Not many would know that both Shabana Azmi and Javed Akhtar had called Karan Johar after the release of his directorial debut, Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, but for different reasons. Azmi criticized him for his anti-feminist portrayal of Anjali’s (Kajol) character, while Akhtar admitted that he was wrong to reject the film because of its sexually suggestive title.
Karan Johar’s filmography reflects his own dichotomous personality, as he is a filmmaker who is both a fan of mainstream Hindi cinema and its reluctant critic. He is equally comfortable dancing to a Dafli Wale number as he is cheering on Balenciaga. And he is both a closeted traditionalist and a work-in-progress woke.
Karan Johar feels compelled to acknowledge the woke discourse surrounding his first film, 25 years after its release. He not only acknowledges the regressive elements of the film, but also points them out himself and shares a laugh with his critics. While he may attribute his wokeness to a midlife crisis, he is ultimately a self-aware filmmaker who knows how to take a joke.
The most common criticism of Kuch Kuch Hota Hai is that Rahul (Shah Rukh Khan) is only attracted to Anjali when she wears a sari, and not when she is a tomboy in college. However, we all work hard on ourselves to seek validation at some point in our lives.
Compare Anjali to Poo, a character played by Kareena Kapoor in Karan Johar’s 2001 family drama Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham. Poo, a girl from Chandni Chowk who was shamed and bullied by the rich kids in her childhood, uses her distance from them and her opportunity to work hard on herself to become the object of desire in her London college.
Karan Johar, like his characters Rahul and Anjali, has grown and changed over time, both physically and in his beliefs. Regarding the glaring loophole in Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, how did the one or two-year-old Anjali read the first two of the nine letters her mother left behind? Perhaps we can slide in what Karan has been reiterating throughout: “Tum nahi samjhoge, kuch kuch hota hai.”