Koffee with Karan — Why do guests get all the flak for their answers while the host remains unscathed?

Lakshmi Govindrajan Javeri

Jan 12, 2019 09:51:32 IST

I love Koffee with Karan as much as I love glossing over Cosmo while getting a pedicure. It doesn’t take itself seriously, makes you feel close to the stars and puts them in a spot we know the average film journalists won’t. Not because they can’t but because Karan’s ability to have friendships across the various Bollywood camps, brings an inimitable kind of energy that has won the show many fans. He does his research, references the most obscure details of the person in the spotlight and gets his audience to feel like a fly on a filmi wall.

 Koffee with Karan — Why do guests get all the flak for their answers while the host remains unscathed?

Hardik Pandya and KL Rahul on Koffee with Karan. Twitter @hardikpandya7

Well, not just filmi, as the recent Hardik Pandya and KL Rahul episode would attest. Six seasons in, the first cricketers make it to the chat show and make us feel like we’re part of their sweaty dressing room. Hardik Pandya was boorish from the word go. He expected us to believe that he came home after losing his virginity and announced it to his indulgent Surat-based parents. Or that he once pointed out his various conquests to his parents at a party and they were proud of him. If anyone should be outraged, it would be his parents! There may be some truth to the sequence of events he narrated, but surely the way he said it was a gross exaggeration. He played to the gallery that largely comprised a glib Karan.

The humongous outrage to this episode was largely directed at Hardik’s reprehensible answers that covered a wide spectrum of offensive – slimy to salacious, misogynistic to highly inappropriate. The very cultured cricketer admitted to checking out women on Instagram and revealed that since he’s a little from the “black side”, he needs to see how women move at a party before approaching them. I have no idea what exactly he meant. I would like to believe his lack of English fluency came in the way of him being able to talk about his diffidence due to his dark complexion. But it came across as so creepy. You cannot make up this tripe even if you tried! Pandya packed in in one episode the reprehensible bile that the likes of Ranveer Singh and his ilk have said in a far more tasteful manner.

When you think carefully about it, most people aren’t idiotic enough to get on national television and start talking about their sex lives unprovoked. While the reaction to Hardik’s comments is largely justified and has now become a saga as important as the contentious Rafale deal, it might be crucial to point out that the format of the show and the questioning has gradually made the conversations more risqué.

What started as Karan and friends sitting on facing couches over fun conversations and coffee, went through a phase of bitchy banter that created all sorts of trouble between the actors (Season 3 was notorious for that), before positioning itself as this uber progressive talk show that didn’t shy away from discussing anything under the sun. The Koffee brand of progressive meant a generous helping of sexual innuendo, a sprinkling of feigned coyness and copious giggles, often egging the guests to speak things they normally wouldn’t on camera. Despite its elegant and dignified setting, some questions bordering on offensive such as “At gun point, who would you have a gay encounter with?” started to creep into the show. Giggles, *nudge nudge* all around.

While Season 4 was widely projected as spicy and steamy, as Karan informed Farhan Akhtar, attitudinal shift between season 4 and 5 was massive. What was telecast on Star World was a kosher version of many episodes while Hotstar saw a lot of fans sign up to watch the unedited versions. So we got to hear Ranbir Kapoor equate casual sex with masturbation, Farhan Akhtar laughing about “getting it up”, Ranveer Singh admitting to being part of a threesome, a whole host of actors talking about being part of the Mile High Club, actors and actresses being rated on their hotness or sex appeal and other such things that socially conscious liberals too would frown upon.

As if to veer the show from being taken more seriously, when he had Kangana Ranaut, Shahid Kapoor and Saif Ali Khan in that highly controversial “nepotism” episode — at one point — Karan even pointed out to Kangana “you’re on a flippant show!”

Bollywood celebrities have admitted a lot of things on his show with a range of emotions — sheepish to machismo. They have admitted to being serial players, making light of cheating on multiple women simultaneously, while some have alluded that a woman’s breasts are among the first things they notice when they meet them. None of these come arbitrarily; they’re usually in response to intelligent questions like: “What do you notice first in a woman?” “How do handle multiple affairs?” and more. Gender equality is seen in questions that ask the celebs to rate male and female co-stars on the basis of their hotness or sex appeal.

Of course, the celebrities have the choice to be tasteful or tasteless. You may be considered boring by the show’s expectation standards, but you do have the right to say something banal or pass a question. Some others though, take the bull by its horn and talk about getting hard-ons or “fulleshwari” while reading a script, some talk about women like sexual conquests, and some others talk about co-stars being “well hung”. You know, just the kind of stuff that works to elicit a response from people. Good or bad, a response is a response. That Karan manages to get away with this is a testimony to his clout, the charm with which he chisels the narrative while shooting, and the judgment calls he makes at the post-production stage.

But is it fair that the guests get all the flak for the offensive comments, but Karan remains unscathed? Or is outraging against Karan akin to shooting the messenger? After all, he has creative inputs in the show and over at least the past three seasons — that’s around 50 episodes — we’ve been subjected to a fair bit of objectification via rankings based on sex appeal, tone deaf humour like gay encounter questions, and outright questions on relationships and sex lives that seduce a guest to drop his guard. A lot what comes out of Karan’s mouth is outrageous on his shows but we’re okay with it.

Why? Are we conditioned to ignore the tripe that comes out of established industry veterans? Is Karan a projection of our politically incorrect (almost obnoxious) selves and so we’re more accommodating? We as non-actors, have nothing to gain from his clout. So how does Karan Johar repeatedly get away with it and Hardik Pandya doesn’t?

In this reactive generation, now might be a good time as any, to ask ourselves whether our outrage is convenient or consistent. The answer to that reveals a lot about our constantly changing threshold for misogyny.

Updated Date: Jan 12, 2019 11:37:29 IST