He was on “paternity leave”. And he hadn’t stepped into the office since March 28. His twin babies Roohi and Yash Johar, born two-and-half months prematurely on February 7, were discharged from hospital on March 29. And overnight the ‘Unsuitable Boy’ turned into ‘Superstar Dad’. The babies had taken over his life. They are now his world. I don’t think Karan, otherwise a notorious workhorse of a filmmaker and arguably Bollywood’s most inveterate party animal, has been out much in the last 18 days. Or thought about work. He quite simply has his hands full at home.
This is unprecedented for Bollywood’s most celebrated producer and director. The staff at Dharma, and his mother Hiroo Johar, used as they are to Karan’s “non-stop mad energy” (as Shah Rukh Khan put it), are amazed at the change. But he’s in office today because a high-powered team from Amazon Studios is knocking on Bollywood’s doors. With that out of the way, Karan sat down for the mother of all chats with me – yes, pun intended.
I don’t know what he offers his guests on Koffee with Karan, given that he sips Diet Coke himself out of a coffee cup. I have regular machine-made coffee from Dharma’s pantry. I’ve been warned that the honest and outspoken Karan doesn’t want to talk about fatherhood. He’s just 66 days into the role. But Bollywood’s newest and most extraordinary single parent enthusiastically has answers even for the questions I don’t ask. He is a doting father and a fussy mother. He only interrupts our conversation five times to take calls from the twins’ paediatrician. So I sit back and enjoy my coffee while the proud papa does all the talking…
‘This is my biggest blockbuster’
“My life has changed since Roohi and Yash arrived. At 44, this is my biggest blockbuster. I still haven’t realised the enormity of what’s happened. They’re only two months old. And all they do is eat, sleep, burp, wail and poop. Kabhi khushi, kabhie gham! While I stare at them in wonder. But I can’t get over the fact that they are mine. It’s like a powerful switch has suddenly come on in my life, filling the emptiness in my personal space with new energy. I get teary-eyed just looking at them. It’s surreal to think of them as my daughter and son. It’s daunting even, but in a gorgeous way, when I wake up suddenly at night to remember that I have life breathing in the next room that I’m totally accountable for. My universe was Dad, Mom and films. But now there are Roohi and Yash. My two new friends.
“I’m going to bring Roohi and Yash to the office. Why not! Aren’t they productions of Dharma Productions? . I want them to be all over the place.”
When they were born, I knew that my work, travel and social commitments would take a backseat because I’d want to give them unconditional love, care and attention. And now that they are home, I cannot stay away from them for long. It’s only been hours since I’ve been away, and look at me! I’m sharply aware of the time, I keep looking at my phone, because it’s the channel to my kids. I’ve decided that as soon as they are old enough, and before they start school, I’m going to bring Roohi and Yash to the office. Why not! Aren’t they productions of Dharma Productions? I want everybody here to know them. I want them to be all over the place. And I’m already looking at building a crèche here. It will be like Disneyland! I’m also looking forward to them travelling with me when I go outstation on shoots. Bebo’s son Taimur is a few months older than Roohi and Yash, and she and I have already started making plans for holidays together!”
An emotion-packed welcome home
“The day they came home from the hospital is an experience that’s going to stay etched in my memory. Like the premier of Kuch Kuch Hota Hai in 1998. It was my first film and I still remember every moment. What I wore. What I said. The day I carried Roohi and Yash home was like that. Life changing. Actually, it was a full on K3G moment! Very dramatic. With my Mom proudly standing at the door like Jaya Aunty holding a puja thali with burning diyas to welcome not her bahu – but her grandkids, all my aunts crowded behind her. I took my babies straight into the room where my father’s picture is placed. When I saw their reflection in the glass, merging with his image, I closed my eyes in gratitude and experienced the awe of the moment. I knew they had his blessings. These are scenes out of a film but drawn from real life. For me, that was a moment of faith. But it was only the trailer. Picture abhi baki hai!
“I took my babies straight into the room where my father’s picture is placed. When I saw their reflection in the glass, merging with his image, I closed my eyes in gratitude and experienced the awe of the moment.”
Fatherhood is proving to be a breathtaking rollercoaster ride. When they were conceived, I was ecstatic, but I told myself I would be a responsible father and not a paranoid mother. Then came the complexities of premature birth. And the heartache of seeing them in the incubator. But I felt a strong sense of ownership. They were my lifelines. A lifelong dream come true. And I couldn’t wait to take them in my arms. When I did that for the first time, it was incredible. I knew this was the beginning of a different kind of love story. The start of the best phase of my life. Mothers go through these emotions. Fathers come in later. But I was there right from the start, with the other mothers in the ICU whose babies were also born weighing less than 1.5 kilos, their vital body parts, their tiny lungs and heart underdeveloped. And each time a baby crossed 2 kilos and the nurses put up a smiley sunshine face announcing this, I would celebrate with their mothers because I fully empathised with them.”
‘Who’s to tell me that I can’t be a responsible parent
“A single father is unusual in India. There are some famous single fathers in the world, celebs who were brave to have babies out of surrogacy, like Cristiano Ronaldo and Ricky Martin. But I wasn’t inspired by them. Or by anybody. I know Tusshar Kapoor took the step first. And what he did was amazing. But by the time his son Laksshya was born, my procedure had also started. I feel connected to Tusshar by our common decision. You can’t be inspired by anybody to have a baby out of surrogacy. You have to be emotionally ready. I was also prepared mentally, physically and logistically.
“I was ready for fatherhood. But was I prepared for twins? I was ready for triplets!”
At 40, I wasn’t ready. But two years ago, I decided I needed to bring this new energy into my life. I didn’t want to be a victim of my achievements. It’s easy to get carried away by who I am. But I never wanted to be defined by my professional successes. I thought I had lived half my life, and all the things I had done were great, but what about things I hadn’t done? Your achievements are transitional. Emotions are permanent. I had been thinking about having a child for a long time. And I knew I had the capacity to be an adequate parent. I’ve nurtured so many people in the film industry, so many young actors, I’ve been like a parent to them more than a producer and director. I’ve been with them in their professional highs and their emotional meltdowns. But I played devil’s advocate with myself. Was I being selfish? Did I want to have a child only because I was afraid of growing old alone? Would I be an overprotective and overindulgent father because I wouldn’t want my child to accuse me of being a flawed parent and grow up missing a mother? But who’s to tell me that I can’t be a responsible parent, and the best mother and father in the world to my kid? This was an emotional, well-thought-out decision made after acknowledging and addressing all the issues facing me, and after considering all the responsibilities and duties that come with being a single parent. I was ready for fatherhood. But was I prepared for twins? I was ready for triplets!”
‘I introduce every visitor to Roohi and Yash by name .’
“Now, of course, my babies are the superstars of my universe. Ever since they came home, I’ve been like a mother, a father and a well-behaved housewife. People have been dropping in non-stop to see them, they come in shifts, and I’ve been running around serving them tea and snacks. Alia Bhatt comes every other day and sits for hours. I’m not paranoid about people wanting to hold my babies. Roohi and Yash are not royalty and meant to be stared at from behind a glass window. But I insist they sanitise their hands and take off their footwear first. Babies absorb energy. I like to think they are making eye contact with everyone but they’re just looking into oblivion. I like to imagine they are smiling in recognition but actually they’re just passing gas! The love and support I’m getting from friends who are family is phenomenal. Everybody feels a sense of responsibility towards me and mine. Even old friends who have reconnected with me after their birth. Everybody says they are now so happy for me. I’m surprised. I didn’t know so many people were unhappy for me earlier! I wish I had known. I was living a life of delusion thinking everything was great. But I would have enjoyed a moment of self-pity.
“People have been dropping in non-stop to see them, they come in shifts, and I’ve been running around serving them tea and snacks. Alia Bhatt comes every other day and sits for hours.”
I introduce every visitor to Roohi and Yash by name. ‘This is your Chacha and this is your Bua!’ I give them all a family tag. I want my babies to know that their family is large. It’s not just Mom and me, though my mother is my biggest support. She’s had multiple surgeries for the spine, for her hips, knees, she’s been in and out of hospital constantly. But you should see her now. Full of zing! She’s up early, fully made up and with her hair done, ready to face a new day with her grandkids. I’ve never seen her looking younger than she is today.
I want all the help I can I get. I have an entire library of books on baby care. I haven’t read any of them! But I listen to all the advice mothers give me. I’m on several WhatsApp baby groups. Everybody has their own gyan. And I’ve received about 3,000 suggestions already. On paediatricians, nurses, how to make the nursery adaptive, what music to play for them – Baby Mozart or Baby Beethoven – dude, when did all this happen? – or simple nursery rhymes, which formula is best – Nan Pro, Similac or Enfamil, how to burp them, monitor their temperatures, when to take them for their immunity shots, what to do if they have nappy rash, what to do when they cry, I listen to everybody and then take my own decisions. I could give paranoid mothers a master class! People ask if I’m a hands-on parent. Do I change my babies’ nappies? I think this is overrated. It doesn’t add up to anything. Changing nappies is not going to go into their energy streams. I don’t remember my parents changing mine. But I remember being held and hugged. Even then, I did it once. The first time Roohi and Yash came home, because I felt it would be great if I was able to clean up their mess. But it was like ticking an inbox! I don’t want to be that kind of hands-on parent when I can be a fulltime heart-on father and mother!”