There was a time in Hindi cinema when filmmakers would step miles away from a project that would deal with any uncomfortable or unconventional subject. There were some rule breakers but for most of them, there was a set formula to follow.
Karan Johar is known for his extravagant films that serve more to the urban audiences and take place in a fantasy land, where things are much better than real life. However, over the years, Karan has also undertaken multiple projects that have been instrumental in striking a conversation in the Indian society regarding some controversial and sometimes taboo issues. Here’s a look at them:
Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna
In Indian society, marriage is considered a very sacred bond and people are taught to save their marriage at all cost and be with their partner till death do them part. For a country that has such high moral values about these issues, accepting a film like KANK wasn’t easy. The film dealt with a subject like adultery and how people should move out of relationships if they are not happy in their existing marriage. Although the film featuring Shah Rukh Khan, Amitabh Bachchan, Rani Mukerji, Priety Zinta and Abhishek Bachchan got its fair share of backlash critically over the subject and its portrayal, it managed to emerge a commercial success. And overseas this Karan’s directorial emerged as the highest grossing Indian film till then.
Dostana, Kapoor & Sons
Homosexuality has always found representation in a Dharma film ever since Karan took over the reign. There were times when it seemed forced but credit where it's due, Karan has been one of those filmmakers who have strived to give representation to the community on the big screen. Karan came up with Dostana in 2008, and till then homosexuality was either represented in the parallel cinema or it had a caricaturized representation in commercial cinema. Even though, the characters weren’t homosexual themselves in Dostana and it did stick to some stereotypes, it sure did give courage to the filmmakers to attempt more such films. And when Kapoor & Sons came, Karan gave a very sensitive and dignified representation to the community in this Shakun Batra directorial. Fawad Khan’s portrayal in the film is still considered one of the most nuanced portrayal of homosexuality on Indian screen.
Up until a few years ago, any conversation around mental health was considered taboo in the Indian society. Let alone discussion, people still did not have a clear idea of what all diseases fall under mental health issues. There are still people who consider Bhool Bhulaiyaa a horror comedy instead of a psychological thriller. But in such an environment, Karan backed a project like Dear Zindagi, which strived to normalise going to therapy and talking about mental health. This Gauri Shinde directorial had amazing performances by Alia Bhatt and Shah Rukh Khan and the success of the film proved that people accepted the importance of mental health.
We live in a world where people are obsessed with carrying forward their blood line through their kids, and if someone is unable to conceive, it is considered a big problem. Just talking about taking alternate routes to parenthood is considered uncomfortable and taboo, and to normalise that conversation, Karan presented Good Newwz in 2019. This Raj Mehta directorial starring Akshay Kumar, Kareena Kapoor Khan, Diljit Dosanjh and Kiara Advani, tackled the issue with a humorous tone and the film emerged as one of the biggest commercial successes of all time.
We Are Family
We live in a country where people are obsessed with the conventional trope of a family. Bills have been rejected to legalise gay marriages because people in power believe in a conventional notion of a family. In 2010, Karan backed Siddharth P Malhotra’s remake of the 1998 American film Stepmom, featuring Kajol, Arjun Rampal and Kareena Kapoor Khan. The film dealt with a modern unconventional family setting where a divorced couple lived together with the husband’s new girlfriend. The film did not do well at the box office but it did present a scenario unheard of in Indian cinema.
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