Editor’s Note: This month, that is December 2020, FII’s #MoodOfTheMonth is Modern Love and Relationships, where we invite various articles to highlight how love has been fundamental in our lifeworlds and how these experiences and perceptions around love are shaped by our identities in a modern Indian context. If you’d like to share your article, email us at email@example.com.
When I first noticed the title track of the movie Dil Se (1998) on a sunny afternoon of 2010, I was quickly transported to Ladakh. In the movie, Amarkanth Varma (Shahrukh Khan), a Delhi-based broadcaster, falls for a mysterious Assamese woman, Meghna, who happens to be a suicide bomber. While listening to the song, I imagined myself at one end of the bridge (as shown in the movie) waiting for my then partner to come running towards me. Well, we actually tried doing this on our school playground, where I asked him to come running towards me but, unlike the movie, here our stunt was “caught” by our PT teacher who called our parents to school the next day.
The line of the song which inspired us to do that ‘stunt’ goes like this,
“Dil hai toh phir dard hoga;
Dard hai to dil bhi hoga,“
The lyrics of the song and the movie made me believe that love is an emotion which requires “pain”. Like, there has to be suffering, pain and complexity for any romantic relationship to bloom.
Cut to 2015, exactly five years after that playground fiasco, I watched another film, Imtiaz Ali’s Rockstar (2011). In one scene, Khatana ji, the canteen owner is lecturing Jordan, then Janardan Jhakad, on how it feels when someone is in love. He says,
“Toote huye dil se hi sangeet nikalta hai, jab dil ki lagti hai, tukde tukde hote hai, tab aati hai jhankaar. Jab tak takhlif naa ho naa life mein, koi bada nahi banta.”
I thought if a character in Imtiaz Ali’s film is saying something like this, then it’s a fact that love is only felt when you’re in pain.
Not undermining the artistic abilities of Imtiaz Ali, Mani Ratnam, A.R. Rahman or other creators who were involved in the making of these films. I love the songs and will probably not stop listening to them. My idea is to highlight the message I received after watching these films and how popular culture, in general, fosters a flawed idea of love.
Hence, during the lock-down, I decided to re-watch some of the movies again and my first choice was Dil Se (1998). While watching, I realised that it promoted a very false, toxic and unrealistic idea of love. Apart from the excellent cinematography and the complex theme, I didn’t find the story line particularly appealing. The male protagonist was undoubtedly a sexual harasser who, despite being constantly reprimanded by the woman (Manisha Koirala’s character), continued touching, bullying and even invading her personal space. But it was (and still is) hailed as a masterpiece and it is said that the movie was “way ahead of its time”.
Indeed, the movie was a gamut of creative talent: a lyricist like Gulzar, music composer like A.R.Rahman, dialogue writer like Tigmanshu Dhulia – all the ingredients for a cinematic masterpiece. The misogyny of the character, however, was camouflaged by the creative pool of the industry.
The Blame Game
The incident where I asked my 15-year-old boyfriend to imitate the bridge scene from Dil Se had a lasting impression on me, not in terms of the act of doing something like that, but what followed. The film, which made me do that ‘stunt’, had a massive flaw. It projected that a heterosexual relationship with two non-consenting adults, who are in immense pain and drowned in complexities, epitomise the true essence of love.
The other mainstream movies, which I consumed while growing up (and I still consume) normalised the same idea and came with an underlying thought of sacrifice. It majorly ignored the inherent patriarchal, misogynistic, classiest and casteist context of the emotion (love).
Modern-day society has embraced a capitalist concept of love, in my opinion. The popular airport scene, for instance, which is repeatedly shown in movies and song sequences, make us crave for the same in real life where we imagine ourselves re-uniting with our loved one at the airport as the melancholic music plays in the background. In the year 1956, social philosopher Erich Fromm (1956) proposed the “effects of capitalism on love”, where he wrote,
“Automatons cannot love; they can exchange their ‘personality packages’ and hope for a fair bargain. (..) Two persons thus fall in love when they feel they have found the best object available on the market, considering the limitations of their own exchange values.”
In Indian context, these personality exchanges come with their own set of boundaries of who can love whom. Considering the wave of polarised politics in the country, love definitely is not free. It comes with a price tag and is loaded with privileges. We are told that based on our background we deserve better, therefore; we keep swiping left until the “perfect package” pops up. Looking at the changing sociological scenario, we assume we have a choice and are free to date anyone, but are these choices free?
Tara Maheshwari, the lead protagonist in the movie Tamasha (2015) is a smart, independent and fearless woman who decides to take a solo trip abroad. Infatuated by Ved’s character in the movie, she waits for him for four years and finally decides to confess her love. She helps him with his insecurities and even puts up with his erratic behaviour (because of his bipolar characteristics, which is obviously not clearly shown in the movie) which in turn gives rise to more dysfunctional masochism.
She is the woman who makes the man find his way wherein the man gets the ample screen time where we see him being lost and struggling to discover his career choices. In Tara, we see the similar ‘saviour syndrome’ like we saw in Rockstar(2011), where Heer says to Jordan, “Aao mein tumhe bacha lungi” (Come here, I will save you). A syndrome arising from a saviour complex where someone feels compelled to save other people – an offshoot of patriarchy, as many scholars argue.
In a panel discussion ‘To Love or Not to Love: Redefining romance on Hindi Celluloid’ conducted by Nasreen Munni Kabir, Imtiaz Ali had said, “The mystery of romance is lost today. People are interacting with each other so much that there is no mystery left. You know, my daughter is growing up and I think she is also missing out the beauty of mystery that we used to have in our time.” We need to understand that these traits might look appealing on the screen, but they clearly do not work in real life. Savior complexes can be harsh on both the partners, regardless of which side you are on. There is no mystery attached to the idea of love, it involves consenting adults with human connection and it is not about decoding the Bermuda Triangle conspiracy!
As for Ved’s character, I think the presence of someone like him in my life will only make me anxious and cause me severe anxiety – nothing more. But when you watch stories like these on the big screen with Rahman’s music and Gulzar’s lyrics, you unconsciously start romanticising problematic behavior. You automatically assume that love is more complicated, selfless and maddening; it is bigger than your rationality and sanity.
What Is Next?
bell hooks, a feminist scholar and cultural critic writes in her book All About Love, “We would all love better if we used it as a verb.” Where she says, it is not something to be defined, but it’s a verb to be acted upon.
On the other hand, the movies and the songs teach us that we have absolutely no control over our “feelings” and that it is complex and mysterious. Yet most of us are conscious of the choices we make and accept that our actions have consequences. If you are constantly thinking about your intimate partner day in and out, it is not a healthy relationship and is rather toxic. Constantly decoding the words, gaps and actions of the other person and romanticizing the lack of communication can only bring you harm.
One of the common strings that connects these movies and songs (I mentioned above) is the idealisation and romanticisation of mental health. In Tamasha(2015), there is a scene where Tara is attending a conference on Bipolar Disorder (which you can only notice if you pause and take a closer look) and the film probably hints on the fact that Ved might be suffering from one. The film, however, uses Rahman’s music and beautiful cinematography to romanticise the emotional vulnerability of the two adults, wherein more attention is paid to Ved’s journey. For the majority of the second half of the film, I was wondering ‘what is going on in Tara’s life?’
The responsibility lies with Bollywood, capitalism and the Internet – all that have caused confusion and chaos in our romantic lives where we treat love as an object to consume. The aim of the article is not to incite a person to boycotting the three ghouls mentioned above. Rather it is to highlight my personal journey of consuming such content. At some point of time, we are maturing in terms of showing vulnerable men on the screen like in Ved in Tamasha (2015) but in the hindsight, we are also losing grip on how we show other people around that person. If we think these projections are not affecting our psyche and patterns of how we think love is or should be, we are living in delusion.
The Other Way
Margaret Fuller, a women’s rights advocate, an American journalist, a prolific critic, and someone associated with the American transcendentalism movement, wondered if she was capable and “fitted to be loved”(Warfal, 1935) . A choice of the word “fitted” is both tragic and curious at the same time as it implies whether she could contain and discipline herself. Looking at her past romantic proposals, she pushed herself hard to understand the psyche of her intimate partners, earn their affection and wrote long poems in the darkness thinking and longing for them. She confesses, “I have given almost all my young energies to personal relations.”
The flawed concept of love has been designed and perpetuated by patriarchy. While it has undeniably affected men as well, I also feel the impact has been disproportionately higher on women. Women with saviour attitude are not just a product of movies alone but also the byproduct of emotional and unpaid labour we have observed in our family and society. The “keeping up” and the burden of maintaining a relationship falls unconsciously on women. The patriarchy forces women to “feel” more and take care of the small signals when it comes to their partner or partnership.
Personally, I feel I have a privilege to be able to understand how the popular culture shaped my thoughts and affected my relationship patterns. There is a stigma attached to acknowledging and discussing relationship anxiety. The present notions governed by our society makes us believe that it is a trivial issue and does not require our attention. However, the truth is that the anxiety has the ability to overpower all the facets of life if not paid attention to.
Sadly, the idea of love in the present time is highly supervised and comes with several labels. It is surely not free and is tied to the chains of caste, class, religion, gender. From my personal experience, the popular culture, hence, manipulates how we perceive love, so much so that we fail to recognize whether we are undergoing something known as relationship anxiety or just a Karan Johar/Imtiaz Ali love syndrome.
German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer coined a term, “the central paradox of intimacy”, while describing the general behaviour of porcupines huddling together for warmth during extreme winter. When they draw closer, he says, they begin wounding each other with their quills, but once warmed and safe they instantly draw apart, only to find themselves shivering and longing for the heat of each other’s bodies again. Over a period of time, they realise that unwinding warmth lies in the right span of space – close enough to share a greater collective temperature, but not so close as to inflict the pricks of proximity.
In a similar way, a relationship needs that awareness of proximity and healthy boundaries, not self-inflicted dard and pain.
- The art of loving: The centennial edition. A&C Black.
- Does love conquer all? An experiment testing the association between types of romantic comedy content and reports of romantic beliefs and life satisfaction.
- Attached: The new science of adult attachment and how it can help you find-and keep-love.
- Figuring. Vintage.
- Philosophical Writings: Arthur Schopenhauer (Vol. 27). Bloomsbury Publishing USA
- Margaret Fuller and Ralph Waldo Emerson. Publications of the Modern Language Association of America, 576-594.
- ‘To Love or Not to Love. Redefining romance on Hindi Celluloid’ by Nasreen Munni Kabir