Something shifted in the broad structure of Koffee With Karan. Earlier, he used to warm his guests up, lubricating their anxieties with questions of things they are comfortable speaking about — mostly their careers — before striking his hot hammer at their personal lives. After six long seasons, shuffling this around seemed necessary, because the shock had run its course.
Now, he immediately, at the very beginning, stabs his guests with the sharpest questions, before lulling them into the comforting discussion of family and films. This can produce a bloat in the middle of the show — unless you are a Kareena Kapoor Khan or a Sonam Kapoor Ahuja punching through with minimal effort. This is a show in which it is not talent but personality that shines.
In the seventh episode of the seventh season, this structure's fragile logic breaks. Because Vicky Kaushal and Sidarth Malhotra have nothing to say about their careers to elevate this episode from a promotion interview to an intimate chat show.
Instead, Kaushal and Malhotra toss platitudes of fame and legacy at us. Kaushal got over the shelving of Takht and Ashwattaman — what could have been the two biggest films of his career — with a grisly workout. The quietness of Sardar Udham (2021) — his finest film and the most pensive performance Hindi cinema has put out in the past few years — is acknowledged and dismissed with a swift comment. Instead, Johar could not stop plugging Shershaah (2021), starring Malhotra, produced by Johar, which was one of the most limp, lifeless films of the past year; a film whose virtue was its inoffensiveness and its popular soundtrack. The one film of Malhotra, also produced by Johar, that actually showcased his craft as an actor — Hasee Toh Phasee (2014) — is not even mentioned. It's flung into the black hole that is part of a "phase". These are not questions about art, but commerce. That's fine. But why must commerce sound so dull, so without personality or poetry?
And so we need an antidote — Johar yanks at everything about the actors' personal lives, forcefully pulling teeth and laughing. Malhotra's reticence, his pretence of being single and not dating Kiara Advani, is exhausting to sit through. There is nothing wrong about being private or boring or insisting on being private or boring. The trouble is with being private and boring on a show like Koffee With Karan, to insist on being in conversation without being or doing anything worth that oyxgen.
At least with Kaushal, there's the charming ease with which he moves, as though he was hewn to be a star, as though he could never be awkward in his body; never unsure of any gesture his limbs make. There's a video of him being photographed during a shoot, while he dances with controlled abandon to the song 'Chan Di Kudi', and he glows in that cluttered tribute to Rishi Kapoor before the release of Sharmaji Namkeen (2022). Malhotra's stiffness is all the more apparent in this contrast, in his shiny, black coat next to a mint-clad Kaushal. While Malhotra is digging into a templated masculinity — including an upcoming show with director Rohit Shetty and a spy thriller — the upcoming filmography of Kaushal is full of romance, comedy, and quiet historicals. This contrast, too, speaks of how they wish to see their stardom unfold.
There is a respectability Koffee with Karan gives to marriage — and in that sense, it isn't exceptional. The question of sex is only thrown at Malhotra, not Kaushal since he's now married to Katrina Kaif. When Kaushal says he doesn't know anyone in the industry who is single and that everyone is flowing into marriage with an inertia, it's a sharp reminder that commercial Hindi cinema has no noteworthy actors in their early 20s who show something resembling a spark. This was not the case two seasons ago, when there seemed to be three distinct demographics — the new, the established, and the old guns — instead of the current two. All eyes are, then, on Zoya Akhtar's Archies which will, perhaps, be what Student Of The Year (2012), Saawariya (2007), and Om Shanti Om (2007) were: a gift for the next decade that took its time to gestate and, in some cases, proved worth the wait.