Five episodes into the eighth season of Koffee with Karan and the one to really feel for is the (Fabricare) couch on which guests sit. First of all, there’s the print, which is a bad example of being ‘inspired’ by graffiti and looks worse because of how badly it clashes with the rest of the set’s decor. It’s as though the couch came dressed for a theme party which the rest of the room ignored. Then there’s the suffering, of not just having to sit through these episodes, but to also be sat on during them. In return for this stoic perseverance, all the couch gets is the occasional pat, usually done perfunctorily after host Karan Johar pointedly points out how lovely the (Fabricare) couch is.
Yes, we’ve reached the point where imagining the furniture’s feelings is more fun than talking about the feelings professed by the stars of Koffee with Karan. And this is while writing about an episode that is one of the better of this season.
In deference to Sidharth Malhotra declaring Johar has a “new tone” (there is no new tone. Only some giggles, but more on that later), let’s focus on the positive in this episode, which brings together Johar’s “students”, Sidharth Malhotra and Varun Dhawan. Finally, we get a set of good and occasionally juicy answers in the rapid fire and Malhotra is a worthy winner of the Koffee hamper (his first). Malhotra’s nicknames for his wife Kiara Advani are “love”, “Ki” and “bae”. Places that Malhotra considers ideal for making out are in a car, in a garden and on a balcony. He’s also an aromatherapy candles man. Johar’s pro-tip for seduction is to bite the ear. “I have a Wolverine issue,” Johar confessed coyly, by way of explanation. He also offers to bite Dhawan’s ear as a practical demonstration, which Dhawan steadfastly ignores. When asked to list three things that can be done in the bedroom, Dhawan blanked out. The only thing he could think of was “politically incorrect” (he means sex, we assume). Also, according to Dhawan, “VFX makes the best body in Bollywood” and according to Malhotra, VFX is not responsible for the abs seen on actors of his generation. Do with that what you will. When asked to name things he does with his wife, Dhawan replied, “Boating,” which is one of the few genuinely funny moments in the episode.
Even if there isn’t much by way of bona fide humour, there is a lot of giggling in this mid-season episode. If you’re one of those people who thinks only girls giggle, this episode of Koffee with Karan is a must-watch. Peals of hysterical laughter ring forth from the three grown men who are clearly at ease in each other’s company and who evidently don’t need anything that is actually funny to set them off. The first time Johar, Dhawan and Malhotra break out in chortles is when Dhawan remembers that during the shoot in America for My Name is Khan (2010), Johar’s driver was named Willoughby. Johar feels the need to point out he and Willoughby did not have an affair — and this, apparently, is a hilarious idea. Whether they’re laughing at the idea of a fleeting romance between a producer-director and a driver that cuts across social barriers, or at the thought of two men hooking up, or just at the sound of the name “Willoughby”, we’ll never know. Another laughing fit is unleashed when Dhawan mispronounces producer Guneet Monga’s surname. “I didn’t know,” Dhawan protests by way of apology before adding that the name that is stuck in his head is Nayan Mongia, the wicketkeeper from the Nineties. There’s also an extended debate about whether babies should urinate in theatres. That this is what passes for humorous goes a long way in explaining the abysmal state of comedy in commercial Hindi cinema.
“I feel like I’ve come to a kitty party,” Johar said at one point, unwittingly clueing us in on both how gendered this business of giggling is, but also that clearly most of their “chit-chatting” has been edited out. Nothing in the bland conversation that did make it into the final cut of the episode suggests the three of them have earned the particular laurel of being a worthy member of a kitty party. Will tongues really wag to know that Malhotra and Dhawan had “very steamy affairs” (that’s Johar’s phraseology, not ours) with women working the costume department of My Name is Khan? Does anyone care that Malhotra and Kiara Advani met by chance at a Bandra party? Will eyebrows be raised at the revelation that Malhotra wasn’t interested in releasing his wedding video, but was convinced to do so by his wife and designer Manish Malhotra? Do we care that Dhawan talks regularly to his in-laws and thinks Advani’s dad is “cool”? Also, producers are allegedly afraid of Koffee with Karan and its power to wreck the public persona of a star. They supposedly issue warnings to actors who want to go on the show and one mysterious someone gave Dhawan and Malhotra a 15-minute lecture about what they should say on camera. If this is true, one can only live in hope that people in the industry would pay as much attention to film scripts as they do to Koffee with Karan appearances.
Perhaps the most revealing aspect of this episode of Koffee with Karan is how friendships work in the Hindi film industry. At one point, Dhawan and Malhotra turned the tables — or couch — on Johar and asked him to name three friends from the industry in under six seconds. Two names tripped off his tongue effortlessly — Shah Rukh Khan, Aditya Chopra — and then there was silence. The utterly personable Johar, who is able to rattle off names of producers he’s fond of and who has managed to put together eight seasons of this talk show because of his social network, couldn’t name a third. “I don’t know any two actors who are constant friends,” Malhotra said when asked why he and Dhawan are not closer, despite being cordial ex-colleagues. Dhawan, who is also stumped by Johar’s question, agreed. The two actors said they rarely make plans to meet, despite being fond of one another and “bonded” by the experience of sharing a debut film. That bond is enough to ensure that if they bump into each other at a party, they’ll have things to say to one another, but there’s little more that either wants from that relationship. For both, the deeper friendships seem to be elsewhere. Maybe that is the healthier way to navigate the film industry, by separating actual intimacy from performances of camaraderie. It certainly made for better entertainment than those who presumably share genuinely intimate relationships.