Karan Johar speaking about his sexuality is neither brave nor bold, but deserves to be told
His revelations reflect the abuse that homosexual Indians face because they want to just be.
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"How many times will Karan Johar almost come out of the closet before he does" was a refrain that found its way into every discussion on the popular filmmaker's sexuality - which, ideally, should never have been a topic of discussion.
Between Kuch Kuch Hota Hai and Kapoor & Sons, Karan Johar's films evolved from overplaying stereotypes to embracing the homosexual.
But Johar, the individual, lives in a state that dictates who you get intimate with - and ever so often makes your bedroom its business. So, when a public figure as powerful as him openly acknowledges his sexual orientation and reveals his deep fears, it is significant for all Indians - especially the mass audience influenced by his mainstream movies.
Those who can't get enough of the effeminate teacher chasing a married man in Student of the Year or the gay jokes in Kal Ho Na Ho, or even the innuendos directed at him by the likes of Salman Khan on a talk show he hosts.
Johar has yet to spell the G-word out, but his recently released autobiography The Unsuitable Boy is suitably candid about his sexuality and sexual encounters.
An excerpt published by ToI from Johar's book makes apparent why the Bollywood filmmaker is compelled to stay in the closet than fight for his identity in courts - a reality faced by millions of India's LGBT community:
"I have become like the poster boy of homosexuality in this country. But honestly, I have no problem with people saying what they want about me. Twitter has the most abuse. I wake up to at least 200 hate posts saying, 'Get out, you're polluting our nation, you're dirtying society' or 'Shove [IPC Section] 377 up your arse.' I get this on a daily basis and I've learned to laugh it off... One man came up to me once very cockily at Heathrow airport and said, 'Is it true that you are a homo?' He was with his wife and child, and he asked me this. I looked at him and said, 'Why, are you interested?' And he said, 'Hey, what-what what!' And I said, 'Don't what-what me.' And I walked out...
Watch: Karan Johar at the AIB roast
Johar, who has never before commented on the backlash he faced for participating in an AIB roast, opened up about how he feels embarrassed about his country's view of homosexuality, and not his own orientation.
"Everybody knows what my sexual orientation is. I don't need to scream it out. And if I need to spell it out, I won't only because I live in a country where I could possibly be jailed for saying this. Which is why I Karan Johar will not say the three words that possibly everybody knows about me in any case. I've given hints. I've stood on a platform like AIB Roast, and I had half of the people supporting me and the other half dissing me for doing this. But at the end of the day, I did what I did, and I did it with my mother in the front row, and screw you if you have a problem with that. The only thing that bothered me was when people stood on the high moral ground and said, 'Why was your mother in the front row?' But she's cool...Do you know that I tried to stop her from coming but she insisted? So the thing I told her was, 'Mum, laugh. Do not squirm and do not be embarrassed for me because I'm not embarrassed for myself.' If they're going to make jokes about my sexual orientation, I'm okay about it. I'm not embarrassed about who I am. I'm not apologetic. I'm embarrassed about the country I live in vis-a-vis where I come from in terms of my orientation. I'm sad, upset and disheartened with the trolling that happens on social media... At the end of the day, this whole homophobia is so disheartening and upsetting. And then they say, `Why don't you speak about your sexuality? You could be iconic in this country.' But I don't want to be iconic anywhere. I want to live my life.
"For heaven's sake, for years there were rumours about Shah Rukh and me. And I was traumatised by it. I was on a show on a Hindi channel, and I was asked about Shah Rukh.'Yeh anoka rishta hai aap ka,' the interviewer said. He worded it in such a way that I got really angry. I said, 'If I asked you if you are sleeping with your brother, how will you feel?
Johar's admission is nowhere close to bold because his position as a Bollywood VIP offers him an advantage, unlike most homosexual Indians, to speak out against section 377 - and speak up for the LGBT community. To give their fears and choices honest expression.
Yet, Karan Johar's revelations deserve mention for they reflect the abuse that homosexual Indians face because they want to just be.
His admission can't be called brave, but it doesn't make it any less significant. Because it doesn't come from a place of privilege, but through lived experiences that cut across class, caste and community and make every aspect of a gay Indian's life vulnerable - be it professional or personal. LGBTs confront a bigoted voyeur in the face of their state, who is entrusted with protecting their basic freedoms, because it has criminalised something as basic as their sexual activity.
Karan Johar as the "unsuitable boy" may do what his movies haven't dared to - make "being gay" mainstream for Indians.