What do you get when you mix a rip-off version of Queer Eye with MTV’s Dare to Date? The answer is Netflix India’s new show ‘What the Love!’ which has been directed and hosted by Karan Johar.
The first season, which released on 30th January 2020 on the OTT platform, begins with a ‘Singles Party’ hosted by Johar. He then picks six people from that party who he feels desperately need his help in finding love, and the rest of the episodes follow each of these people through their makeover and dating journey.
While every single episode comes with a side of cringe as Johar tries to come across as exceptionally ‘woke’, episode 3 titled ‘The Eager Beaver’ is easily the worst of the lot. Unsurprisingly, this is also the only episode that focuses on finding love for someone who is not straight.
The contestant is Rabanne, a gay man who we first met at the Singles party where Johar assumed he was really into the woman he was chilling with. To no one’s surprise but Johar’s, they were both on the LGBTQ+ spectrum and interested in finding love through a same-sex relationship. While the woman is never mentioned again, Rabanne becomes one of the lucky singles to have Johar as his love guru. However, what we quickly learn is that neither the show nor Johar knows how to make space for a gay man within the structure of the episodes.
To begin with, ‘The Eager Beaver’ is the only episode where no guest comes in for the ‘Mental Makeover’ segment as Johar decides to do it himself. While the five straight contestants get curated games or activities to help them evolve as an individual, Rabanne just gets a conversation with the host- which was going to happen anyway. At one point, Johar literally tells Rabanne that since his preference is men that have a more masculine personality, he basically wants to be an ‘abhla naari’.
That is not all though, because then Johar sends him on a ‘Prep Date’ with a straight male celebrity, Ali Fazal. This extremely weird and problematic decision is explained by saying “Oh, it doesn’t matter.” If it doesn’t matter, then one might ask why all the straight contestants got celebrity dates who belonged to an intersection of gender and sexuality that actually allowed them to prepare? Disaster would be too small a word to describe the ‘date’. It is a whole chunk of time just devoted to Fazal being awkward and uncomfortable and mentioning how he is straight a bunch of times. This becomes so obvious that Johar actually comes to interrupt it, and his presence definitely feels like a rescue mission for Fazal.
Moving to the physical makeover, the in-house fashion expert Maneka tells Rabanne that his appearance probably has an intimidating effect on people. “And it’s not just the gay thing,” she says as if the ‘gay thing’ is an accessory he is wearing instead of a part of his identity. She goes on to explain that its because he is a graphic designer and has a more particular sense of style, but you can tell from the awkwardness on screen that it’s a terrible save. She then recommends more ‘boyish clothes’ as Rabanne calls them. Thankfully, Shaan who is the hair and make-up expert does not try to change the essence of his aesthetic and just helps him enhance it.
But what the show promised Rabanne was that it will get him ‘ready for love’ and that is why the dates are what both he and the viewer are looking most forward to. Surprise Surprise, he then also becomes the only contestant to have both dates go terrible. While all the straight contestants get two fairytale dates each, he doesn’t even get one.
The first person that Johar has picked for him, Rishneet, keeps violating his personal physical space and making him extremely uncomfortable by constantly kissing his cheeks, though Rabanne is clearly giving signs of discomfort. It doesn’t help that they are in an air balloon, and he will literally have to jump off to get away from the creepy advances that he is clearly saying he doesn’t want. It is at this point that I began wondering why someone from the crew didn’t intervene and just call the whole thing off. Was the montage of them on that balloon for a little longer really worth what he went through?
The second person is Adarsh who in the middle of the date says that he’ll be back in just a minute, and then bails. As Rabanne scrolls through his phone continuously checking the time and wondering when his date will be back, it becomes really obvious that he is now also the only person to be stood up on this show- which doesn’t sound like the most promising endorsement for a show that literally promises to find love for you.
Since both the dates have gone extremely south, they obviously can’t have the Bachelor-like reveal moment when we find out who Rabanne picks, and instead, Johar brings back Adarsh at the end to explain himself. He claims it was nerves, and they decide to go on a second date. This entire situation is treated like a success by the showmakers- need I say more? The only saving grace is Rabanne himself, who is positive, funny, and just overall lovely. It is impossible to not root for him while watching.
What this episode reveals above all else is how low the bar for what love means for LGBTQ+ people is for the Indian entertainment industry. Even Netflix, that is supposed to be the epitome of progressive shows and movies did not know how to help a gay man navigate love in India. Do I even need to mention how Johar’s presence didn’t help at all? He may have helped create magical moments for straight couples in the show but years of celebrating straight love on screen are clearly not the qualifier to guide LGBTQ+ love off it.