In 2001, Karan Johar introduced us to Poo — a pink-dress-clad Kareena Kapoor (now Khan) dancing on a bed with loud pop music blasting our screens. She is all about good looks, good looks and good looks. A decade later, Alia Bhatt makes an entrance as Shanaya whose introduction includes a montage of shopping adventures with names of expensive designers sung to music.
Over the years, Johar’s women still remain multi-dimensional. They challenge societal norms and traditional gender roles (Preity Zinta in Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna); they are ambitious and career-oriented (Alia Bhatt in Badrinath Ki Dulhania) and they strive for personal growth (Neetu Kapoor in Jugg Jugg Jeeyo).
While his films delve into familial bonds, his female characters continue to harbour emotional journeys, romantic aspirations, and inner conflicts. Whether it’s the young, vivacious Tina Malhotra from Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, the fiercely independent Naina Talwar from Kal Ho Naa Ho, or the resilient Alizeh Khan from Ae Dil Hai Mushkil, Johar’s female characters often navigate complex relationships and grapple with their own desires, adding layers of depth to their personalities.
Here are some of the well-written female characters from Karan Johar films
Anushka Sharma, Ae Dil Hai Mushkil
Friendship, one of the cornerstones, in Johar’s cinema is strikingly balanced in Ae Dil Hai Muskhil. The film built upon the ethos of ‘Pyaar mein junoon hai, dosti mein sukoon’, steers on the gears of platonic love, passionate love and unrequited love.
Ayan (Ranbir Kapoor) and Alizeh (Anushka Sharma), stumble at a party in London and soon a messy effort at a one-night stand transforms into a deep friendship. They banter about Hindi films, sing 80s songs and blabber about living life without care – she is for friendship and he loves. However, after Alizeh reunites with her first love Ali (Fawad Khan), a heartbroken Ayan tumbles into bed with Saba (Aishwarya Rai Bachchan), an older poet, whilst still pining over Alizeh.
While the movie is unapologetic in glorifying unrequited love, it is Sharma’s terrific spikiness that she brings to Alizeh’s stubborn efficiency in hammering – sometimes friendship is all we need.
Ratna Pathak Shah, Kapoor and Sons
Arguments, conflicts and clashes in family normally don’t make for pleasant viewing. But Shakun Batra’s Kapoor & Sons, however, keeps you riveted till the very end.
Two brothers Rahul (Fawad Khan) and Arjun Kapoor (Sidharth Malhotra) living entirely different lives abroad return home. Their homecoming uncovers the strained dynamics of the family, their parent’s marriage, and their own unresolved issues. Shah plays their mother Sunita who is struggling with her husband’s (Rajat Kapoor) infidelity. The emotions float on her face, she is tired of playing the silent housewife and wants to save the marriage, but the breach of trust has done some permanent damage.
Shah is a terrific watch, and when a tragedy strikes towards the end, you can’t help but sob with her.
Sonakshi Sinha, Kalank
Set against the backdrop of India’s independence, Alia Bhatt’s Roop finds herself becoming the reluctant wife of Dev Chaudhry (Aditya Roy Kapur), a wealthy newspaper editor who’s yet to come to terms with the ailing of his first wife, Satya, (Sonakshi Sinha).
Despite limited screen time, Sinha brought depth and vulnerability to her portrayal. She portrayed a strong-willed woman whose decisions shaped the narrative of the film. A compassionate and understanding wife with inner conflicts, her and ARK’s love story was the most understated part of the film.
Kiara Advani, Lust Stories
Netflix anthology Lust Stories offered four short films, each directed by a different acclaimed filmmaker, exploring various aspects of human relationships and desires.
In Karan Johar’s short, Kiara Advani plays a small-town wife caught in an unfulfilling marriage, who discovers the wonders of a vibrator.
She brought a sense of longing to the character, effectively capturing the internal conflicts and emotional turmoil that Megha experiences. She showcased Megha’s initial hesitation and guilt, she desperately wants to teach her husband a thing or two about lovemaking but soon soars with liberation as she embraces her desires.
Kajol, My Name Is Khan
Kajol played the role of Mandira, a single mother who falls in love with Rizwan Khan, portrayed by Shah Rukh Khan. Her character undergoes a profound transformation after a tragic event. Mandira’s grief and anger propel her into a state of bitterness and revenge, leading her to push away the man she loves, Rizwan.
Kajol’s portrayal of Mandira was remarkable as she flawlessly depicted the character’s emotional journey. She brought depth and authenticity to Mandira’s pain, anger, and the eventual realisation that love and compassion can overcome hate and prejudice.
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