To understand the pull of Karan Johar in Bollywood, you should attempt to write a negative story about him. By the term “negative story”, in journalistic parlance, we mean an article where we write something that doesn’t show the particular person in good light.
This is what happened when I approached a reputed producer friend of mine with this subject. The subject being whether Karan Johar, the talk show host, is a friend or a foe in disguise?
“Excuse me, what are you writing about?”
“It’s about Karan Johar’s ability to stir controversies and emerge out of it unscathed”
“Seems like a negative story, no?”
“Depends on how you look at it.”
“That’s okay. Let’s talk about him but don’t quote me, okay?”
“Don’t be a fool, Shomu (that is how most people call me because they cannot pronounce my Bengali name). Karan is the most powerful producer in Bollywood today. He belongs to all the camps and yet he doesn’t belong to any. There are several directors working under him. I cannot be seen speaking against him. I will tell you what you want to know, just quote me anonymously. You have the option to quote a ‘source’, no?”
That was the summary of most of the conversations that I had with a handful of prominent film personalities about Karan Johar’s show ‘Koffee with Karan’. They want to talk so that they can honour the long-standing friendship that we have. At the same time, they want to remain anonymous as they don’t want to spoil their image in front of Karan Johar.
To put into context, Karan Johar is perhaps the most powerful producer in Bollywood who struts in and out of the three Khan residences with equal ease. All the three Khan are three camps of Bollywood.
Karan Johar also has a small camp of his own in Bollywood — these are the actors and actresses who he had launched or mentored in Bollywood. Other than them, he has the die-hard support of his childhood friends like Aditya Chopra etc who have grown up with him.
Taken everything together, Karan commands a pull that perhaps nobody in Bollywood can match.
There is nobody in Karan Johar’s phonebook who won’t answer a call if he calls. If you remember the episode of Salman Khan in Koffee with Karan (where he famously claimed that he is a virgin) then Salman also wondered when Karan will make a film with him.
That’s Karan Johar. Everybody loves Karan Johar.
Karan is a talented filmmaker no doubt but he surpasses his peers in Public Relations. This skill of him is unparalleled in Bollywood. Except for Karan Johar, you won’t be able to name anybody who have maintained his relations perhaps with everybody in Bollywood. They might not talk to each other but everybody talks to Karan Johar.
The same influence extends to the media also, Karan reportedly has a large number of senior Bollywood journalists (most of them are in responsible positions) who are friendly with him. He has even admitted on his shows that he had started a few gossips in the media.
Hence the media too loves Karan Johar.
As a result, there are few stories published about Karan Johar that actually show him bad light. Truth be told that most of the journalists in Bollywood write pages and pages of praise about him. Time and again, people associated with Karan Johar have landed in trouble but interestingly Karan Johar has emerged from all the controversies perfectly unscathed.
Then there was Kangana Ranaut calling Karan Johar a “Bollywood mafia” and “flag bearer of nepotism” on his face at his show. Months after that controversy, Karan Johar made fun of Kangana Ranaut on stage at an award show that he was hosting. There was immediate backlash (including me) about attacking a woman who’s not there in person to defend herself. Varun Dhawan apologised almost immediately after and then came an apology of Karan Johar to the entertainment editor of a TV channel.
The same happened this time too after Hardik Pandya and KL Rahul were suspended after making disparaging remarks on his show. There was no sign of Karan Johar. The episode was re-aired and ultimately resulted in the suspension of both the players. Both young players, making their marks in international cricket.
Months after Karan Johar reappeared in similar fashion, said sorry to a TV channel sitting at a foreign location. He said, he didn’t understand that the comments were disparaging in nature and none of his team members did too. When there was a tremendous backlash about the comments, there was no reaction from him till recently because he didn’t know what to do. He said he doesn’t care about TRP and his show’s popularity doesn’t matter because he is primarily known for making movies.
This is just fibbing on a different level. Karan Johar has a roaring career on television as a talk show host, talent reality show judge and constant appearances on other genres of show including award shows (those are TV shows too). Think about it, has there been a time on television where Karan Johar has not been on TV on this channel or the other? Yes, you get my point. No matter how Karan may talk about the films he directs or produces, Karan Johar, the person, is a TV personality.
So, apart from Bollywood, Karan exercises considerable pull in the television sector as well.
So now you have got a picture of an ideal Bollywood paradox about why everybody has to remain friends with him despite some of them getting burned.
Just for the time being, imagine that you are a young Bollywood star. You have done some films and you are on your way to the top. Then one day, you see a call or a message from Karan Johar on your mobile.
Will you be able to ignore the call or the message?
No. You will have to get back in touch with him. Now when you call him back, he may ask you to come on his show where, more often than not, he might put you in an embarrassing situation through the questions he might have devised for you.
You can be evasive but you cannot say ‘no’ to Karan Johar.
You can postpone but you cannot say ‘no’ to Karan Johar..
You can say you are sick for a few days but you cannot say ‘no’ to Karan Johar.
That’s the way power equation works in Bollywood. Karan Johar is really high up in the ladder when it comes to the power equation.
There’s only one person — a woman — who openly defied Karan Johar.
That’s Kangana Ranaut.
Do you know how Kangana Ranaut is treated by most big stars and filmmakers in Bollywood?
Well that calls for another story.