Koffee With Karan: The Dull Lustre of the Beauty and the Bahadur

Vicky Kaushal and Kiara Advani are the latest guests of the Karan Johar talk show, streaming on Disney+ Hotstar
Koffee With Karan: The Dull Lustre of the Beauty and the Bahadur

I don’t understand Koffee With Karan anymore. The eighth season — whose shapely and smooth hourglass figure in the title credits looks like infinity, which also feels like the age of the show, and the length of this season — sputtered into life with a clever teaser that was very aware of its shortcomings. Namely, the “thanda” conversations — “You could have called it Kold Koffee With Karan” should be a blurb on the show poster for last season — and the repetitive quips. 

Is it more frustrating to be aware of your flaws and still extend the life of that very flaw, or merely being unaware of it? If you know this show is teetering on its last leg, what are you doing to make it steady? 

When Vicky Kaushal and Kiara Advani, “the Beauty and the Bahadur”, enter — separate entrances, unlike the previous season — Johar makes what was apparent, clear. That they have all met earlier, before the cameras rolled; said their hi-s, given their hugs, had their brief chat. What we are seeing is what Kaushal perceptively called a “truthful 11th take”. We know this is a performance. They know that we know it is a performance. And yet, has there been no thought put into how to rethink and re-stage this familiarity, that formal starchiness with which the show begins, other than providing separate entrances. There is a very slapdash approach to the show this season, a bare-minimum stab. 

Celebrity in the Age of Social Media 

The collapse of the Koffee With Karan phenomenon — when I say collapse, I mean the excitement around it, not the viewership, which is still higher than what most streaming shows are able to command — is tied very closely with the explosion of social media and brand endorsements. The pointed ad banners that pop up and the brand names that are laboriously dropped into conversation chip away at the show’s claims of being unreheased and its reputation for encouraging impulsive behaviour. 

In any case, candour is a tough sell in the age of virality. Everyone is everywhere, and their everywhere-ness is a pastel phenomenon — light, lite, unstriking. Their social media presence is designed to make them palatable and glamorous. We like our stars (not actors, stars) like we like our workplace parties — chaotic, charming. And yet, ironically, the show is surviving because of the very tame celebrity culture that the explosion of social media has engendered. It is sincere fandom that is keeping the show alive. Why else would we care for a wedding video, a proposal story, that have been seen by all interested parties, and all of which have the texture of watery cinema? 

The episode swerves quickly from stories of their careers, to their personal lives — marriages, marriage videos, couple tantrums — because that is what he wants to bring out about these actors, things they would not feel comfortable talking about otherwise. Talk of their careers is brought up with such immediate huff, as though you cannot wait to sweep it away and really get into what the people want to know. Maybe I am mistaken and this is the nostalgia of the KWK history taking over, but I have a growing sense that earlier, the separation between the personal gossip and the professional work was less clear, that the gossip emerged from the professional. There is almost something respectful in the distance Johar wants to create between gossip and work. 

Here, they speak of the wedding video of Kiara Advani and Sidharth Malhotra, the one that went viral, and how Malhotra tapping at his watch was a more desperate plea because he had been waiting for too long. Kaushal’s wedding goes unremarked — except that his proposal actually happened the day before the wedding. Otherwise, he does not find the need to speak of that moment. There is something strangely gendered about how gregarious she is and how reticent he is when speaking of the wedding. 

Ageing Gracefully

It is nice, though, to see the seasons change, as actors age into love and marriage, where the question, “did you go on your knees?” can mean two very different things in two very different seasons. Here, “dirty boy” “dirty girl” is used with respect to them being messy, and from the tone of the word “messy”, the accusation seems laundry-related, and what goes in the mouth are fruits, literal fruits. 

The most scandalous part of this season and this episode, is not sex, but age — the ripping moment being when Advani slots Johar into the age bracket of her “young” parents. If voyeurism is the pull of the show, the success of the show’s almost two-decade run is to testament to our very demand for voyeurism being dulled by time. We are all used to  Johar’s stories of dates, the pronouns being masked, it is always “the person”. We do not demand more honesty from him, just as we don’t with his show.

Bringing in a young college crowd to judge the rapid fire, then, — we all know, despite the verdict, Vicky Kaushal’s was the more sparkling one; we all know these questions are given beforehand — is only a gesture. Bringing out an ad that puts the criticism of the previous season as a starting point is only a gesture. Crowding the episode with games is only a gesture. One that is compensating its original promise with a contemporary excuse. Such are the times in which such are the shows that are made. 

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