AIB Knockout: Karan Johar can do better than ridicule the gay community

The filmmaker could be a wonderful proponent for gay rights in India but he chooses to faux-reveal his homosexuality in this rather senseless manner.

 |  Miscellany  |  5-minute read |   04-02-2015
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For obvious reasons, I was asked by a number of friends to write about the AIB Roast. "You will love it. It was damn funny," said one. "You must speak about Karan Johar and what he did on stage," said another. From the trailer and listening to my friends' discussions, I had already made up my mind about it even though I had not seen the full video. I was not going to write about the AIB Roast. I had my reasons, which I will come to in a bit.

But then something happened. There was suddenly this clamour for punishing the makers of the video as well as those who participated in it. It was gay propaganda, someone said. It was vulgar and against Indian values, was another reaction. Hahaha. To those raising the banner of revolt, I say: "Suck it." I want to say this to them because they are dipping into the same homophobic fellow feeling that sustains so much pop culture in this country. I have a problem with the Roast too, gentlemen, but I will be damned if I looked for an ally in any of you. You and your ilk are so steeped in mediocrity and old-fashioned nonsense that I can't even begin to articulate for you my concerns with the roast. I will try, nonetheless.

That the content of the show was saucy, bordering on the vulgar, is the least of my problems. As someone who writes about his gay identity fairly openly, I cannot take offence with a bit of fun about what goes where when two men have sex. Sure, I wish the jokes were more eclectic and covered other aspects of gay identity and relationships - the perils of seeking love in a community where love can be transactional. Or, even if sex, the very real problems of preparing oneself for it. The long tail of a gay sexual encounter. The neediness of it, the hopes for it. Oh, there is a plethora of material to pick from, if one were really looking.

But I was okay with the sex talk. What I was not okay with was the context. I would have loved it if the AIB Roast had aspired to be true comedy in the spirit of things being mocked after they have been accepted, welcomed, heralded. The roast gave me the distinct feeling that it was mocking something that was still hidden and out of bounds, not debated, not entirely fleshed out for public consumption. It seemed like AIB was dipping into politically incorrect territory even before a discussion on political correctness had taken place. It was a bit like mocking someone with a stutter in another time, a joke that would be bloody inappropriate today. I was hoping, rather, for comedy that makes a political statement, and God knows we can do with some in the often grim fight for gay rights. A cool sketch on the mundane homophobia in this country, say.

What AIB did was bring something from the future - and God willing that future will arrive - in the hope that it will be riotous. Was it? If talking about taking it up the butt exercises your fancy, perhaps it was. But the roast would have worked gloriously if homosexuality in India were anywhere near the pedestal it should be for scat comedy targeted at it to work.

As for Karan Johar, were his utterances gay propaganda? I don't know if jokes about sexual positions count as gay propaganda, but why not? I say bring all the gay propaganda you got. But it does worry me when you, and by you I mean Karan Johar, choose to keep playing this game of hide-and-seek with everybody - the media, your fans, the film fraternity, and so on and on - who knows you are gay. I have a problem because you could be this wonderful proponent for gay rights in this country but you choose to faux-reveal your homosexuality in this rather senseless, apolitical manner.

Be it your films which have amply ridiculed homosexuality - Kantaben in Kal Ho Na Ho to the Dostana trope - or your personal life, it is impossible to tell where the line between reality and fiction dissolves. Sure, I have gay friends who showed their parents Dostana to introduce their family to the idea of homosexuality. Great! Maybe I am a meanie, but I expect more than the lazy mockery you bestow on me and my kind. It's not my problem, is it, that I come from a setup where I don't have to use a silly film to introduce my family to the very concept. I am sorry but I refuse to feel grateful.

Then there is your personal life which I know is personal and out of bounds. But I wonder if you want it to be out of bounds. You are eager to drop hints, from your not - esoteric references on Koffee with Karan (you referenced yourself as Elton John in one episode) to this, your latest and, broadly speaking, most open performance yet. Why not finish the matter in one fell swoop? I can think of nothing that was more important to me than coming out when I had not come out. That is who I was, and I wanted to engulf myself in its wondrous beauty. To keep it hidden can feel like existing on such an incomplete, drained-out plane that one looks for every opportunity to break free. I am sure you hanker for it too.

If you came out, you would make a great ally in the battle for equality. I have always known it. You for sure know it. Heck, everyone in this fight - gay, straight, bi, transgender - knows what a difference you can make. You have clout and resources. You have the media eating out of your hands. You have the ear of the powers that be. You are fun and thick-skinned. You are everything we need as leader and icon.

For that though, you need to come out. Not through your films, not through jokes on sexual positions, but properly, officially. Do it, for you can. Set an example so that we may reach a day when the type of comedy you did with the good folks at AIB can feel appropriate.


Vikram Johri Vikram Johri @vikramjohri

I write for a living. Sometimes the words comfort the heart too.

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