The latest Koffee With Karan episode, tied to the 25th anniversary of the iconic film Kuch Kuch Hota Hai (1998), brings back actresses Kajol and Rani Mukerji and, in a rare moment of unintended grace, allows us into the gap between the shots, into the cracks of the cut. The guests and the host are howling in nostalgia — howling, because I have rarely, if ever, been clobbered so early in the morning to reduce the volume of my laptop. Kajol is in a very uncomfortable looking Safiyaa gown she has to constantly adjust, with one shoulder exposed, hair to the side of the clothed shoulder, one arm over her stomach. Rani Mukerji is swaddled in a lime green dress with detailing on the shoulder that makes it look like the top of her dress is one raised eyebrow. Cut. Kajol’s hair now shifts, with the hair over the exposed shoulder, covering the fabric that folds oddly under that armpit, and the pillow on her lap. Mukerji’s hair has been combed again, the stray strands disciplined.
It is one of those strange moments you are in awe of easy stardom — that Kajol never looks physically ruffled, despite everything you see betraying discomfort. Kajol has papered over it. Or in any case, her laughter is a ruse, the honeybee, distracting our attention and our hearing till nothing else can be seen, heard, thought, or experienced. It has its charm, which wears out just as quickly as it stains. Cut. The hair flips to the other side, again, the fold of the fabric under the arm having been resolved. Never have I ever been more interested in what happens between the shots than during. What are the adjustments that are being made, the strands being set straight?
The cut also stands as a powerful symbol for all the things the show alludes to without clarifying it — which producer did not allow Rani Mukerji to do Lagaan (an anecdote she also dished out at IFFI in Goa)? What was that icy “organic distance” between Kajol and Rani Mukerji, because it seems more than just a natural unraveling? Who has the control over the air-conditioning on set?
Johar, prodder extraordinaire, remains respectful in the distance he keeps, merely suggesting something and then, not needling further, as is wont. It is, perhaps, the kind of gentle friendship that demands boundaries and steers clear of it. But as we are being shoved deeper into the descent of Koffee With Karan, it is becoming clear that more than an attitude of respecting boundaries, this show has lost its teeth. Its dentured avatar is happy with long, tiring shots of its guests laughing, cackling, at and with each other. Frequently, it feels like connecting tissue of hysterical laughter. We — consumers, fans, masochists — are left in the lurch and out of the loop. If not for its teeth, what was Koffee With Karan? What is Koffee With Karan, then?
Nostalgia has a way of sucking the air out of a room, especially when it is grasped at like a crutch in a conversation, that the only way to make the present bearable is to mine the past. Johar immediately pushes its buttons, fed up as he is with the same questions, stories, anecdotes. It is almost like ripping a bandaid. What Johar promised in the beginning, “Motormouths back in full form”, is an advertisement for an episode that was not this.
It is a little uncomfortable and the silences between question and answer, within questions, has this odd, fragile weight, like it is almost going to collapse. Each person shoots out anecdotes from Kuch Kuch Hota Hai from every pore of their body, like blasting photons; their explanations, accusations, excuses, all cross-cutting each other. Did you know? Do you remember? How could you not know?
There is the kind of interruption that is bumbling, involving the intimacy of letting and not letting, of receding and flooding a conversation. Then, there is this episode, with Karan Johar insisting on his age, Rani Mukerji refusing to frame her age as explicitly, and Kajol having absolutely no dog in this fight, her tone floating somewhere between narcissism and irreverence.
I suppose the beauty of Kuch Kuch Hota Hai was that it existed in our collective meta consciousness without it needing any public relations push. Suddenly, with the influx of interviews, chat shows, influencer reels — Sumukhi Suresh, Kusha Kapila, Danish Sait, among others make sweet appearances, speaking of the film; they are all so aware of themselves, it’s like watching an audition tape — the choking of the algorithm with its references, and the hyperbole of captions, the natural suspicion has curdled whatever affection we might have for the movie, or our memory of the movie, and of the time we watched it in, all mingling into one.
Kajol — Kajal? Kajol? Both? — has let rip her personality on us for decades, it is not new. Rani Mukerji has shown both her composure and her distance from the world — you must remember her advice to women to learn Krav Maga? — and it has always been a moment of nostalgic cheer to see them together on Durga Puja, the reels of them whispering things animatedly into each other’s ears, walking across the pandal in a Bengali huff. Maybe it is the mystery of the whispers which is more exciting than what is being whispered. It is not that we want to know, but that not knowing seems to be of more pregnant interest than knowing, especially if knowing is the kind that we see displayed on Johar’s couch.