When someone like Karan Johar leaves his gloss behind to step into a complex subject, like in Guilty for Netflix, he must be applauded. But he must also be scrutinised to see if he has indeed travelled the distance personally from his cosy Bollywood groupies or is he just capitalising on hashtag movements like #MeToo.
I grew up watching Johar’s Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, and Rahul and Anjali were the coolest people to me. As a 10-year-old when I thought of college, I often fancied the onscreen lives Shah Rukh and Kajol lived in Johar’s directorial debut — roaming around the campus wearing a ‘COOL’ necklace.
Cut to 2012, Student of the Year, another coming-of-age school romance, starring Alia Bhatt, Varun Dhawan and Siddharth Malhotra. I was the same age as the protagonists then and although this Karan Johar film too had all the elements I once fancied, I did not like them. Sure, I had moved away from that universe. However, that world was entertaining, one I kept returning to when I had a bad day and wanted to laugh or be entertained.
Johar’s latest offering, Guilty, which recently premiered on Netflix, is set in Delhi University (DU). The film shot at St. Stephen’s and Hindu College is premised on the #MeToo movement. Having studied at DU and known people who came forward to narrate their harrowing experiences while the global campaign against sexual harassment was at its peak, I can say this with some conviction — it was the closest Karan Johar had ever gotten to my universe.
There are lines in the movie I had heard in my real life at DU, and incidents which seemed eerily similar. Yet, at the end of it, it was as if I was being mansplained by an enabler of the culture.
Practice what you preach
Towards the end of the movie, there comes a dialogue that would normally be considered innocuous. However, coming from a Karan Johar-produced project, it only adds insult to injury — “A year after #MeToo broke in India, everyone who was called out is back at work… and at parties.” Guess who is at these parties — KJo himself.
What is the point of painting such a reflective picture, when the producer himself is an enabler of the culture? As if that wasn’t enough for women, who braved their way to call out men in an industry that thrives on power and connections, they now have to see the same lot go back to work with ease. Now, they also have to witness the hypocrisy of the producer through his ‘politically astute’ movie.
The men have moved on with their lives. Vikas Bahl went on to direct Super 30, Subodh Gupta filed a defamation case, and Alok Nath, who was called out by multiple actors such as Sandhya Mridul, Amyra Dastur, and singer Sona Mohapatra, continues to act. By the way, Alok Nath is all set to play a judge in an upcoming movie called Main Bhi, based on the #MeToo movement.
The women who spoke up are left to fight their own legal battles. Their complaints now have become their descriptors wherever they go.
Karan Johar was recently spotted partying with Sajid Khan who was accused by three women of sexual harassment. One of the three — Saloni Chopra — had narrated the emotional and mental torture Khan put her through in a blog post last year.
Thank you, Mr Johar, but no matter how ‘important’ your movie may be, it certainly loses its message when you are seen doing the exact same thing that your movie speaks against.
It’s like someone who partied with Adolf Eichmann, one of the major organisers of the Holocaust, telling them how the Holocaust was such a tragedy. Or Rahul telling Anjali how she is beautiful in every way, but he can’t marry her because first, he has to marry Tina, the ‘better-looking’ of the two.
Better representation, please
This isn’t the only infuriating thing about the movie. Guilty does a grave injustice to how it portrays one of its central characters who comes from a small town (Dhanbad).
It’s 2020 and we ought to find better ways to portray a small-town character. One that goes beyond flashy clothes, broken English and a non-accented desi Hindi. I don’t come from a small town and yet I found it downright insulting. One cannot begin to think of how the people, who come from smaller cities of India and speak better English, Hindi or other any other tongue than I can, must feel.
These may seem like ‘trivial’ observations, but isn’t this what the #MeToo movement was meant to do? To call out the wrongs, which we as a society have enabled for years; to be held accountable for our actions; to be called out on our hypocrisy and at least be slightly more empathetic.