Monday, February 18, 2008

Love in Hindi Cinema

First of all, I apologize for the rather ordinary title to this post. I’d much rather have put up something funkier and more eye-catching, but I am very sleepy, at work and rather brain-dead. So I’ll let the mundane prevail.

This is something that occurred to me while I was going to work one morning. I listen to the radio while going and coming back, and flip through channels rather swiftly (much to the agony of my driver- should I say chauffeur or ‘the person who controls my vehicle’ for the benefit of all the Marxist-Socialist-politically correct-opposed to demeaning terms like driver and servant- types?- anyhow you get the point, for he is rather possessive about the music system in the car). And I realized that the sound track of the movie ‘Taare Zameen Par’ is very, very popular. No matter how much I surf, it’s playing on one station or the other. It got me thinking about how refreshing a non-love theme in a movie can be. And how nice it is once in a while to not hear a song praising the lips or hair or eyes of some woman, or making promises of undying, faithful afflictions.

As a disclaimer, I am not trying to eulogize movies which address socially sensitive concepts, or ‘arty-farty’ movies. In fact, I don’t consider myself much of an authority on the subject of movies in the first place. For that, you should talk to some of my friends, who can spend hours painstakingly educating you on anything and everything about movies. I just enjoy watching movies for the time that I am watching them, like them or dislike them, and in all probability forget salient features about the movie, no matter how much I’ve liked pretty soon. All I am commenting on is that it is simply so fresh and new to see something other than the standard love story on celluloid.

I have been wondering why the concept of love is so popular with Hindi Cinema. Every movie, almost, in the commercial stream has a love-story at its centre. Even movies which are working on another them have an ancillary love story. It seems like Indian film-makers don’t have much else to talk about, or are aware that nothing else will sell as much. You have the poor boy falling for the rich girl, fighting social odds and evens, overcoming all possible problems and goons her father sends, and finally, managing to marry her. Or you have the rich guy fooling around with the poor girl, dumping her, and coming back to her at the end of three hours. A preliminary question I want to raise about the depiction of love in these movies is, how do the actors know it’s “love”? How can they be so sure after a chance meeting on the train, or a sighting from the balcony or a bit of a fight in a shopping mall? From the little experience that I’ve had with love or its cousins, I don’t think it is so easy to determine when it is the right thing- when it is ‘that’ which is worth eloping for. Anyhow, like I said, this is simply a preliminary query, and I digress from the main focus of this post. Coming back, why is it that there’s a love story at the heart or on the surface, or (most often) all through a Hindi movie?

I’m not sure it is the correct answer, but I think the monotony of the theme can be linked to the fact that ours is not a particularly permissive society. Harmless flirting, serious courting, falling in love, marrying someone of your choice, telling your parents you’re in ‘love’ are all things which most Indian families would (or did, hopefully!) regard as bordering blasphemous. Maybe an era of restrictive society, backdoor romances, sly courtings, rare elopings gave rise to a population which seeks solace in love and romance being portrayed on the big screen, in being given hope that despite their own boring, middle-class existence where they go home to the same wife and whining, there is spring and beauty and blossoms in this world. Perhaps, Indian cinema with its focus on the theme of love has given room and image to the imagination of thousands of Indians who never dared to think outside the arranged marriage regime. Most of all, I think it presents an escape route into a world of dream-girls who are otherwise unattainable, and whose existence is in fact, not even taken too seriously; into a world very different from theirs, where even a 9 to 5 office-going clerk can have splashes of colour thrown in by some pretty damsel on the bus stop.

That’s the reason I can think of for the obsessive-compulsive love filmmaking we have. Can you think of something else? But filmmakers, a plea to you- it does get boring and monotonous after a while. Please do a rethink, while our parents are (again hopefully :)) doing one.

This isn't the promised post on 'Love'. That'll come up soon.