What is it about white light that makes the world look more clear, more visible, but in a way that makes you prefer it less so? If this is what visibility means, we are better off being dunked in shadows; give us silhouettes, make the world bearable.
That even Ranveer Singh and Deepika Padukone, seated on the graffitied couch of Koffee With Karan Season 8 — certifiably two of the most extraordinarily, erotically, perhaps naturally beautiful people (Padukone was described, by a very drunk friend, as “hoor, bas” angelic, that’s it) — have this odd white cast on their faces, like sunscreen that hasn’t been fully folded in. That every crevice and fold and pleat on the shoulder (our man has pleats on his shoulder) of Singh’s silken outfit is made visible, as though the show is insisting, “Here, take your clarity, your 1080p ringside view to Bollywood royalty.”
His moustache twirled at the ends, some scruff that shades into the dense thickness of his sideburns; her hair now shaded cinnamon, her shin-length black Victoria Beckham dress, a sliver of a slit along her diaphragm, making her fragile height look all the more vertical.
In essence, the previous season of Koffee With Karan, the first on Disney+ Hotstar taking the television property digital, was an argument that this radical clarity comes at the cost of tender intimacy. That you cannot sit on a set, lights blaring and be anything but PR modelled ideals of the self.
Season eight of Koffee With Karan, then, has posed itself as a challenge to this argument. To be both clear and intimate. To eviscerate that mile-long gap between the two couches — that of Johar and the guests — through conversation and camera angles, as though that chasm didn’t exist.
Padukone and Singh, the “it” couple of the industry, who have been together for 11 years and married for five, made their debut as a couple on the couch in this first episode. They are both in black; hers absorbs the light, his spits it back. She is reserved; his personality comes with a boombox. Theirs is a love that cinema understands, a trope that comes to life. He keeps kissing her shoulder, the part of her closest to him as they are seated on the couch, cramped into a corner, for love knows no claustrophobia. It is love performed as we like it, unlikely yet now unimaginable any other way.
They share their wedding video — a furiously private affair by a lake in Italy— and crack open the door, a little, just about enough, for us to mistake footage for intimacy. It is a gorgeous, delicate dance — how much of oneself to give, and to give it such that it feels enough. Johar is a living, breathing masterclass of this tightrope.
When he speaks of his complicated relationship being witness to the beauty of their coupledom, it produces one of the most bare moments of the show, “I felt so happy for you, and so alone, yet.” His glasses are off. Singh and Padukone are smiling at him. A gift of the fractured self, Johar has offered.
With every interview and public appearance of Padukone, the conviction is stronger: Thank god she is radiant like the Pangong night sky, otherwise what do we do with her pithy plaques? She talks in morals, like she has distilled every anecdote of her life into a platitude. But platitudes don’t have details, and it is the details that make any story, any performance of being compelling. Over the years it has begun to feel like a fear of details, a fear of specificity. Those long pauses she takes before saying the most banal condensates feel like she is processing how to strip life down to bromide. The boredom she curdles with such replies, as though that is her armour.
Johar on the other hand understands charisma, storytelling. He is furious with the details. It is not about Padukone being in depression, it is about that time on a helicopter when she couldn’t stop crying. It is not about him being in depression, it is about that time at the NMACC opening when he broke out into a breathless sweat, thinking his heart was closing up. He knows that we are hungering for stories, not summaries.
Ranveer, rattling somewhere in between, is pure charisma sans this storytelling. It is his outsized way of speech, his open-hearted posture to the world that makes even the truisms stick. When asked about relevance, he says, “Relevance is irrelevant”, and it is such a patently stupid thing to say, given he seems to be on every hoarding, magazine cover, ad — there seems to be no respite — and what else is that if not seeking relevance? His conviction, though, is infectious.
And it is here that our spectatorship crumbles. Singh and Padukone are in a marriage that, over the years, has attracted rumours like bee to pollen. The gossip swirls around them, and you cannot make a beeline through Versova without overhearing some speculation or another about the couple. And yet, when Johar takes a moment to insist on their monogamy — sexual, emotional — it is easy to buy into its performance. And that is the triumph of this show: That it makes the gloss feel enough.
There are a few changes Johar has made to the show, aesthetically, structurally. The couch is crowded with text, the kind where you feel stupid calling it “ugly” because it seems to be the most obvious, intended reaction. There is more space in their back and forth for the conversations to wind along meandering paths. The quiz, the buzzer, has been axed for something called “The Imposter Challenge” where all three dance to music with headphones, but only one of the headphones is playing a different song. The aim of the game is to catch the imposter, the one with the different song. This is a radical shift in Koffee With Karan. Can you imagine how silly, even droll this would look on a set, a silent disco of three?