People say the strangest things. And when you're well known, they become even stranger. I swear this is true.
Say when you're taking a flight, someone will come up to you, in the aisle of the actual aircraft, and ask: "Oh, going to Delhi?" No, no, they're going to drop me off in Rajasthan. I am on the same flight as you! Your boarding pass actually spells out the destination! Where else would I go? Unless the pilot is making an unscheduled stop and you (we all!) better hope that doesn't happen!
There's always someone who will cheerfully (and in genuine hope of an answer) ask "Come to see a movie??" It will be inside the hall as I take my seat but, no, of course, I came because I am obsessed with the popcorn vendor here.
Or when I'm running to catch a flight and someone wants a selfie, so I say "Please, very quickly" and then they're all "Oh. You're not so friendly as you seem on your shows. There, toh, you're very nice." Yes, of course I should stop and do a round of rapid fire with the final boarding call chiming. It'll be fun!
"Hi Koffee" is the other thing they say. You do understand I'm not a cappuccino, right?
I'm a proud filmmaker, but everyone seems to have forgotten that. You're introduced and someone will say "Arrey! Karan Johar! He does talk shows! He's judge!" And now my filmmaking has been lost, all my other accomplishments forgotten. Because I am "judge". "Haan, see, see, beta, he's Koffee, Koffee..." Really, I'm not a beverage. Promise.
Someone has come and asked me if I am Raj Kumar Santoshi. (It was in 2001 but still.)
I always have people peering over my shoulder and saying, "Oh! Where's Shah Rukh?" Now, I love Shah Rukh, he is more than family to me, so much of who I am today is thanks to him, but we are not together all the time and everywhere! He is (alas) not my conjoined twin. Sometimes I get frantic peering and then, "Where's he?" Who is he?? And then "No stars with you?" With expressions of deep reproach and disappointment. I'm not a walking fleet of vanity vans any more than I'm a walking, talking multi-star cast. I might want an entourage, but so far it is entirely eluding me. I remain (for the moment anyway) a simple human being.
Then they'll just say "Jhalak Dikhla Jaa" and I'm not entirely sure if it's instruction or acknowledgement. I remember there was a time when people would see me and say "K3G" or "Kuch Kuch Hota Hai." Good times. Now "Kuch Kuch Hota Hai" is a forgotten memory or a result of my own activities where I've managed to make people forget that I actually make movies! (Mind you, some people do come up and ask me about 3KG. That's right. I thought I had a heavyweight cast but now realize they were only 3KG!)
And so, while I am often frustrated, permanently exasperated, sick of forcing that polite smile, I have to confess that I do things like this too.
When you put two people who don't know each other in a unexpected encounter, they will inevitably say something strange - either inappropriate or inane. When I remember my chance meetings with, say, Hollywood movie stars, the first thing I've said has always been random. "Visiting for a while?" or "Visiting Bombay for the first time?" It's an opener, yes, but a flat one, and one that frankly should be beneath me. You don't care whether they've visited before or plan to again. And they don't want to repeat it for the 500th time. It's the polite conversation opener that's bland but bearable.
I've had the unbearable as well.
I met Hugh Jackman and I was like "I love your movies!" And, of course, he asked: which one? A reasonable question but I blanked completely. In that moment, I couldn't remember a single film that Hugh Jackman had done. So I copped out. "The recent one!" And that was one of his biggest disasters. Well done, me.
Then when I met Will Smith and I said "where there's a will, there's a way!" I was so delighted with my joke but he didn't get it. We were at this Bollywood party and he was saying he didn't know anyone, so I proudly trotted out what I thought was the perfect response: Where there's a Will, there's a way! (It's good, right?) But he didn't get it. He didn't get my joke and I died, I crumbled into my core. I thought it was the line of the century and it fell flat and when your joke falls flat with someone like this, it is heartbreaking.
What does that even mean? "How are things in India?" I mean, I actually live here. I know this. I also know there is no answer to it. How could I ask, how dare I ask and how can anyone even attempt to answer? But the politician did. And the fact that he did was almost as strange as my asking the question!
And in return, they will ask you "How are things in the movie industry?' and I'm thinking to myself: thanks to you, very bad! The bubble in my head is angry. I want to say: thanks for nothing. Things are NOT great. We have been given industry status but still have to go banging on ministry doors. Our popularity is leveraged when required but we get little to nothing in return! And what I actually say is "Good! Some up some down." Once I even responded saying "Just like my movie.... Kabhi Khushi, Kabhie Gham". To my shame, with a jolly chuckle attached.
My other problem is trying to sound too clever. Like "Break a leg, just not yours!" And then I will invariably find myself saying this to a sportsperson. Who I definitely should not be saying it to. Just the other day, I met a world-famous tennis player just before a match and said exactly that. Again.
Then there's all those times when I meet someone and they look like they're pregnant and I don't know what to do. Do I say it or do I not? My solution is to brightly exclaim "So! Tired, are we?" Tired has become my equivalent of "are you pregnant?" It's pathetic, it's a cop-out, but still an improvement on "You put on?" This is the worst. The absolute worst. Especially since they don't actually bother articulating the word 'weight', instead they use sweeping arm movements to indicate the dimensions I have clearly reached in their eyes. "You put on?" And, by the way, this comes from random strangers who clearly have no qualms about telling me they think I'm awfully overweight. In their defense, they probably don't know about the sleepless night (ok week, but who's counting) that will accompany it.
On the other hand, I will always overcompensate. Like when I have to call someone about work, the first two-three lines must be polite (subtext: inane) conversation. "So been busy?" "All good" and before I get down to "achcha listen..." I'm so envious of those people who pick up the phone and can just say "Ya, tell me" as soon as you say hello. I can't do that. I wish I could (it's so much more efficient) but even when I'm the one being called, I feel obliged to make three minutes of inane conversation till they get to their point. I feel it's rude for me to not sound welcoming. It's a disorder, I am aware. And it extends to the world of texting (and alright, sexting too!). I simply can't do one-word message replies: Yes. Ok. No. Sure. Cool. None of these are options for me. I must write something extra. Something personal. I put kisses and emoticons. Emoticons by the way are my very best friends. They have removed all the pressure of thinking up something personal to say. I love them. Kiss kiss kiss. Hug hug hug. Wink is my flirting emoji. Smile is my I-don't-know-what-else-to-say emoji. Hug is my end-of-conversation emoji. Kiss is my even-if-it's-one-word-i-mean-it-with-love emoji.
So why am I writing about this? To say to the legions out there that your awkwardness is my awkwardness too. (Side bar: it will never be cool to call someone just "Koffee" but the rest, at least, I get.) And to those fighting the good fight against inanities: your time will come. We are trying too. And sometimes, we manage to teach ourselves our own lessons too.
Like that time I was rushing down a London sidewalk and I saw a couple really excited with a camera in their hands and I was (once again) like "Please, very quickly!". And they very quickly handed me the camera and very quickly posed themselves into the perfect picture.
(Karan Johar is one of India's best known film and television personalities)
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