First things first, this is an unabashedly frivolous show that’s watchable in parts, but not the first of its kind. It takes up reality show staple topic love and relationships and combines it with the dilemmas of the Indian born confused millennial. The result, What the love! with Karan Johar, a brand new show now streaming on Netflix.
Produced by BBC Studios for the OTT platform, this 7-part series sees celebrity film director and host Karan Johar play and I quote ‘the light at the end of the deep dark tunnel called love’, giving six ‘wrecked’ singletons a chance to fix their love lives. In this makeover-dating show, Karan is the cupid, love guru and shrink, assisted by his celebrity friends that include actors, anchors and comedians, a stylist (Maneka Harisinghani) and a makeup artist (Shaan Muttathil).
After an obviously scripted ‘party’ episode which ends with Karan slapping post-it notes on the photos of the chosen six, each subsequent episode focuses on one loveless youngster and attempts at getting him/her ‘ready for love’. There are segments to address their mindset, their hair and clothes, and a prep-date (preparatory date for the older folks here ) where the candidate meets a celebrity to help them work through what’s holding them back.
Following this, our Cinderellas or Cinderfellas go on two actual dates that fairy godmother Karan sets up, after which they can choose to take it forward with one or none of the dates. While some of the contestants are more likeable than others, the show casts familiar character types instead of leaving us to discover their personalities. The chubby girl, the boring guy, the overthinking planner, the overeager one, the heartbroken one, the commitment-phobic one and so on. It’s all simplified and repeated multiple times to make sure we have no doubts about the tragic flaw du jour.
Since it plays out like a format, by the third episode, you know how the rest of the episodes are going to unfold. This is not to say the episodes are unwatchable or that the candidates are completely fake. There are real moments of introspection and vulnerability in each episode, but what really surprised me is how seriously Karan seemed to be taking this role. He makes a real effort here to connect with the contestants and lets his guard down once in a while to help them reveal their insecurities.
I was especially happy to see the episode with a candidate who is gay and gets to meet other gay men on dates. It’s a sign of how far we have come from the time when gay men were stereotyped in entertainment shows. Karan’s own battles with accepting his sexuality add a nice layer of depth to this episode. It’s unfortunate though that there was no gay celebrity available/willing to be on the show for the prep-date. But then, some progress is better than none.
On a more serious note, can we not club an incident of child sexual abuse or any inappropriate contact between an adult and child with regular insecurities like 'I am not pretty enough'? Inappropriately touching a child is not just a crime, it’s a trauma that a makeover and dating are not going to cure. So while the candidate may have genuinely had such an experience, it was just filed away under her ‘issues’. We really need to be more responsible while dealing with such topics and not reduce everything to content or tragic backstory.
I also noticed that all the women on the show had problems or insecurities stemming from their appearance while the men had problems with their personalities. While women are more heavily scrutinised for their looks than men, to have all three women worry about their looks and have body confidence issues is repetitive and plays into existing stereotypes. Is there no woman who is stunning but commitment-phobic, or a skinny man who has been bullied all his life for not looking macho enough? It’s a problem I notice repeatedly with digital content. Though content creators take advantage of the platform to talk about sex and crack jokes laden with innuendo, there is a reluctance to actually push the envelope and find stories that are truly original.
Though the show is meant for a twenty-something audience, and is deliberately frothy, it would have been nice to see someone tell these kids that falling in love and remaining in love are completely different ballgames. All of us are set up as youngsters to find that ‘one’ person who holds the key to our lifelong happiness. It’s a dangerous concept that puts too much pressure on another person and sets you up to be disappointed for a lifetime. Truth be told, love is like the people it afflicts. It ages, it mellows and eventually curls up in familiarity, friendship and mutual respect. Something one hopes the wide-eyed youngsters will be lucky to discover someday.
Watch the show if you are looking for mindless entertainment this weekend, but if watching well dressed twenty something-year-olds mouth lines like “What are you looking for in a partner?” make you go what the *beep*, stay away.
Disclaimer: This review was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the series/film. TNM Editorial is independent of any business relationship the organisation may have with producers or any other members of its cast or crew.