celebrity culture

‘Koffee With Karan’ proves that Shah Rukh Khan has been in the wrong kind of movie his entire career

In the first episode of the new season of Karan Johar’s celebrity talk show, his old friend and collaborator typically hogs the camera without trying.

Karan Johar launched the first episode of the new season of Koffee with Karan with one of his favourite actors, with whom he has had a long professional collaboration, and one of his discoveries, whom he has repeatedly cast in his home productions. We’re back on the couch – this time coloured a perky teal and placed in a busy and proudly tacky set – and have been re-ushered into the VVIP lounge in which the phrase “Conflict of interest” is as meaningless as “Change the channel.”

Johar interviewed Shah Rukh Khan with Alia Bhatt for the first episode of the Star World show on November 6. There was no need to mention the fact that the veteran star and the one in the wings both feature in the November 25 release Dear Zindagi, which Khan and Johar have co-produced. Khan and Bhatt referred to their experiences of working in Gauri Shinde’s movie and only half-jokingly praised each other’s histrionic abilities to the skies. Khan, looking tanned and becoming in a typically sharp suit, vibed perfectly with Bhatt, in an classy white pant suit, red flaming lipstick and eye make-up that made her look like the 23-year-old woman she is rather than the girl she is made to play in her films.

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‘Koffee with Karan Season 5’.

The show is now in its fifth season. The format remains comfortingly and annoyingly predictable – an A-lister chats with other A-listers and coaxes them to make themselves more interesting than they are in interviews or, probably, in real life. There are allusions to sex and sexuality, gossipy asides, the occasionally slide into smut (“doing Bollywood”), self-deprecating humour, and more energy than Johar musters up in the movies he directs and produces. Johar’s Dharma Productions needs to throw in a couple of extra cameras, organise better backdrops, and make a Koffee with Karan mockumentary. It will be a hit, we promise, and can spin off a meta-episode in which Johar interviews himself.

Johar got the nudge-nudge wink-wink jokes about his sexuality out of the way before anyone else got to them. Since this is a scripted show, this “anyone else” is actually nobody else, but if nothing, it makes for headlines, tweets and Facebook posts. Peeps! Did you know that Karan and Shah Rukh joked about being a couple? And that Shah Rukh said he was going to release pictures of him kissing Karan? The retweet counter is going out of control.

There were two hints that the episode has been canned after Johar’s tragic runs-in with rightwing groups over the presence of Pakistani actor Fawad Khan in his most recent movie Ae Dil Hai Mushkil. Khan said that he needed to prove his love to Johar just like the filmmaker needed to prove his nationalism. The other was Johar’s slightly drawn face, which looked like it was having fun but betrayed the effort ever so often.

‘Ranveer Singh is wearing padded underwear’

Bhatt was her usual perky self as she denied link-ups with her co-stars, especially Sidharth Malhotra, and declared that she would prefer to eat pizza by herself rather than date Ranbir Kapoor or Ranveer Singh. The night belonged to Khan, whose ability to make extempore remarks and take himself down a few pegs is legendary. The best joke of the evening was by Khan: Ranveer Singh is definitely wearing padded underwear in his December release Befikre, and he isn’t, then I’m a fan.

In a less hierarchy-conscious culture that does not privilege cinema over television, Khan could easily have hosted his own talk show alongside headlining big-budget productions and worrying about whether they would breach the Rs 100-crore mark at the box office. He seemed resigned to his diminished ability to sell tickets. “I don’t have the biggest box office,” Khan admitted. Also, he hasn’t yet made the cinematic masterpieces that will feature in the best films of all time list. And, in further grist for headline hunters, he needs to get his cinema right.

Why isn’t this side of Khan ever seen in his movies? He is the master of the fly-on-the-wall and seemingly unscripted moment. Khan’s quicksilver intelligence, spot-on wit, and ability to shoulder barbs and insults are the reasons he remains a media magnet, hit or no hit. Here is a ready superstar of the verite style of filmmaking, who is his performative best when it looks like he is not performing. But none of the films on which he has built his fortune displays this relaxed, naturalistic side. It’s never too late.

Khan’s praise for Bhatt’s realistic acting skills were generous and a tad wistful, but his advice that she should act in a few more typically Bollywood (read fake and sentimental) movies will hopefully be ignored. After all, her generation is “demotional”, Khan claimed – detached yet emotional. We need to see more of Khan in demotional mode, delivering lines on the screen with the same casualness and lack of self-consciousness as he does on this show and others. The first episode of Koffee with Karan 2016 didn’t have too many takeaways, but if there is one, it is that Shah Rukh Khan has been in the wrong kind of movie his entire career.

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