomfort, the Hindi cinema attitude is perhaps not surprising. After all, Mumbai recently had a police commissioner who thought that sex education in schools was responsible for more rapes taking place.
Hindi cinema in any case has always treated sex in an absurd manner - rapes used to be common titillating factors in films in my youth, “eve-teasing” was the only way for boys and girls to communicate and men were well within their rights to treat women any way they wanted as long as they sang a song while they did it.
But the faux coyness with which Koffee with Karan treats sex, whether hetero or homosexual, is annoying and ultimately demeaning. One would imagine that Johar is better than this, judging by the way he speaks though not by his movies. And perhaps if the film industry was more sensitive to homosexuality and the problems the community face in India, society would become more aware.
It’s not just about the sex though. It is about the fact that most of the guests have absolutely nothing to say. A pop quiz amongst some young stars on the show found they didn’t even know who the prime minister of India was. Am I asking too much of them? If you say yes, why do we have such low standards? I hope that they are really great actors to cover for their lack in schooling and general awareness.
On another show, Anupama Chopra’s weekly movie review, a group of actors and directors discuss the Oscar nominations. They yearn for such movies to be made in India and they applaud moviemakers who stick to one story. The irony perhaps eludes them, inured as they are to making the sort of films they do.
The sad thing is that so far, I have enjoyed the pointless banter on Koffee with Karan and laughed along with the ha-ha hee-hee. I will miss watching it in an abstract sort of way. And worse, I now have no way of keeping in touch with who’s who in Bollywood. Pass me the glycerine so I can cry a bit.
Ranjona Banerji is a senior journalist. You can follow her on twitter @ranjona