Comedians And Influencers Can’t Save Koffee With Karan From Itself

Tanmay Bhat, Kusha Kapila, Danish Sait, and Niharika NM joined Karan Johar for the season finale
Comedians And Influencers Can’t Save Koffee With Karan From Itself

It could have been an edgy show, an edgy episode — and by edgy I mean uncomfortably menacing, acidically honest, needlessly provocative — this bringing together of Tanmay Bhat, Kusha Kapila, Danish Sait, and Niharika NM on Karan Johar’s couch. Instead, the seventh season of Koffee With Karan (KwK) merely ended the silsila of glittering ennui and even Johar could not pretend otherwise.

He noted how underwhelmed he was by the tepid answers flung without any vigour in the rapid fire rounds this season, like a rigged Russian roulette where the bullet never launches despite a hopeless anticipation that something will burst forth. Something must, noh?

No. Because the ones who could — Kareena Kapoor Khan, Sonam Kapoor Ahuja — just stopped caring, happy in their own sedate worlds; and the ones who want to — Samantha Ruth Prabhu, Ananya Panday, Sidharth Chaturvedi — are not nearly effortless enough to strike a jibe as though it was a natural, incontestable part of their being. It comes with time, maybe, this charisma; or it might just be a symptom of contemporary stardom, where everything, including intuition and spontaneity, feels strategic.

Bhat made a jibe about how the show has been going on for too long for us to not latch onto how all of it is staged — including the questions. Of course he didn’t say it in those many words, but like many things on this show, flat meaning has to be yanked out of airy, veiled comments. The energy is so curated. Too many themes and topics, especially politics (or apolitics) seem out of bounds. Johar has nowhere to go but the guests’ bedrooms to pull something scandalous, resembling edge, resembling shock.

Imagine: There is a roving criticism of the show that Johar is too invested in people’s sex lives, and that it makes people uncomfortable. The only thing worse than a prude is a prude with a mic, and the only thing worse than that is people taking them seriously. If you take out the telescoping into one’s sex and love lives from this show, what differentiates it from a promotional interview anchored by Johar’s confetti aura?

Part of this desire for edge, for wanting to be knocked off my seat in a heaving, stomach-crumpling fit of laughter, is the fact that we have seen Hindi cinema starlets and those-who-make-mincemeat-humour-of-those-starlets interact. The infamous Roast — yes, capital r roast — which we know was once possible is now just a matter of being implausible. The memory of the FIRs, the outraged, mobilised moral brigade is still fresh. So, edge is whacked out of the window.

What remains then?

A breezy collection of sketches from comedians who are embroiled between the world of cinema and the world of comedy, they wouldn’t know how to introduce themselves. Kapila and Sait are pursuing acting, while NM has become the go-to promotional pony for producers. She is able to bring her goofy, wide-eyed, Adyar Tamil-accented personality to clash with otherwise stone-faced stars like Ranbir Kapoor, Vijay Deverakonda, and Mahesh Babu, producing something of a sparkle. She is among those influencers — Kapila included — where the sweaty precision behind every frame is visible. That even as it might feel like a medium of ether, it is one built with relentless effort.

Kapila and Sait have this grating sincerity, where you could see the questions they prepared and jokes they carefully thought through, whose pauses they rehearsed. NM, however, refused to step out of her reels persona, as though leaking out of her Instagram account, playing the sometimes caustic, sometimes club-footed, between babe and bimbo, between being a character and playing a character, blurring reel and real. It is always lovely to see what part of a performance a performer continues to hold onto?

But the tension is, they can’t even pretend that they do not care — and it is from this indifference that some of the best deadpan humour can emerge — because they are both enamoured and dependent on the conveyor belt of Bollywood. Bhat seems to be the only one who is, somewhat, detached from that world, having tapped into something more boisterous and popular (YouTube fandoms; gamers). He was the only one who didn’t seem, in any way, dependent on a mainstream to build his brand, sitting on the side, throwing barbs wherever his face turned.

It is hard to expect this panel to be as irreverent or honest, while also being entirely dependent and looking forward to the patronage of someone like Johar. There is an element of awe, of fandom — drool dribbles over Ranveer Singh and Janhvi Kapoor — that makes this panel less cynical, but also less discerning, less serrated in their opinions. While Johar’s partiality to Alia Bhatt, to Janhvi Kapoor was brought out and discussed, no one seemed to bring up the biggest elephant in the room — how boring this season of the show made stardom look. How watching every episode, increasingly, felt like lugging a weight we are used to carrying, but why labour at all?

That Johar is willing and able to take a joke on himself, defend himself when he can, shirk his shoulders when he can’t is so rare for a celebrity. Not many are powerful enough to not care about the difference between being laughed at and laughed with. He is a remarkably self aware person, and brings up his relationship with sex, therapy, dating, and much like what happened on the show when Janhvi Kapoor’s waxed poetic her sob-story, the camera moves closer, like a zoom in, pulling you in by the collar. The show, on paper at least, seems like the only place, the perfect hotbed, where we see stars responding to their stardom in ways that are both refreshing or shocking. This last episode, a retrospective, twists that further, where Karan responds to the stars responding to their stardom. Doesn’t it sound glorious and messy?

This episode, however, has a fault line running through it — the former where the four comic personalities light-roast Johar, bringing up memes, but never malice; the latter was the Koffee Awards for the best moment, best rapid fire, best male and female performance. The latter, a total waste of time; the former full of the charming, comfortable froth of people well versed in the language of memes and reels, as though trying to cut through every conversation with a punchline. It can get exhausting, as anyone who has dated comedians will tell you.

This isn’t the first time they hooped comedians to crash the Bollywood party. Cyrus Broacha was the first, then came Rohan Joshi, then Vir Das with Mallika Dua. Ayan Mukerji, Manish Malhotra, Rohit Bal, Rajeev Masand — all of them, peripheral to the disco-ball fulcral fame — were also judges. This season, for the first time, the panel was entirely comic personalities whose careers took off when they were indoors, filming themselves. To see products of this kind of fame — one that is definitely less appealing than cinematic stardom, and thus, more grounded, more hustling — responding to the glitz, while also being entirely in awe and desiring of it, is a fascinating conceit; one that would have been more scalding had comedians wanted to be just comedians. The problem is, even our comedians want to be stars. But didn’t you see the seventh season? Is that really what you want to become?

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