(From L to R) Karan Johar, Kangana Ranaut and Aamir Khan
The media abhors a vacuum. In the absence of interesting interviews and riveting entertainment, it will settle for second best. That currently happens to be Koffee With Karan. Since almost everyone in Bollywood has decided to not talk about politics or culture, Johar has decided to make the most of it. The seventh season of the show features celebrities on his couch who have to answer deep and meaningful questions about their intimate lives. Have they ever had sex in a public place? Would they ever want to have a threesome? And whom would they like to date among the men available in the industry? None of this seems shocking or surprising to the mostly young men and women sitting on his couch, who find it easier to answer these questions than those related to national issues. It only confirms a suspicion I’ve always had: that in Bollywood, it is smart to play dumb. The less you know, the less you threaten. Johar is the prime proponent of this ‘Cult of Stupidity’ and makes money off it, whether it is his digital chat show or his endorsements. He is every channel’s favourite host, every star’s ideal launch pad, and every luxury brand’s perfect model. So much so that everyone almost seems to have forgotten that the so-called rootless cosmopolitan has made some of the films that have institutionalised festivals and expanded the idea of the traditional wedding. The man who invented the idea of sanskari success, or culturally appropriate triumph through his family-first films, is happy to make sex jokes and be a latter-day Devyani Chaubal. It’s better than saying anything meaningful and earning a boycott or a ban.
Death by Social Media
The remake of Forrest Gump (1994), Laal Singh Chaddha, is a film that was expected to revive the box office in Bollywood and add yet another feather in lead actor Aamir Khan’s much-feathered cap. Unfortunately, not only did the movie underperform commercially but it was also not as widely critically acclaimed as his work usually is. While many have put the blame squarely on the calls to boycott it, claiming Aamir is anti-national, others have found faults in his portrayal of the autistic Laal (anyone remember Robert Downey Jr telling Ben Stiller in Tropic Thunder to never go “full retard”?). I loved the movie and thought it was an exquisite portrayal of the life and times we have lived in, but the truth is also that a lot of people don’t remember the events simply because they haven’t lived through them. But while erosion of the Khan charisma is one of the reasons, equally powerful is the diminishing of Bollywood. The sustained campaign against it because of Sushant Singh Rajput’s death, the subsequent drug investigation and the backlash against nepotism have hurt the image of the Mumbai film industry. Its impact on the box office is evident. Take a look at the first day collections of movies this year: topping the list is KGF2 with `52 crore. What’s number 2? Dr Strange in the Multiverse of Madness with `32 crore. After that is RRR with `19 crore and Bhool Bhulaiyaa 2 with `14 crore. Laal Singh Chaddha made `12 crore on the opening day, which makes it the third highest opening for a Hindi film this year but way below Thugs of Hindostan (2018), Aamir’s last film, ironically considered a massive flop. Thugs opened at `50 crore, and went on to make a worldwide gross of `335 crore (its budget was `300 crore). Aamir apologised to his fans for Thugs so one wonders what he will do for Laal Singh Chaddha. Ironically, two of the constituencies who claim to be hurt by the film were precisely those Aamir had shown the film to—a special board of the Army as well as the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee. With photos of supposedly empty halls and videos of unfavourable audience reviews, it really has been death by WhatsApp for Laal Singh Chaddha.
Scene and Heard
It’s raining Indira Gandhi this season in Bollywood. She figures in Rocket Boys Season 2 on SonyLIV as India tests its first nuclear bomb in Pokhran in 1974. She is in Pippa, Raja Krishna Menon’s movie, based on the 1971 war. She comes on screen in Kangana Ranaut’s Emergency, and she’s back again in Meghna Gulzar’s Sam Bahadur, which is currently filming.