Top Indian filmmaker reveals struggles with sexuality growing up: ‘I pretended to be in love with a girl’

Karan Johar, director and producer of some of Bollywood’s biggest hits, has opened up about pretending to be in love with a girl in high school after being called gay.

Although Johar has never officially come out as gay, he hasn’t shied away from strongly inferring that he identifies as LGBTQ+ without saying it conclusively.

The Kuch Kuch Hota Hai director has cited negative attitudes towards homosexuality in India as the reason for withholding full details about his sexuality.

The filmmaker recently appeared on the YouTube show “Be A Man Yaar”, hosted by Nikhil Taneja, where he opened up about his past and his struggles at school.

“I was labelled as a ‘pansy’ in a demeaning manner … and it was this word that literally had really pushed me into a shell,” he explained.

To fend off those remarks, Johar said he “pretended to be in love with a girl named ‘Shalaka’ in [my] class”.

He added that Shah Rukh Khan, one of Bollywood’s leading actors, was the first man who Johar felt accepted him fully. The two have a well-known close relationship and have worked on several hit movies together. He praised the actor for being by his side through most of his life, like an elder brother.

The Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham director has previously addressed his right to discuss his life on his own terms and also emphasised discomfort with the homophobia inherent in speculation about his sexuality.

“What I have a problem with is that there’s a level of homophobia and that really bothers me because that, to me, is sick,” Johar said back in 2019. “I mean you can talk about what you think my sexuality is, that is your prerogative, but if you are commenting and making gay sound bad that’s when I have a problem.”

In 2017, he dropped heavy hints about his queerness in his autobiography An Unsuitable Boy.

“Everybody knows what my sexual orientation is. I don’t need to scream it out,” Johar wrote. “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. Which is why I, Karan Johar, will not say the three words that possibly everybody knows about me.

“I’m not going to sit in the courts because of ridiculous, completely bigoted individuals who have no education, no intelligence, who go into some kind of rapture for publicity.”

Before the abolition of Section 377 and decriminalisation of homosexuality in 2018, thousands of people in India were arrested for being LGBTQ+ every year. In 2015 alone, there were around 1,491 arrests of LGBTQ+ men, women and minors.

Johar was one of the most influential celebrities to praise the Supreme Court’s decision on Twitter, tweeting: “Historical judgment!!!! So proud today! Decriminalising homosexuality and abolishing #Section377 is a huge thumbs up for humanity and equal rights! The country gets its oxygen back!”

Johar had 15 million followers at the time, but has since left the platform.

Karan Johar bid farewell to X (formerly Twitter) in October 2022 saying he is ‘making space for more positive energies’. (Grab by PinkNews)

The filmmaker returned to directing in 2023 after a six-year hiatus, with his new release Rocky Aur Rani Kii Prem Kahaani becoming an instant box office hit.

Johar was also honoured by the Indian Film Festival of Melbourne in August for his 25 years in the film industry.

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