After 20 years, Karan Johar finally admits the sexism in his iconic ’90s love story was “really stupid”

Pro-tip on finding love in the 90s: get a makeover.
Pro-tip on finding love in the 90s: get a makeover.
Image: Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, Dharma Productions
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Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, a cult classic for 1990s kids growing up in India, would’ve demanded a different treatment today—and the movie’s own director agrees.

For the uninitiated, Kuch Kuch Hota Hai portrays a love triangle: College student and heartthrob Rahul, played by Shah Rukh Khan, is loved from afar by Kajol’s Anjali, his best friend, but marries Tina, played by Rani Mukherji, instead. The two women have completely different personalities in college: while Anjali likes to wear athletic gear and keeps her hair short—she also beats Rahul in basketball—Tina is ultra feminine and sports dresses and long hair.

Unfortunately, Rahul’s glamorous wife dies after giving birth to their child. In the second half of the film, he meets Anjali at his now eight-year-old daughter’s summer camp and, this time, falls for her.

Only this new-and-improved Anjali wears a sari, sings bhajans (religious songs), and acts demure while tucking her long tresses behind her ears. She is also terrible at basketball now.

Fortunately, this troubling idea that she has to become an outwardly feminine character to find love does not play well in today’s Bollywood, where women are demanding meatier roles and fighting sexist stereotypes.

Eighteen years after the release of Karan Johar’s blockbuster romance, the now 44-year-old filmmaker has publicly apologised for the flaws he penned at age 24.

“It was ridiculous of me to have done that. Shabana Azmi (actress) called me after she watched the movie and asked why was it that Anjali found only rejection when she had short hair and played basketball, and later, when she was shown as a sari-wearing, feminine woman with long hair, she finds love,” Johar said in response to a question from 22-year-old Zohra Sayyed from Mumbai University, following a discussion with Filmfare magazine editor Jitesh Pillai at the Times Litfest 2016.

Sayyed, who described herself as a “tomboy,” told the Times of India that “it bothered me to see that transformation.”

“It was really stupid. I apologise,” Johar said.

The celebrated filmmaker, whose story of unrequited love, Ae Dil Hai Mushkil, was a roaring success at the box office this November, has long left behind the ideas of innocent love that his first few films had. ”When I see Kuch Kuch Hota Hai today or Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham, I myself wonder, ‘Why did I write this, how did I write this, from where these thoughts came to my mind?'” the director-producer said at the Jagran Film Festival in October.