If Karan Johar is to be believed, to age is to envy youth. That’s all he seems to talk about in the contrived monologues that have opened this season of Koffee With Karan (KwK). It is a little sad — perhaps, extremely sad — because we have forgotten, for the most part, where his irony ends and his sincerity begins, and I only hope that border is more discerning in his mind. That at least he takes himself seriously, even as he gives us every reason not to.
In the latest, and — thankfully, reportedly — last episode of the seventh season of Koffee With Karan, Johar brings in the Bollywood wives, Gauri Khan, Maheep Kapoor, and Bhavna Pandey. (There might be an episode of Koffee Awards, though.) Pandey and Kapoor, for the uninitiated, were best of friends who drifted away over the years, and on the stronger, more scalding second season of Fabulous Lives of Bollywood Wives fought and made up in a Rajasthani wildlife outpost where they went to audition wild animals for charity projects — no to pythons, yes to leopards.
Khan is that friend who floats above the rest, thanks to fame, money, power, etc., and yet has to pretend to belong and be egalitarian because the performance — or delusion — is healthier for everyone involved. But what do I know? What do they know? What does anyone know? Fame can be awkward like that, performing powerlessness to sometimes get closer to power?
A lot of this episode of Kwk is about their husbands — Shah Rukh Khan, Chunky Panday, Sanjay Kapoor — and rightfully so. The wives have their own “cottage industries”, where they make and sell things among themselves, like jewellery or house decor; but without the sapping, strutting spirit of an entrepreneur. “Success is immaterial…There is no goal, there is no [ambition],” Khan informs us. To be busy is their reward for work.
The point is, however, that Fabulous Lives Of Bollywood Wives was able to cough up what Koffee With Karan couldn’t — chatty charisma with brief stings of honesty. Like how Kapoor stuck with her marriage even after an early incidence of infidelity. Like showing us the needles make their way under the soft skin of Neelam Kothari and Seema, injecting blood and silicon to look younger. Like how Pandey often feels hurt being considered the wife of a court jester; how separating from someone isn’t easy; how sex dries up in marriage; how love is an effort you must feel is worth making. There was an honesty here among the “Gareeb Kardashians”, because that reality show, unlike this chat show, is not interested in exposing personalities as opposed to exposing personal lives. Fabulous Lives grated on the senses only when it tried to emphasise how each personality is different from the rest. When it stuck to letting them tell their stories, it soared as reality television.
The mistake KwK makes is to assume personal stories come from personalities. This is not true. Personal stories build personality. Fabulous Lives spent 16 episodes trying to construct Maheep Kapoor as a muhfat (outspoken), irreverent woman who lives life on her own terms, only for this facade to crumble with one anecdote about how she decided to stay in her marriage. Her personality emerged from that, and not the million excuses the show gives for her to cuss around, boss around, toss around.
In contrast, Kapoor feels unremarkable on the KwK couch, because the show doesn’t make space for personal stories, obsessed as it is with personalities. It is why Gauri Khan is given so much space — she is introduced first, gets some solo time with Johar, is given the central spot — despite not delivering footage worthy of that. They speak of Aryan Khan being wrongfully arrested, but refuse to bring up his name. They speak of Shah Rukh Khan’s awful films, but refuse to give us more details. They speak of things that tested their friendship but refuse to dig deeper. It is all silly platitudes we know, nostalgia we don’t care for, and affection that seems too warped by the market forces that drive the men’s careers.
Khan was wearing a skirt so short and uncomfortable — Alessandra Rich tweed suit and skirt, similar to the Chanel ensemble that Sonam Kapoor wore in mint green in Aisha (2010) — that she had to think how to sit, the camera helping her by cutting away from her confusion, and then cutting to her cross-legged “prim and proper position”. How to expect the guests of KwK to move their mouths with abandon if they can barely move their bodies? What is the point of this glamour if it looks so damn uncomfortable? What does it say about the show that one of the most staining moments of the season was when Janhvi Kapoor decided to toss her heels, sit on her knees in her glittering gown, mop up her loose hair into a bun, and apologise to her hair stylist?
Isn’t glamour supposed to make your mouth water and make you want the same fripperies? Isn’t it supposed to be Cinderella’s glass slipper that we all think — and hope — we can fit into? Maybe that is the biggest casualty of this season. Growing up, watching KwK, we often wondered how it may feel like to be on that couch, how we would flutter our eyelids when asked about ex-lovers, how we would rate people on their sex appeal, or refuse to answer because we love all of them equally. The question of whether we outgrew the talk show or the talk show spiralled into the staid remains. But what is clear, is that seven seasons in, KwK has repackaged fame into something so spectacularly boring, tedious, and tiresome, I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy. Though, who am I kidding, I wouldn’t mind the money. Not to mention the hamper.