I was nine when I watched Karan Johar’s first movie, cried and became a lifelong fan. I loved the linear characters, the straight if somewhat sagging storylines and the larger-than-life setting that all of his movies came with. It was a relaxing watch and a great escape, even if you’d had to defend the dodgy Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham to friends.
But the miracle of the current administration and political leadership is that they have turned ultimate candy floss into a political moment. Which is why when Ae Dil Hai Mushkil releases today, I will be queuing to watch it first-day first-show.
A movie that didn’t stand out at first glance has been transformed into something extraordinary by the repeated interventions of politicians, who have used the film to score brownie points.
The movie that reportedly features Fawad Khan for a small-ish role -- showing him not more than a few minutes onscreen – ran into all sorts of trouble earlier this month with pop-nationalists who decided to make the film a battle of competitive patriotism.
Maharashtra Navnirman Sena chief Raj Thackeray won the duel with a combination of physical threats, extortion calls and blunt violence. The state government caved in and the chief minister acted as a mediator -- in the process, Bollywood bent over, agreeing to not work with Pakistani actors – as if blacking out Fawad Khan would deter militants in Kashmir.
The director, whose production house has featured many Pakistani actors in the past, also gave in – to prove his nationalism and ensure his bottom line didn’t take a hit.
I want to go watch Ae Dil Hai Mushkil today to show that it doesn’t matter – it doesn’t matter if our artists don’t toe the line laid down by electioneering politicians.
I want to suffer Aishwarya’s possible simper and Ranbir’s hamming because it is important that as audience, we take a stand on what is perpetrated in our names – that we understand that artistes boycott is an easy way to gain some political capital and nothing else.
I have eagerly waited for Karan Johar movies all my life because they made me feel better, even Student of the Year.
But for the first time, his movies have become a vehicle of resistance against those who want to use nationalism to muzzle free speech – against leaders who use threats to shut up dissidence and against those who recklessly use images of dead soldiers for private propaganda.
I am watching Ae Dil Hai Mushkil because for the first time, watching a Karan Johar movie has become important as a social act of resistance – to stop a surge in toxic nationalism and re-assure people that they can differ on the most fundamental questions of our democracy without being hunted.
Rs 300 and an early morning wake-up seem like a small cost for this. Fawad Khan’s bearded smile might just be the confidence-building measure India and Pakistan were desperately searching for.