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  • Meenakshi Krishna

Has Bollywood skewed our perceptions of love?


Growing up, every Friday night, with a bowl of masala popcorn and chaat, I sat with eyes-wide-open in anticipation of Bollywood movie night. Enchanted by the charming storylines, ornate sets, and upbeat melodies, I remember getting lost in the world of Bollywood.


Eyes met on a train platform, an initial connection was made, and this led to an everlasting bond that transcended physical distance, time, or practical hardships. 90’s classics had cemented the concept in my mind that love was everlasting. In all of these love stories, no matter what happened, there was always a happy ending.


This led me to believe two mantras about love that I carried into my modern dating habits:

(1) A steamy initial interaction or strong initial infatuation had the strength to establish an everlasting bond.

(2) Never ever give up on a relationship because there will always be a happily ever after in every story.


There should have been a disclaimer in these 90’s stories: some unrealistic notions of love are presented – do not apply what you see to real life.


Perhaps there should have been an Asterisk with that final line in DDLJ, when on the big screen it stated, “Come Fall in Love.”


Instead it should have read “Come Fall In Love**”


**Not picturized: Raj & Simran were apparently born with skills that help relationships thrive, such as clear communication, setting boundaries, healthy conflict resolution, and coping mechanisms to perpetuate romance & intimacy. That is likely why their love was everlasting and happily ever after – not because of a passionate affair on a train. (Oh and stalking and following someone across the seas without his or her consent is not healthy behavior).


Growing up in this mindset of happily ever after and stepping into the realities of modern dating can be quite the culture shock to say the very least. This mentality has led me to ignore red flags in initial periods of courtships, to continue to work at situations that were clearly unhealthy, and to hold onto hope, even though there was a clear end to a relationship.


90’s Bollywood did indeed skew my perceptions of love.


***


First, let’s talk about how 90’s Bollywood may have skewed the notion of clear communication and boundaries.



Starting with the obvious, it was a clear violation of boundaries and semi-stalkerish when, ‘without Simran’s consent,’ Raj decided to continually pursue Simran. Raj’s initial persistence in the first half of the movie was romanticized and normalized. Simran’s refusal was portrayed as coy behavior that was taken as an invitation rather than a clear boundary that she was not interested. Further, without her consent, Raj even schemed to stop Simran’s wedding. An exchange of glances at the train station after Simran invited Raj to her wedding and an imagined love affair in the song, “Ho Gaya Hai Tujhko Pyaar Sajna” is not a declaration of love.


It may be argued that there may have been poetic license in the plot; Raj’s determination adds to the romanticism. It may have been symbolic that on the basis of an exchange of glances, Raj was intent on breaking the wedding. Perhaps Raj traveled all the way without permission as neither Raj nor Simran had a cellphone. Neither one of them could hop on their Macs and iMessage each other across the globe --“Hey, you into me?”


But despite poetic license, there were some clearly problematic behaviors, including poor communication and lack of consent, that were normalized in this 90’s iconic film. In modern day South Asian dating, oftentimes, one partner’s refusal is taken as an invitation, despite establishing a clear boundary, to continue to pursue aggressively. Making assumptions about love and affection is a problematic trend that Bollywood has propagated.


Setting firm and healthy boundaries is something we struggle with as a whole in South Asian culture. In dating, so many times, one party will give into persistence and consent halfheartedly. On the other hand, openly expressing affection in periods of courtships may be looked down upon as well. Therefore, Bollywood has essentially normalized that we should all be mind-readers in courtship periods and dating. We will never know when ‘no’ actually means ‘no’ or when ‘yes’ means ‘yes”.


A similar situation with poor communication and refusal to establish boundaries arose in Dil

To Paagal Hai. Throughout the movie, Rahul kept stating, “Some things are not meant to be said out loud. They must be understood.” Well, as romantic as that may have been, clearly his love mantra led to broken hearts.


Nisha, Rahul’s best friend, had professed her love to Rahul much earlier in the movie. Fully aware that he had no feelings for her, Rahul chose not to address the fact the morning after she told him she loved him. Raj chose to completely ignore that interaction and (perhaps unknowingly) continued to pursue a friendship with Nisha that oftentimes flirted with the boundary of friendship and romance.


As Rahul was actively pursuing Pooja after Nisha’s declaration of love, he ended up breaking Nisha’s heart in a more hurtful way later in the movie. This was primarily due to his poor communication skills, inability to set boundaries in his friendship with her, and lack of forthcomingness.


Just as professing love is a part of courtship, rejection is also a part of the process. Rejection is not always personal, and when handled well and with honesty, it may also save the possibility. of a healthy friendship. In modern dating, skirting around such difficult situations is a norm, and it certainly does not help that such behaviors are normalized in movies we grew up watching.


***

Lastly, let’s talk about how Bollywood propagates gender roles.


Classic dialogue from one of my favorite movies, Hum Saath Saath Hain:


“Jahan ghar ki ladies aur bachian humein hathon se khana khelayein, wahi ghar ghar hai”

Translated to: “In a home where daughters and ladies feed us [men] with their hands, that’s a real home.”


Ummm ok. No comment.


But, let’s also talk about the fact that in this movie, Preeti, a practicing and fully qualified OB-GYN is always found in the kitchen cooking. And during the one love scene she has with Prem, she is found cooking for him, serving him food, and feeding him.


Nothing wrong in cooking for a partner, if that is your choice and way of expressing affection. But not all women enjoy toiling in the kitchen, and it is a bit unrealistic and unfair to expect a career-oriented woman to carry all domestic duties as portrayed in this film. This notion is propagated by many Bollywood films -- women are always found packing a man’s suitcase, helping him get dressed, feeding the man, and more. It would be nice for once, to see a man packing a woman’s suitcase or helping her get dressed for work.


Further, if we look at KKHH, even here, there was a slight skew in portrayal of love and

gender. The entire movie, Rahul keeps on preaching, “pyar sirf ek baar hota hai” – you only fall in love once. Yet, Rahul, a man, fell in love twice? He even had a child with the first woman and now he was easily able to fall in love again with Anjali. Yet, after finding (in my opinion) an objectively more attractive, loyal, and respectful man, Anjali is not able to fall in love again.


Over eight years later, she is still fixated. This isn’t depicted as problematic, but is in fact, romanticized. So, KKHH, you mean to say there is a double standard in the ability to fall in love? Men can fall in love multiple times and even have children, while women can only fall in love once.


***


Next, let’s talk about the amount of work it actually takes to build a healthy, long-lasting relationship - because we are more realistic than to expect an initial spark is enough.


A strong initial connection and chemistry may have the power to propel and propagate a strong relationship. But I always wondered if this was enough. Perhaps the directors of 90’s films left out what happened after the lovers united for a reason.


Let’s think about what happened to Raj & Simran after they united on the train and moved to London. What would be the realities of Simran moving in with Raj — would they fight about how to split domestic chores? Would they eventually argue about how Simran never closes the toothpaste and how Raj refuses to put the toilet seat down?


After grand romantic gestures in the first year of courtship and wooing Simran with actions such as fasting with her during Karwa Chauth, what if the passion just fizzled out moving forward? As the pressures of life compounded, what if their love could not live up to the initial burst of excitement? What if one partner ended up cheating? How would they recover from that?


What ever happened to Rahul and Anjali? I was always curious if Anjali had lingering trust issues from the fact Rahul essentially chose another woman over her. To be fair, Anjali never really told Rahul how she felt (perhaps she was the one with communication issues). Nonetheless, over eight years later, Anjali was still fixated on one rejection. Bollywood romanticizes such fixation, but in real life, such fixation can indicate deeper internal challenges with self-esteem. It was alluded to several times that Anjali was still grappling with heartache and trauma. Was it realistic to expect that she would enter a healthy relationship right off the bat with Rahul? Was it not superficial now that Anjali was wearing a bit more make up and dressing up in saris that Rahul finally realized his love for her?


Getting over difficult moments in relationships and rejection is possible. However, it also requires immense self-work in away that is not as simple as 90’s Bollywood portrayed it to be. Romanticizing being hung up on someone for eight years is also problematic when paralleled in real life.


***

Despite its flaws, even today, 90’s Bollywood and the escapism it presents is always a nice getaway from the realities of life and the dating dilemmas that plague our current generation. There is certainly an appeal to the notions of love at first sight, one true love, and everlasting love. However, while we immerse ourselves in this escapism, it is also important to remember the distinction between fiction and reality.


P.S. Another plot twist -- were all of these ideas of everlasting love only valid because in the 90’s, all of these couples also did not have access to Hinge, Dil Mil, Tinder, and Bumble. Every fight with Simran, Raj did not have the option, at the convenience of his palms, to scroll through hundreds of other women and imagine the possibilities.


A story and scenario that will be explored soon ;) Stay Tuned. xoxo MK


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