The Evolution of Karan Johar’s Queer Eye

What has driven the filmmaker’s increasingly nuanced portrayals of LGBTQ characters?

Meher Manda

June 21, 2022

The Evolution of Karan Johar’s Queer Eye
Karan Johar (Instagram, Sheldon Santos)

In 2018, actor Sonam Kapoor married entrepreneur Anand Ahuja in Mumbai. The three-day event blessed fans with unfiltered footage of their favorite stars dancing, joshing, and drinking the night away — delighting everyone with the reminder that, in weddings with open bars, our favorite stars are just like us. But amid all that hetero-masculine debauchery, one video sticks out — of filmmaker Karan Johar on stage, dancing to Sonam Kapoor’s “Prem Ratan Dhan Paayo.” He lip syncs to the female singer’s voice and jerks his hips with joyful abandon, cheered on by his friends. In the gender-coded world of heroes and heroines, Johar stands out like an amusing transgressor.

For those who grew up with Hindi cinema, the 1990s and 2000s meant a constant and consistent onslaught of Karan Johar-led content. The movies he directed, such as his debut Kuch Kuch Hota Hai (1998), and produced, like Kal Ho Naa Ho (2003), defined a generation. With his television chat show Koffee with Karan, Johar also managed to bring Hindi cinema’s biggest movie stars to our homes in silly, catty avatars. And if this wasn’t enough work, Johar made it his mission to be at the forefront of Hindi pop culture, occupying space on talent shows, comedy panels, and dating shows, as well as penning books.

And as ubiquitous as Karan Johar is the constant and consistent conjecture (a word Johar often uses on his chat show) around his sexuality. “Even my grandmother knows Karan Johar’s sexual orientation,” poet Dr. Sreshta Sen told me, echoing Johar’s admission in his memoir, An Unsuitable Boy. But despite his unwillingness to spell it out, Johar continues to be one of the most visibly queer icons in the largest film industry in the world. And though he has never publicly declared his orientation to fans, Johar has slowly but surely introduced LGBTQ+ characters and plot lines into his vast cinematic universe.