Karan Johar and his sexuality has always been the dance of the seven veils. In his forthcoming biography An Unsuitable Boy, the last of the veils seems to be coming off. Well, almost. He still holds onto a fig leaf of sorts – three little words that he will not say.
"Karan Johar will not say the three words that possibly everybody knows about me," he writes in his biography, an excerpt of which appeared in The Times of India.
But he comes close, achingly close, to doing so. "Everybody knows what my sexual orientation is. I don't need to scream it out."
He's being lauded for coming this close anyway, hailed as a most suitable hero. "I'm no @karanjohar fan," tweets Pritish Nandy. "But this excerpt in today's Times from his autobiography is so brave and moving, I'm surely one now." "A brave knight in shining Loubotins," says Twinkle Khanna. Others are shrugging, dismissing this coming out inch-by-painstaking-inch as too little too late. It's not like Karan Johar has been walking in Mumbai Pride even in solidarity.
"All the people think I am gay but I don't want to talk about it ≠ OUT #CommonSense #pride #India " tweets activist Pallav Patankar.
However reading the excerpt, my overwhelming sentiment was neither disdain nor admiration. It was simply sadness. Johar comes across as so lonely, not just while growing up, but even now. "I get scared of being spotted with any single man now because I think they are going to think that I am sleeping with him," he writes.
He writes he wakes up to 200 hate posts on Twitter everyday saying "you're polluting our nation" and "shove (Section) 377 up your arse". And all the support he gets from his fraternity is not enough to insulate him from that hate. He confesses being traumatised by rumours linking him and Shah Rukh Khan, a "father figure, an older brother". He says he refuses to be apologetic about who he is, but he sounds like a man forced to be wary of his own shadow.
"I get scared of being spotted with any single man now because I think they are going to think that I am sleeping with him."Karan Johar
Coming out to oneself is not easy. You envy the carelessness of your classmates' hormones and rue the guardedness of your own. Playing along, not letting your inner desires ever betray you even through a sideways glance is exhausting.
Yet there is electric charge too as there is in any journey of discovering your sexuality, there is joy in being stunned by the capacity of your desire, no matter how unsuitable a boy it makes you. Sometimes the secrecy, that sense of taboo can even enhance the adrenaline rush of that desire.
Karan Johar, at least as far as this little excerpt allows us to peek into his private world, seems to have had so little of that. He tells us a self-deprecating funny story of how he thought a blow job was taking off your clothes and turning on the fan. He tells us that he lost his virginity at 26, in New York, and says "it's not something I'm proud of." Sexuality is his cross to bear and he bears it with a kind of weary fortitude, pushing his desire up the hill like a boulder.
Johar writes "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." It's sad that he thinks this way for it's not a criminal offence to say those three words. Section 377 is about acts against the "order of nature", not orientation. Being gay is not criminalized, gay sex is. Johar's fear is founded on fallacy.
Being gay is not criminalized, gay sex is. Johar's fear is founded on fallacy.
Of course, none of us can fathom the pressure on a celebrity like Karan Johar, how saying those three words, could result in FIRs from moral busybodies seeking their fifteen minutes of fame, not to mention the troll abuse. And it's unfair to single out Karan Johar when many others – politicians, business tycoons, writers, artists, actors – do not breathe a word about their sexuality not even when the Supreme Court dismisses homosexuals as a "minuscule minority".
Johar, at least, is not living a lie unlike many other celebrities who want the social respectability of a picture-perfect family for public consumption while their private lives are another matter entirely.
Karan Johar owes it to no one to be a poster boy for gay rights or any rights in India. He has a perfect right to be out or not out, or semi-out. He can say his three words or not say them. It's entirely unfair to expect him to lead the Rainbow Parade. He is not obligated to be anyone's role model any more than the LGBT community is obligated to give him a pass on his depiction of queer characters on screen.
Karan Johar owes it to no one to be a poster boy for gay rights or any rights in India. He has a perfect right to be out or not out, or semi-out. He can say his three words or not say them.
The LGBT community already has its leaders, the ones who march in parades, the ones who challenged Section 377 in courts over the years, the ones who go on television talk shows, the same-sex couples who are raising their children and taking them to school every day just like everyone else. That community would welcome a Karan Johar but no one is waiting for him either.
What is truly sad for Karan Johar is that in so many ways, his country has moved on. Those born to far less privilege have figured out ways to be far more comfortable in their own skins.
I remember standing in the Metro train in Kolkata and seeing two young men, obviously middle-class or perhaps lower middle-class, in knock-off "designer" brand clothes, lean into each other as the train hurtled through the tunnel. I marvelled at their casual intimacy, the way one rested his head on the other's shoulders, the way the other steadied him with one hand on his waist. This was courage I would not have possessed but they did.
People frowned but they did not care. No one said anything but even in a crowded train, they gave them their space. Or perhaps they wrested that space for themselves, not through the double entendres of an AIB roast but just by being themselves unapologetically. And it strangely gave me more hope than even a pride parade through bustling streets of a metropolitan city. What they did was not easy but it was possible.
Dear Karan Johar, there are three little words you say you cannot utter. But there are three I can say to you. It gets better.