Sunday, Oct 01, 2023

Karan Johar Becomes The Centre Of Debate For Endorsing Matrimonial Ad

Karan Johar Becomes The Centre Of Debate For Endorsing Matrimonial Ad

Filmmaker Karan Johar has come under a lot of flak for a recent matrimonial advertisement that he has endorsed. Here’s what the controversy is all about.

Karan Johar
Karan Johar Instagram

Karan Johar, whose films roll out stories of true “upper class” love fighting all odds, has turned real-life cupid with his endorsement of a matrimonial website primarily for those who have studied in IITs and IIMs. And the debate is intense.

While Johar himself is silent, people have spoken out on social media and other platforms on the wisdom of being a brand ambassador for a site that is catered to such a specific audience. The ‘Kuch Kuch Hota Hai’ and ‘Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham’ director has been criticised for being an "elitist" and promoting a problematic idea in a country where religion, caste and class already play a dominant role in marriages.

"The presence of something called IITIIMShaadi is perhaps the logical manifestation of a society that views education as an investment, marriage as a transaction and maintaining class and caste hegemony as the ultimate purpose of life," wrote one social media user.

What Johar is saying is in tune with general beliefs as elitism is not something that's looked down on by the general population, added sociologist Sanjay Srivastava.

"If anything, new forms of aspirations have deepened the ideas that are promoted in what Johar is saying: that one should choose relationships within the same class and that class is a very important aspect of one's identity," Srivastava told PTI over text.

Johar, who has around 17 million followers on Twitter and 11.7 million followers on Instagram where he posted the ad on March 30, begins the ad with a play on a famous dialogue from "Kuch Kuch Hota Hai" -- "Hum ek baar jeete hain, ek baar marte hain aur shaadi bhi ek hee baar karte hain. (We live once, we die once and we also get married only once).”

He then goes on to talk about the importance of choosing the right life partner, which he says is not easy, especially for highly educated people. "If you are highly educated, you seek mental compatibility before age, caste, height. And this need is understood only by one company, a matrimonial website exclusively for alumni of top 10 to 15 colleges from all fields," the filmmaker says in the commercial.

Johar could not be reached for a comment despite attempts.

The filmmaker's association with the ad led many to question whether it is not just another way to maintain the exclusivity of class in marriage.

According to advertising professional Abhijit Prasad, Bollywood has championed love but has rarely championed classless love and that's where Johar comes in.

"You look at all the Rahul Malhotras and the Raichands. The caste aspect has quite always been there, there is some friction in some movies where there is a top-down (conflict) like 'Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham', but it's not really central to it. Karan Johar was always catering to an elite mass, so I don't see any change here...," Prasad told PTI.

The Raichands is a reference to the family, headed by Amitabh Bachchan, in ‘Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham’. Shah Rukh has been most associated with the name 'Rahul' in cinema, playing Rahul Khanna in Johar's ‘Kuch Kuch Hota Hai’ and Rahul Raichand in ‘Kabhi Khushi Khabhie Gham’. He was Rahul Mehra in Yash Chopra's ‘Darr’, Rahul Malhotra in Ramesh Sippy's ‘Zamaana Deewana’, Rahul Joshi in Aziz Mirza's ‘Yes Boss’ and many other films.

At its core, Srivastava added, the ad is a new twist on some underlying continuities in Indian society and plays to a strong sentiment of differentiation that is part of contemporary cultures of aspiration.

"In addition, the implicit message of the Johar ad is that if you choose through this website then not only do you choose someone from your class background but ALSO from caste: the vast majority of those study at these institutions are, in fact, upper caste. So, the ad implicitly says what cannot be said explicitly: caste is important," Srivastava explained.

In his view, by roping in Johar, the traditional messaging is given a wrap of modernity.

" is being promoted by someone who is not himself tied to older forms of identity. So, a message regarding the 'normality' of hierarchy is presented as being in tune with 'modern' thoughts and identities," he said.

Prasad also believes the ad promotes within caste marriages without ever spelling out the word.

"The appalling part is that we have found yet another way of saying caste without even using the term. The upper caste has found new ways to be casteless, now it's mental compatibility, which will include everything from 'Are you start-up minded?' to 'Do you travel?' all those new cultural symbols of wealth and status come into play here. The resources that one had access to leads to all these, this is what we need to recognise," he added.

This is not the first time celebrities have associated themselves with a matrimony website. BharatMatrimony, the online matrimony brand, had roped in Indian cricketer Mahendra Singh Dhoni as its brand ambassador. Similarly, features Telugu cinema superstar Mahesh Babu for its #WeMatchBetter campaign.

"IITIIMShaadi is not the first one in this game. BharatMatrimony had launched Elite Matrimony, another product. The aim of Elite Matrimony was that either you have a certain household income or you hail from a top-tier college."

Johar's ad has rankled many others too, with some pointing out that it ignores the reality that higher education is within the reach of only the rich upper caste/class people in a society like India.

"Wow. I guess they have been successful making you brand manager for elitism. This is such bulls**t (sic)," said one Twitter post.

Another pointed to the irony of Johar as brand ambassador for a matrimony app for highly educated and said, "I'm confused. Karan Sir only taught us 'ishq wala love' (a popular song from the director's 'Student of the Year'."

[With Inputs From PTI]


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