Director and Host: Karan Johar
Series Director: Nishant Nayak
Executive Producer: Priya Vagal
Streaming Platform: Netflix
The philosophical issues I had with this show aside, my main gripe was that this Netflix Special, about Karan Johar, the doyen of cinematic wine and whisper love, prepping lost millenials to find the same, was boring. The Netflix reincarnation of reality television, there is barely any drama, or humour that jettisons the viewer from one episode to the next. It's not pulpy enough to be guilt-binged, and isn't profound enough to be watched for intellectual escapades. Then what exactly is What The Love? Nothingness with gloss, and that's precisely the problem.
In this universe the ability to perform love successfully is the same as loving successfully.
The show, seven episodes, about 45 minutes each, goes something like this. The first episode, Johar throws a party for about 40 millennials, over the course of which he finds 6 contenders for his "makeover", i.e. those he considers damaged but not ravaged. This is about the most fun I had watching this show; with Johar's candid confession of having paid for sex, sitting with a stylist and a makeup artist on a couch passing comments on the outfits and self-esteem of the partying lot who themselves are throwing away lines like "I am a bad boy with good habits," beatboxing themselves into Johar's attention who is fishing for the ones that need most fixing. As Johar says, he is "the light at the end of the deep, dark tunnel called love."
Over the next 6 episodes- 1 per contender- he first converses with them about their insecurities, telling them to grow a pair, or water down, or own up to the scars, literal and otherwise, and shed their inhibitions or eagerness
They are then set up for a "prep-date" with celebrities who dole out wholesale advice- from Sunny Leone and Saif Ali Khan to Arjun Rampal, Ali Fazal, and Huma Qureshi and Arjun Kapoor – because in this universe the ability to perform love successfully is the same as loving successfully. (My philosophical gripe; more on this in a bit) The point of this exercise is for them to find out how bad they are at dating. This is all being live-streamed to Johar whose reactions to the bizarre are extraordinarily entertaining- there is something about the twitch of his eyebrow, and the exasperated pout that is deeply endearing.
After this, they spend some time with comedians and lesser known actors to do exercises that will rid them of their bad-ness. This is coupled with a fashion makeover, looks and clothes, that will then infuse within the contestant a new found confidence and love for oneself. It's just that simple- self confidence is just a Prada and a pedicure away. They are then set up on two dates, and at the end of every episode get to choose which one they want to pursue. (There's an obvious staged contrition to the dates, apart from the fact that it is being shot by about 2-3 cameras. On one of the dates on a hot air balloon, you get this wide angle shot of the balloon amidst the vast landscape emerging out of dawn, and you see inside the balloon is not just the couple and the person handling the balloon, but also a camera man with a camera quite literally shoved down the faces of the two. It's a moment that takes you out of the universe for a moment, almost as a reminder that this is all fake, created, and curated to seem more beautiful, more linear, and more simple than the life it is trying to fix.)
The "it moment" of every show is finding out if the person they chose wants to continue dating them too or not. They stare at a door hoping the object of impending love parts it, and walks toward them.
When Anupama Chopra asked Ali about what he has learned about love he said: The closer you think you are to love, or knowing love, the further away you are. There's this vagueness about the Ali brand of love that stands as a clear contrast to the Johar variety- where love is algorithmic, and a problem that can be solved.
Now, to speak of the philosophical issue which irked me more than the ethical issues (I await a column about how the contestants openly discuss their upper caste-ness, and speak of love in binaries of male and female, of a gay guy who openly articulates that he wants to be the woman in a relationship, and of fuck-boys who look at woman as incubators to give him children by the age of 30. It's all very problematic, but honestly it felt part of the brand of this inchoate and directionless universe that takes itself too seriously.) I was lucky to be one of the audience members for Imtiaz Ali's FC Adda shoot. It was the same day I finished watching the show. During the chat, when Anupama Chopra asked Ali about what he has learned about love after having written and directed 8 movies so far, he said something along the lines of this: The closer you think you are to love, or knowing love, the further away you are. There's this vagueness about the Ali brand of love that stands as a clear contrast to the Johar variety- where love is algorithmic, and a problem that needs to be solved, implying that it is a problem that can be solved. For Ali, love is wild, untamed, and unknowable. It's closer to the love most of us have experienced and learned from. It's the same about loving oneself. If having Mallika Dua tell you to love yourself makes you love yourself, then perhaps, all the therapy and years of learning and unlearning is … redundant?
There's a very sweet anecdote regarding Agnes Martin, the Canadian-American painter. A child once took a rose from a bush outside her house. Martin took the rose from the child and asked her, "Is this rose really beautiful?". The child says yes. Martin then hides the rose behind her back, and asks again, "Is the rose still beautiful?" The child says yes again. Martin then says, "You see, the beauty was not in the rose, but in the mind." You can say the same about love too, and it is quite telling that Johar's brand of love fixates on the rose. I normally don't mind that too much, but this time, like warm champagne, it's all flat, no bubbles in sight.