Editor’s Note: FII’s #MoodOfTheMonth for February, 2022 is Redefining Love. We invite submissions on the many layers of love, throughout the month. If you’d like to contribute, kindly email your articles to email@example.com
It has been over a week since the release of the much awaited Bollywood movie Gehraiyaan and social media is abuzz with reviews, which are either overwhelmingly celebratory in tone or downright critical. It is not often that a film induces such a polarised response as Gehraiyaan, and when it does, it is important to see what elements carry the power to polarise people so powerfully and unitedly.
Directed by Shakun Batra, starring Ananya Pandey, Deepika Padukone, Dhairya Karwa and Siddhant Chaturvedi in the lead, the trailer of Gehraiyaan itself says a lot. Just like the trailer, the story at the onset seems to be one revolving around infidelity and thus, one is likely to view the story with a borrowed gaze: that of relationships going astray and a hope for their resolution.
Perhaps then, as audiences, there is a set of expectations out of the film, the prominent one being that perhaps the film in its treatment of infidelity, would throw light on its rightful resolution and allow us to have a “101 Guide to Modern Love”. But the story does not do that. It ends on a cliffhanger. Just like real life, this reel life love is also messy, incomplete and indefinite in the way it is experienced and performed.
Why is Gehraiyaan being called out and what does it say of us?
While on one hand, viewers have appreciated the nuanced and layered characters of the film and its treatment of love and adultery, there has been much rage on the other side with generic statements like the film regurgitates the regular Bollywood triangular love drama trope or the fact that it is laden with sex and is almost pornographic. But what stands out most is the concern with ‘infidelity’.
Infidelity haunts us as a society, it is the line no one must cross, and least of all, women. But Alisha does it, Zain does it. And that irks us. However, Gehraiyaan in its treatment of infidelity is rather nuanced. Alisha does not fall in love with Zain, and Zain does not fall in love with Alisha in a reactive or reflexive manner.
There is a context to it and that context is neither boredom nor a search for adventure. The presence of a context does not legitimise the act of cheating but it does underline that unlike popular wisdom, infidelity does not stem from boredom or a search for adventure or novelty. It stems from a lack of depth to it. Depth, as manifesting and understandable in the multitude of its expressions.
Alisha, does not stop loving Karan. They have a shared history and an idea of love, enmeshed in a shared childhood. Interestingly, Zain’s love with Tia is also enmeshed in a particular context; of commonality of experience as two Indian adults in America charting adulthood together. And finally, Alisha and Zain’s love emerges in a different context, that of shared childhood traumas characterised by discordant parental relations.
The commonality of the experiences of love here is that the nature of love experienced varies as the histories of the people involved changes. In fact, each love is an attempt to fulfill a particular need and aspect of one’s persona. It is perhaps here that the idea of polyamory becomes relevant and worth a detour.
Alternative relationships and our insistence on monogamy
Polyamory is the practice of having two or more romantic relationships simultaneously with the consent and knowledge of all partners. It is different from polygamy (where a man has multiple partners, without the consent of the parities involved), polygyny (where a woman has multiple partners without the consent of the parties involved, swinging (where committed couples exchange partners for sexual purpose) and open relationships (where a married couple consentually have relationship outside their primary relationship; often such an arrangement comes with a pre-established hierarchy of primary and secondary relationships).
These relationship alternatives described to polyamory present two concerns, one that a certain hierarchy exists within the partners one has and the other that individual consent is peripheral to the picture.
Among many limitations of a monogamous relationship, one is the inability of all our esteem and belongingness needs to be met and provided for by one single person. The idea of one soulmate, which the society feeds us through all media like art, music, literature and morality glorify monogamous romantic relationships.
In fact, it is not just glorification, but also a certain pedestalisation where marriages or relationships that do not adhere to the monogamous ideal are looked down upon with a certain disdain. It is worth introspection as to why the society invests so much into ensuring the reinforcement of the ideals of monogamy.
Perhaps one of the reasons could be that monogamy compliments patriarchy by allowing absolute sexual control of women. But it is likely as many scholars believe that the genesis of monogamy maybe rooted in the idea that motherhood is a biological truth and fatherhood, only a social one. Clearly then, establishing that paternity is easier within monogamous marital relations.
Obviously, there is then a certain economic motive too, to the act of determination of property. As property entered into the civilizational picture, it became important for men (property-owners) to pass it on to their rightful heirs. Monogamy then came to the rescue of the early man.
In the modern capitalist world, the continuation of monogamy takes a different causal factor. Laura Kipnis, in her recent work notes that marriage is an insidious social construct harnessed by capitalism to get us to have kids and work harder to support them.
Coming back to where we started, while nothing legitimizes the act of infidelity, perhaps it is worth changing the gaze with which we look at it. Is infidelity a people problem or is it an institutional problem (where institution refers to marriage)? And if it is the latter, perhaps liberating ourselves from the normative and dominant narratives of love and sexuality are contingent.
In Gehraiyaan, the relationships are not polyamorous because there is no consent from the other partners, but perhaps our moral unwillingness to look at the ensuing infidelity as a possible quest for alternative and simultaneous personal connections stems from our reluctance to look beyond the conditioning of monogamy as the only legitimate method of sustaining intimacy.
Gehraiyaan also explores themes of friendship, psychological well-being, emotional health and the manifestation of intergenerational trauma. In its exploration of these themes, it underline, a very crucial idea – that of emotional literacy. It is here that the title of the movie resonates with its message. Emotional literacy, in its most basic sense requires one to step into the depth of one’s emotional state, literally into all its Gehraiyaan.
The film feels incomplete. Perhaps, it is meant to. The lack of conclusion resembles the ins and outs of our lives. Incomplete, and always in a polemic with the last chapter.