Koffee With Karan is Needed Now More Than Ever

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Koffee With Karan is Needed Now More Than Ever

Illustration: Shruti Yatam

Karan Johar broke the internet twice on May 4, 2022. First, with his announcement of the ‘cancellation’ of Koffee With Karan, and then with his subsequent ‘un-cancellation’, as he revealed that the show was returning not on TV but exclusively on Disney+Hotstar. For close to two decades now, the show has captivated audiences with the unfiltered, scandalous peek it gives us into the lives of Bollywood royalty and has received both bouquets and brickbats for its unabashed celebration of the gossip and drama of India’s biggest superstars.

Whether you watch for love, or for cringe or maybe out of spite, there is no denying that the show is addictive and entertaining and always manages to generate a buzz. No wonder, then, that fan excitement is at its peak for Koffee With Karan’s latest season, which comes after a hiatus of over three years. And a lot has changed over these three years. Johar acknowledges this in his announcement: “There will be conversations that go deep, about love, loss and everything we’ve all been through over the last few years.” It probably won’t address the many elephants in the room, but dear god have we needed the couch more than ever.

For close to two decades now, the show has captivated audiences with the unfiltered, scandalous peek it gives us into the lives of Bollywood royalty and has received both bouquets and brickbats for its unabashed celebration of the gossip and drama of India’s biggest superstars.

What exactly has Bollywood been through over the last few years? The pandemic, of course, as have we all, but there has also been a fundamental shift in how celebrities have interacted with the audience, the media, and society. Sushant Singh Rajput’s suicide, and more recently, Aryan Khan’s arrest, have led to intense scrutiny of the dynamics within tinsel town and sparked conversations around privilege, nepotism, stars stepping into politics, and the power imbalances within the industry. What does that mean for Karan, Koffee With Karan and the guests on the show? The trailers show us charming celebrities gossiping and dancing and making jokes, but they show no sign of addressing these the tense themes that have preceded this current season. Maybe that is why the show is important, so everything can seem normal again.

This reticence to discuss potentially delicate matters is well-founded; historically, the show has proven to be a PR disaster some, when controversial statements have been made à la Hardik Pandya, and seems to have adopted a policy of sticking to subjects that are fun, but inoffensive and comfortable. Because the show is, ultimately, a comfort watch. Johar’s USP, which he is often disparaged for but which he continues to flaunt with pride, is an utter lack of pretence about intellectuality. This is a feature of his opulent, good-looking, star-packed films, but it has never shone more brightly than in his show. Rather than attempting to be ‘deep’, he leans into the merriment of shallow frivolity; he is bold when it comes to chasing secrets and drawing out confessions from superstars, but he is also content with sticking to these realms that he is best at – Koffee With Karan never pretends to be bigger, better, or more meaningful than what it really is.

The trailers show us charming celebrities gossiping and dancing and making jokes, but they show no sign of addressing these the tense themes that have preceded this current season.

It is charming to watch Johar’s role as the host, and his masterful cajoling, coaxing, and gentle bullying of the guests into spilling the tea (coffee?). He is not only good at being the ringleader of the circus, he exuberantly enjoys it, which makes watching the show feel like being part of a very enjoyable Bollywood soiree. It is then wrong to ask for more from a show which so clearly promises luxury, charm, and salacious joy; a show that on occasion strays into ‘no thoughts, head empty’ category, but always stays light and fun. Johar’s unabashed gaiety, his unashamed pursuit of the lighter things, makes Koffee With Karan’s new season the perfect watch to distract oneself from the heaviness that seems to have become a permanent fixture of daily life.

In a move that is as heart-warming as it is strategic, the show this year seems to not only tip its hat to the past but also embrace it. I was five when the first season aired, I am twenty-three now; there is something about growing up watching the same superstars, and nothing intensifies this nostalgia more than realising how much things have changed in the eighteen years the show has aired. Celebrity couples who appeared together have broken up, feuds have developed and been resolved, a new generation of star kids has entered the game. The teasers have featured some choice moments from previous seasons that, looking back, seem as picture-perfect as the films Dharma Productions produces – Alia Bhatt blushes as she admits to wanting to go on a romantic date with Ranbir Kapoor, there are attempts to set up Anushka Sharma and Virat Kohli, Katrina Kaif and Vicky Kaushal admire each other from afar. These may not mean anything to a lot of people, but they are cuddly, warm signs that life has been afoot, even while everything seemed to have stood still.

The most comforting thing about Koffee With Karan is the promise of the ‘happily ever after’ you get at the end of each episode – there is gossip, there are witticisms, there are vapid jokes and rapid fires, and you are left with a stomach that hurts from laughing and a heart that is full.

The most comforting thing about Koffee With Karan is the promise of the ‘happily ever after’ you get at the end of each episode – there is gossip, there are witticisms, there are vapid jokes and rapid fires, and you are left with a stomach that hurts from laughing and a heart that is full. After years that have taught us that laughter is hard to come by and we must embrace joy where we find it, perhaps this is just what we need – to watch the harmless drama of people, worlds and crores away, but who seem to be just like us, with the same unrequited love affairs, the same drama, the same desire to forget about lockdowns and new variants and new waves, even for a while. And that maybe is and always should be the point of this show. Not to scratch underbellies that have been scarred in recent times but steer Bollywood, and its illuminati to safer shores from where life can again start making hopeful sense.

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