Karan Johar’s new podcast/web series/radio chat show on Ishq 104.8 FM, Calling Karan, is so incredibly satisfying. Though it began only on the 7th of December, with just 8 episodes available online, you already feel like it’s got everything it needs to become a household name like Koffee With Karan.
Calling Karan’s technically a radio show, but you can also watch it in webisode form or listen to the podcast. I watched the episodes, and recommend you do too, because it lets you watch Johar’s priceless reactions, expressions and eyebrow lifts. It adds a whole extra layer to the experience of watching Johar hand out sometimes-dubious relationship advice to Mumbai’s citizenry. And boy, is it an experience.
The show features Karan sitting at a study table littered with table lamps and coffee mugs, answering questions about love, dating and relationships. It allows you to take a fascinating deep dive into the emotional trials and tribulations of various callers. There’s something about the combination of Johar’s familiarity, celebrity and chattiness that inspires callers to confide really intimate details about their relationships in him, and their stories make for some emotionally satisfying viewing.
Unless Johar chooses that moment to shock you with his advice, which, as you watch more episodes, you realise he does with alarming frequency.
But before we get to Johar’s sometimes-dubious advice, let’s look at the really good stuff – the callers and their stories. You feel sure the show’s makers have screened their callers well (or cut out the boring ones in post-production), because each caller you see on the show has a fairly unexpected, entertaining or secretly universal problem to deal with.
One Leena Tripathi kicked off the episode on long-distance relationships with the story of how her relationship was going great when her boyfriend was away in the US, but now that he’s back, she wishes he wasn’t.
In the segment on online dating, Geetanjali tells Johar about how she matched with her childhood bestie’s boyfriend on Tinder (Johar immediately asked what the boy was doing on Tinder anyway), hooked up with him and wants to pursue the relationship. She eventually says her childhood friend should be able to understand her deep feelings and “boys like that are one in a million”. In the episode on workplace dating, Parth talks about his girlfriend, who joined the office after him at the same level, and got promoted before him, and how frustrated he is that she’s been treating him as a subordinate ever since.
One caller, Riddhi, began her account spectacularly by saying, “Sir mujhe na, kuch kuch ho raha hain, bahut zabardast ho raha hain!” which should really just have been the end of it all because what could top that? Riddhi tells him about how she and her best friend hooked up on a “trip to Himachal”, and how he’s now seeming stand-offish, and she doesn’t know whether to bring it up or let it go.
You sense that the callers come from a range of different social locations, from upper-crusty sounding Nay, who can’t stop sleeping with random women after his breakup, to the adorable Riddhi, who breathlessly switches between Hindi and English to express her feelings, to sweet old Moinul, who explained to Johar in chaste Hindi how he is still unchastely attracted to his wife but wished she would be more extroverted. Karan is equally comfortable, jovial and witty with all his callers, and seems to put most of them, even those audibly hyperventilating at his fame, at immediate ease.
But while he may put his callers at ease, as a listener, his relationship advice frequently makes you sit up startled.
Sometimes, Johar manages to hit the mark perfectly, like when he very kindly tells Riddhi that “pyaar dosti hain” works as a good film dialogue in KKHH, but not at all in real life, and that her hook-up buddy probably just isn’t that into her. Or when he tells Moinul, who complains about his introverted wife, to take her out to dinner and really talk to her about her interests and hobbies, and let her personality bloom through conversation.
Other times, though, his responses can be a bit dubious. He frequently informs different callers that they must have lots of lovers and generally hopping love lives because they’re so “hot and sexy”, and tells Geetanjali, who hooked up with her friend’s boyfriend and finds the idea of just being friends-with-benefits unethical, that she can’t talk about ethics because she double-crossed her friend in the first place.
Worst of all, he also tells 22-year-old Parth, who wants to swipe right on his 30-year-old teacher on Tinder, that he should go ahead and do it. Fine, but he also spells out why. “She is clearly on Tinder, she’s obviously open to possibilities, if she is on a dating app, she’s put her profile and her image out, then maybe she is open to the idea of dating younger boys, and perhaps boys from even her college or university. […] I would say that if she’s being conscious, then maybe she would be discreet, but she’s not, and she should know that young students are all on these dating apps. So maybe she finds some of her students hot and attractive, and maybe she’s open to the possibility of dating one of her students, and I’m not going to be any judgment police or on any moral high ground here and say ‘nahi she’s your teacher, you must stay away’.”
Er, allow me to be the “judgment police” for just a second though? Johar in general seems to have a fairly dismissive attitude towards online dating, which you can see from his reactions, lip curls and repeated declarations that he doesn’t really get it. But why did Johar leap to the automatic conclusion that she was being unconscious or indiscreet by using Tinder? Also, that her being on the app also upped the chances of her finding her own students hot and attractive, and of her being open to dating them?
Waiting for Johar to respond to callers’ questions is like waiting for an unstable but jolly old uncle to make a toast. You really have no idea what he’s going to say next and can only hope for the best each time. There’s an equal chance that what he says will be either wise and meaningful, or outdated, sexist and clueless, but whatever it is, you can be sure that it’ll be entertaining.
Because it’s undeniable that Johar and his innate good humour bring a lot to the show too, and his on-screen persona is endlessly addictive, if not the perfect epitome of good sense. He spaces his “mhmms”, “ohos” and “arrey vahs” with both conversational and comedic timing, managing to simultaneously be a good listener and an engaging host.
He also cracks bad sexually-loaded jokes that maybe only three others and I would find screamingly funny (but we do), like when one caller unnecessarily informed Johar that he was audible, and Johar unnecessarily responded saying “haan main audible hi hota hoon normally, main edible bhi hota hoon kabhi kabhi”.
Calling Karan also continually, deliberately and cleverly hearkens back to KWK. The segment called the “reverse rapid-fire round” flips the TV show’s infamous rapid-fire round back onto its host, and listeners call in with their questions for Johar which he has to answer in quick succession.
Every episode also has a short pre-recorded message from a Bollywood celebrity to Johar, which immediately brings the show some extra glamour and familiarity. There’s even a hamper up for grabs, except this one is ominously called “Karan’s Love Bite”. It’s a clever way to package the new show, because it uses phrases and ideas that are so familiar and beloved to the public thanks to the long-standing cultural object Koffee with Karan. And plus, how could adding Bollywood celebrities into the mix go wrong?
All of this lets you know that this show has the potential to be truly iconic. It’s available in video and audio format online, and on the radio, which covers a nice broad range of modern media. It gives you love, relationships, dating (and all the emotions and insecurities that come with it), Bollywood celebrities, regular features (like Karan’s Verdict and Love Bite) to get hooked onto, and a chatty celebrity host who knows how to hold your attention, earn your confidence and entertain his public. Just make sure you don’t accept Johar’s advice in toto, because it might get you thrown out of class.
Co-published with Newslaundry.