“Over the top.” “Too much”. “But aisa kahan hota hai.” These are the things you hear when you start discussing a Karan Johar film. To me, there’s no point discussing a Karan Johar film. There’s nothing to dissect. It’s made for the big screen to enjoy on the big screen and to spend three hours of your life looking at all the impossibly gorgeous clothes and perfectly done makeup. It’s three hours of smiling/crying beautiful protagonists and forgetting that you have bills to pay, a bank balance that can, in no way, afford even half of the stuff that’s seen on the screen, and an exhausting, far too long, to-do, a to-handle list that adulting usually comes with.
To me, when you’ve begun to dissect a Karan Johar film, you’ve lost the point of a Karan Johar film. In a Karan Johar universe, you have to let disbelief be an accepted, incontrovertible fact.
Many critics (and even die-hard Karan Johar fans) attacked Kalank with all their might. Granted that Kalank had its flaws. The characters were skewed and the storyline wasn’t stable. Also, disbelief and good CGI must go hand in hand (refer to Marvel Cinematic Universe and the recently released Avengers Endgame, if you will) and if you want me to believe Varun Dhawan can fight a mad bull just armed with his washboard stomach then you’re gonna have to do a better job at it than you did in Kalank. But the criticism he received, the overlooking of the minute details he added to create a brand that is so thoroughly Bollywood, the kitsch, the drama, the magnificence, was unfair.
The audiences, as well as the critics, have been thoroughly categorical in dissing Karan Johar’s brand of cinema. If it comes to suspension of disbelief, slapstick comedies like Total Dhamaal are okay with the audiences and critics somehow seem to even give Sanjay Leela Bhansali a free pass when it comes to distorting or manipulating history for the sake of exploiting the cinematic license. The same courtesy isn’t applied to Karan Johar as his brand of pomp and show is called frivolous and self-indulgent. Audiences and critics are somehow harsher when it comes to Karan. They are somehow more vicious, more cutting in their attacks when it’s his films.
While you can’t fault the audience or the box office for rejecting or accepting the film because eventually, it is the audience that decides the numbers and the amount of money a producer/filmmaker creates. This is more of a question on the critics who have unanimously slammed Kalank. Barring Anupama Chopra, who had to, in turn, write a piece defending her opinion amidst the social media barrage of hate and trolling, most of the commentators dissed Kalank badly. Alia Bhatt, who was resplendent in the film, was called wooden and unfeeling. It was Alia’s last scene in the film, however, that could be recalled as the most powerful moment of the film in totality.
Cinema is escapism in so many ways. Sure there need to be better scripted films in Bollywood but if you can accept Ajay Devgn romancing a girl twenty years younger than him, surely you can allow Karan Johar’s Lahore shifting from lush green lands to the peaks of Hindu Kush. If you can allow Hrithik Roshan to talk to aliens, surely you can allow a few slo-mo shots of Varun Dhawan crying in a chikankari kurta. There’s a flight of fancy allowed onscreen and it’s only fair that Karan Johar’s brand of cinema gets spared the harshness that many others do too.