Reading Karan Johar’s autobiography is like watching one of his movies: you remain riveted to it from beginning till end. It may be a world that’s quite different from the one you are used to. The grandeur is dreamlike. But the sorrows are more real and touching though not deeply enough. It’s entertaining as much as a steaming cup of coffee or occasionally a drink of Scotch on the rocks. And you know that a coffee or Scotch is not going to be much of a classic.
The book begins with a self-deprecating account of the author’s childhood. We see Karan as a chubby boy who was teased for being a “pansy” or who could not survive in a boarding school beyond a couple of days or so. The young Karan was not very promising in any way so much so that his mother was alarmed enough to lament that he was just “ a mediocre student” who had no interest in anything particularly and one who could not even make friends.
Karan entered Bollywood without much difficulty, thanks to his father’s reputation there. The book would make us think that becoming a success in Bollywood is not a big deal. Karan has not gone deep into the issues that make Bollywood a teeming cauldron. But there are a lot of interesting details – like the entertaining antics of a Shah Rukh Khan, Karan’s favourite actor and long time friend – that engage us though not involve us.
It fails to involve us because Karan doesn’t actually seem to believe in anything profound about life. “In this world, your only barometer is wealth and money,” says Karan unabashedly. He admits that he loves luxury and the upper classes. He cannot make movies about the poor and the oppressed. He can empathise with them, he says; but we never see any evidence for the empathy, however. The book makes us feel that he is floating through life like a well-equipped luxury cruise ship.
Karan has an inborn talent. He can engage the audience whether in the movie or in a book’s narrative. That makes the book an engaging read. There’s more. He is as candid as possible for one who wants to say things without hurting others. He speaks frankly about his sexual orientations and inclinations, his friendships and dislikes.
In the last chapter, ‘Bollywood Today,’ he speaks candidly about the three Khans who dominate the industry even today. He has all admiration for them. He stands in awe before the “mysterious” Amitabh Bachchan. He would prefer to have the younger generation a little more open and genuinely expressive. “They don’t allow you to get to know them,” he complains. “You don’t know what they really are as people” unlike the Khans who speak out their views in interviews.
There is a generation gap, it seems. Karan writes, “I find sometimes when you ask this generation a question, there’s no coherence in the answer. You’ve asked a question and they’ve gone into something else altogether. And they laugh at their own jokes, which are not funny. They have nothing clever to say. It’s so sad. Some of them are supreme talents, yet they have nothing to say.”
Karan’s verdict is right, I think. But Karan himself could have said more in the book and made it a classic of sorts. He has the supreme talent. And cleverness too. Why did he draw the line then? I guess the younger ones are drawing the lines for very similar reasons. Maybe a time will come when they master the maturity as well as success required for the kind of candidness that Karan displays.
Before the Epilogue, the book carries some photographs. It’s nice to see Karan as a child, little boy, young man and then with his friends in the industry.
I particularly liked the last sentence of the book: “Death doesn’t scare me, life sometimes does.” I wish Karan had made that scariness of life a little more vivid in the narrative.