In the second episode of Koffee with Karan Season 5, Karan Johar lovingly recalled how Twinkle Khanna got him into trouble in school, and bullied him through most of his childhood.
MrsFunnyBones then went on to remark that KJo only loved her because she had a moustache.
Twinkle Khanna: You must have looked at that mustache and said, “I like that, it’s really hot, I want that!”
KJo: If I agree to what you are saying, I could be put in jail, just like you did for unbuttoning his jeans. You and I could have gone to jail. And you and I will not know what to do in that jail.
Twinkle: We’ll go to jail for 377 days only.
This is just one of the many not-so-subtle references that KJo has made to his homosexuality in the current season of KwK.
The thing is, he’s always remained just one step away from coming out of the closet.
— Karan Johar (@karanjohar) January 4, 2017
The Times of India published several excerpts from his new book, An Unsuitable Boy. And judging by them, it looks like Kjo isn’t going to say what we all know but are waiting for him to confirm.
"Everybody knows what my sexual orientation is. I don't need to scream it out. If I need to spell it out, I won't only because I live in a country where I could possibly be jailed for saying this. Which is why I Karan Johar will not say the three words that possibly everybody knows about me."
And people never stop talking about it.
Talking about KJo’s reluctance, transgender activist Laxmi Narayan Tripathi said:
“When a person of Karan's stature says he is scared of going to prison, that shows how marginalised the LGBTQ community in India is. The law itself doesn't protect them, which is against the constitution. When Karan Johar is scared, one can only imagine what people from the lower strata must face.”
Shibu Thomas, a senior editor with TOI, wrote an open letter to call out KJo’s fear of being jailed. In it, he says that KJo’s misinformed statement could further scare youngsters who are struggling to come out to their families and friends. He urges KJo to understand that simply saying “I am gay” doesn’t lead to imprisonment.
He has, however, also written that he doesn’t want to force KJo to say those three words, because the filmmaker is entitled to his privacy.
Other gay rights activists haven’t been as understanding.
— Pallav Patankar (@Pallav01) January 8, 2017
— Aapurv jain (@aapurv) January 8, 2017
— Apurva Asrani (@Apurvasrani) January 8, 2017
But think about it; this is a man whose abject loneliness has come through in all the personal columns he wrote last year. He talked about losing his virginity at the age of 26, a memory that he says he’s “not proud of.”
He’s talked about the relentless vitriol he receives online, and how some headlines have affected him deeply. Speaking about being linked with SRK, for instance, he said, “For me, no matter what ups and downs Shah Rukh and I have been through, he is a father figure, an older brother to me. For me to look at him in that way or be subjected to those rumours was just ridiculous.”
— Karan Johar (@karanjohar) June 16, 2016
And this hasn’t happened once. Over the years, there have been many speculations about SRK and KJo’s relationship, which, frankly, is nobody’s business but his own.
He’s talked about the immense pressure he deals with as a high-profile celebrity, the stress and isolation of it. He’s even opened up about his struggles with mental illness.
So is it wrong to let him choose the kind of life he wants to live?
Let’s face it, we haven’t been too kind to Bollywood stars for voicing their opinion.
Aamir Khan was eviscerated for talking about feeling insecure in India.
Saif and Kareena exercised their basic right in naming their son, and it sparked national outrage.
— Sonam Kapoor (@sonamakapoor) January 9, 2017
We’re also quick to boycott movies only because we don’t agree with an artiste’s POV. People were angry with Fawad Khan’s casting in Ae Dil Hai Mushkil. KJo had to come to a compromise with the MNS just to make sure the movie was released.
So there’s no guarantee that we’re going to be any nicer to Karan Johar.
Does it really matter whether he openly calls himself gay?
Yes, having an icon as the voice of the gay rights movement would be hugely beneficial. If nothing else, it’ll get wide media coverage and people will start taking notice. KJo is a public figure whose words matter; he has more power to change minds and spark discussion than a regular person.
But that doesn’t mean we can foist that role onto him, when it is clear that he is unwilling. He’s entitled to a take on whatever degree of openness that works for him, both publicly and in private.
We also need to consider how his sexuality has been a matter of household discussion for a long time. I know people who call him ‘gay’ (as though it’s an insult) and ‘chakka’ without thinking even for a second. That’s only a fraction of the what he must read or hear about himself on a daily basis. That must be some heavy weight for one person to take on their shoulders.
Which is why—as much as I would like KJo to become the voice of the LGBTQ movement in India—I respect his right to not do it. I understand that he has his inhibitions and is afraid that people might not be able to separate his work from his sexuality.
So if you’re looking for inspiration from this man, take it from the fact that despite all the abuse he receives, the intensity of the public gaze, and his own internal struggles, he’s continuing with his work, and making the effort to share his life and his experiences with us.
I just hope he continues to make movies like Kapoor and Sons, instead of movies like Dostana, so that his work evolves with his identity.