Koffee With Karan: Sharmila Tagore And Saif Ali Khan Headline the Most Charming Episode of This Season

Koffee With Karan is streaming on Disney+ Hotstar.
Koffee With Karan: Sharmila Tagore And Saif Ali Khan Headline the Most Charming Episode of This Season
Koffee With Karan: Sharmila Tagore And Saif Ali Khan Headline the Most Charming Episode of This Season

Humour me and let us play a silly little game of spot the brand with Koffee With Karan’s introduction — there is Audi, there is Google Pixel, but most egregiously, there is brand Karan Johar. In the opening monologue of his previous episode, with Rohit Shetty and Ajay Devgn, he brought up being a Gemini, getting two for the price of one — a brand and a brand-maker; a fan and a fan-maker; an artist and a businessman; a filmmaker and a film. 

The Beguiling Past, and the Chafing Present

Sometimes it is hard to dust his work off even when he or the work is uninspired, because there is the double-ness of his personality that glints through. The double-ness never feels like negations or contradictions. They spin around each other, and aid his being. If he cannot bring Sharmila Tagore into his movies, as he tried to do with Rocky Aur Rani Kii Prem Kahani (2023), then his chat show will do. He will stew in nostalgia, but push the conversations, reluctantly, into the present — from her Filmfare bikini photo in the Sixties to her queer portrayal in Gulmohar this year; from Saif Ali Khan’s debut in cinema, to his debut on streaming. Johar treats the recent years as a cumbersome thing that must be spoken of but not dwelled on.

Pairing Tagore with Saif Ali Khan, a notorious presence in his own right, is to milk both his nostalgic reverence for her cinema and her son’s kind irreverence towards those very things. This tension bodes well, because the tone is never allowed to sink into one or the other. 

Johar’s introduction of Tagore, with words like “gusto”, “amalgamation”, fringed with elocution-school-boy energy, makes you wonder, if you are doing a talk show the least one could expect is the pretension of talk, not speech. 

Tagore and Khan’s Endearing Dynamic

Tagore and Khan walk in. There are two entrances, one meant for each guest, each to swagger their stance, cat-walk onto that set, but not today. Tagore’s arms in Khan’s, they walk together the way people walk, that unstudied gait. She has her glasses on her hands, pearls on her neck, a delicate sari, a wrist-watch — wrist-watch! 

Nothing about her seems unusual, as though this was how she would dress up to a party, a gathering, a talk-show, or an awards show. There is something to be said about how the celebrity culture today insists on performing instead of being; elevating who you are to a standard of performance, instead of making who you are that standard. The way Tagore tells stories, you can see the unrehearsed nature, the words she cuts and umms over, the details she wants to keep, the ones she wants to leave out. 

To see Tagore and Khan together is to see a mother and son, the constant, endearing — but prone to frustrating— bickering, cutting each other off, an inability to commit to one narrative of a story — Tagore insists Khan took off with a waitress while he was supposed to be at Dublin for university, Khan says she is jumbling the timelines; memory is a contested territory. They keep reaching their hands across the couch to hold each other — it is both “shut up, stop it”, and “I love you”.

Khan, who has been on the couch with his sister, his daughter, his wife, and now, his mother, doesn’t fall too far from this tree. “Moody, mildly … narcissistic,” he says, describing both how he and his mother are cut from the same cloth. When Sara Ali Khan, his daughter, in an AV clip, registers Tagore as her only grandparent, Khan, looking surprised, mouths, “Didn’t realise”. He has no qualms about his wild years, there is no desire to milk his mistakes into morals, and neither is there a pompous arrogance over that past, fetishising it into a life lived beyond the imagination. Johar keeps trying to reduce him to a type, his life to a journey, and Khan keeps trying to wriggle out of it. 

In one of the most endearing babblings, Tagore calls her love for Khan “putra moha”, and Khan and Johar both run circles trying to figure out what that means. Tagore gives up. Here are two titans of Hindi cinema for whom Hindi is a formality, an aesthetic. It is sweet, cute and easy when people wear themselves so lightly on their shoulders, neither prone to embarrassment, nor regret, nor a heavy feeling of compensating for what one is and what one is not. And perhaps, it is only from such comfort that we breed such charm.

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