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Should Karan Johar becoming father of twins via surrogacy be front page news?

LiveMint logoLiveMint 06-03-2017 Rajyasree Sen

Should a Bollywood director becoming a parent to twins ever make the front page of newspapers and headlines of news bulletins? Well, if it is a single unmarried person, that too a man, I’d say that while it doesn’t warrant being Page 1 news, it is news. And important news not for why it’s being reported—for the requisite clicks and TRPs—but because in a country which idolises Bollywood figures as if they’re demi-gods, it shakes and dislodges regressive stereotypes and beliefs in one fell swoop.

On Sunday, practically every newspaper, website and news channel, was announcing in detail that single Bollywood director, Karan Johar, had become a father to twins born through a surrogate.

Johar has recently been in the news for his memoir, A Suitable Boy, in which he categorically states that he doesn’t discuss his sexual orientation, because it (the orientation, not a discussion of the same) is considered a crime in India. To quote, “Everybody knows what my sexual orientation is. I don’t need to scream it out…And if I need to spell it out, I won’t only because I live in a country where I could possibly be jailed for saying this.” The chapter, Love & Sex, spells out the fact that he is gay and not interested in it becoming a topic of discussion for the media.

That a Bollywood A-list director would write this is earth-shattering. This is an industry known for not admitting to any identity other than the straight and married. People don’t admit to any frailties or deviations from the normal in Bollywood. No one has an affair, is unable to have children, is an atheist, an alcoholic or a drug addict. And no male star—producer/director/actor—is gay. That is till Johar decided to bite the bullet while also banking on the fact that few people in Bollywood can read a complete sentence in English (something which he repeats on his show while commenting on his Bollywood colleagues). But if you read his memoirs, there it is. Spelt out in as many words from Page 173 onwards. Johar outs himself and breaks Bollywood’s anti-gay ceiling while doing so.

Seriously though, who knew that Karan Johar would be the messiah of living life large and shackle-free in India? I definitely didn’t. But it seems Bollywood’s king maker has more to him than just being Shah Rukh Khan’s BFF.

You definitely did not think Johar would be a gay groundbreaker after you saw Dostana or his idea of a gay adult relationship in Bombay Talkies, but here he is. Hopefully leading to more people coming out and more people not ostracising homosexuals. Hey, if Karan Johar can (be gay), so can you.

In his book, Johar also stated that, “I have been thinking about having a child. It will of course have to be a surrogate child, or I will have to adopt. These are the two options I have in front of me”. Going by the fact that Johar’s children were born last month, it’s fair to guess that when the book was being edited, his children had already been conceived.

Of course, Tusshar Kapoor paved the road to single fatherhood before Johar. But most people wouldn’t know who Kapoor is even if he came and did a jig in front of them. Johar is in our homes and on our film screens. Judging dance shows, hosting a talk show, emceeing film award ceremonies, making blockbusters and posing with the various Khans.

Johar also managed to pip the new proposed Surrogacy (Regulation) Bill to the post. The Surrogacy (Regulation) Bill which was introduced in the Lok Sabha in November 2016 bans commercial surrogacy, prohibiting women for taking payment to be surrogates. It also bans surrogacy for singles, foreigners and persons of Indian origin living outside India. Sushma Swaraj had famously said at the time, “We do not recognise homosexual or live-in relationships, we do not want to entitle them…it is not in our ethos. That is why they are not allowed to commission babies through surrogacy”.

In January, the bill was sent to the Parliamentary Standing Committee on health, for it to submit its report within three months. It will take 10 months after it is notified to come into effect.

Johar taking this step and it being publicised to the country is important because it breaks certain myths and perceptions—that only married couples can have children. That single unmarried people have no right to be parents. That single men can’t or shouldn’t be parents. That gay men can’t or shouldn’t have children. That surrogate children are unnatural. The list is long and ugly. So, if this news makes one less person believe any of this nonsense, good on Johar.

Yes, Sushmita Sen paved the way for single mothers and before her Neena Gupta did the same for unwed mothers. But this is the first time that a Bollywood royal has broken so many norms. And done so publicly.

Very rarely do our Bollywood stars do anything in their private or public lives, which we can commend. When they do, we may as well give them the praise they deserve. More power to KJo. For this, we’ll even forgive him for those travesties of cinema, Ae Dil Hai Mushkil and Badrinath Ki Dulhaniya, which he subjects us to now and then.

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