How the concept of love stories has evolved over the years

Bollywood movies

Bollywood movies

Aye sun, sun lena
Sun mera kehna tu

Oh, ghaflat mein
Gaflat mein na rehna tu

Ki tere mere beech mein kya hai
Yeh tere mere beech mein kya hai

Hmm chaddar

Mili mili hai
Zara khili khili hai
Finally chali hai meri love life

–Tere Mere Beech Mein Kya Hai, a song from film Shuddh Desi Romance (2013)

Hum Apne Baare Mein Joh Bhi Kahenge Jhoot Kahenge … Aur Jhoot Ke Sivah Kuch Nahi Kahenge

–a dialogue from film Tamasha (2015)

Hum Kyun Nahi Ek Doosre Ko I Love You Jaisi Stupid Baatein Bolenge … Kyun Ki Phir Sab Emotional Ho Jaata Hai, Senti Ho Jaata Hai Aur Masti Ka The End Ho Jaata Hai

–a dialogue from film Befikre (2016)

These are not snatches of disparate and disconnected exchanges. They are evocative retailing of how the theme of ‘love stories’ or ‘romance’ in Hindi cinema has evolved in recent years. In the song from the film Shuddh Desi Romance, which explores how young generation in cities beyond metros looks at romantic relationships, when the hero asks the heroine what is that binds them together, the heroine says, ‘Quilt.’ When she is asked again the same question, she says, ‘Conversations.’ Even though the song is a celebration of love, the hero and the heroine refrain from using the term ‘love’ to convey what binds them together and instead keep things implicit. In dialogues from films such as Tamasha (2015) and Befikre (2016), one senses how unconventionality in love stories in Hindi cinema has taken a leap and acquired a new meaning. These dialogues evidently point out how a flippant and casual approach has seeped into love stories in Hindi cinema and how couples in relationships would do everything that is expected of a typical romantic couple but they would refuse to acknowledge even a slight possibility of love between them. They have incisive clarity of what not to do in relationships but not of what to do in relationships. Young lovers in recent Hindi films cling on to a relationship that offers ephemeral and convenient aspects of friendship and help circumvent demands that make a romantic relationship enduring. Is this a reflection of the times we live in? This can only be understood by looking at how ‘obstacles’ in love stories in Hindi cinema have shifted from socio-economic environment to conflicting, commitment-phobic and wavering nature of the lovers.

The external factor

Love stories in Hindi cinema for a large part of the 1950s and 1960s were sub-plots of main stories which were mostly drama films with a large amount of social commentary in them. Prominent films such as Awaara (1951), Bandini (1963), Sujata (1959), Shree 420 (1955), Pyaasa (1957), Deedar (1951), Daag (1952) , Baazi (1951), Taxi Driver (1954), Kala Bazaar (1960), Kala Pani (1958) and Guide (1965) explored social themes with love stories in the background. There is a telling scene in film Awaara where Nargis’s character cautions Raj Kapoor’s character that she is changing clothes and gentlemen (Shareef) do not come near women when they are changing clothes. Raj Kapoor’s character asks Nargis’s character, “Main Shareef (gentleman) Nahi hoon na??” She says, “Nahi. Tum Junglee (savage) Ho.” This reply shifts the focus of the interaction from an innocuous romantic playfulness to a tirade by Raj Kapoor’s character on how being a part of the have-nots make him a misfit among the high class people. His character says, “I am penniless, uneducated tramp! I don’t fit into high society! How dare I maul your fragile body by my beastly hands! Good That you have told me my class.” Dr. Piyush Roy, film historian and critic, Centre for South Asian Studies, University of Edinburgh, points out, “The theme of love stories and the nature of their unfolding in Indian cinema have been fairly reflective of the dominant, part socially preferred and part revolutionary, idealised/utopian ideas and notions around romance of their times. Hence a film like Pyaasa or Mere Mehboob could have happened in the 1950s and 1960s when wooing was an art to be appreciated and excelled in.” There were a few love stories which served as clear templates for future Hindi films. Prominent among these were Andaz (1949), Tere Ghar Ke Saamne (1963), Nau Do Gyarah (1957), and Bombai Ka Babu (1960). One film that proved to be an exception in portrayal of love story in Hindi cinema in the 1960s was Guide (1965). It was the first Hindi film to explore theme of a married woman abandoning her unfaithful husband and choosing to stay with the man she loves.

In the 70s, with socio-economic changes such as rising unemployment, poverty, emergency and the rise of ‘Angry Young Man’ persona, love stories in Hindi cinema did not have much prominence in the central plot. Jyotika Virdi, associate professor in the Department of Communication, University of Windsor in Ontario, Canada in her book The Cinematic ImagiNation: Social History Through Indian Popular Films points out, “In the 1970s romantic love became less central as Hindi cinema took a turn toward gangster films. Stories of individual revenge against social injustice, mediated through elaborate family melodramas, proliferated. Amitabh Bachchan’s pre-eminence eclipsed women’s roles: the attrition of the romance subplot limited the space for women characters, turning them into liminal figures in narratives centred on a newfound masculinity. The proliferating gangster-cum-action films revealed corruption in high places, avaricious “antinational” elements, and profiteering by wealthy smugglers and were eagerly consumed by audiences throughout the 1970s and 1980s, becoming integral to Hindi cinema.”

There were, however, few love stories which redefined the genre and created a benchmark in Hindi cinema. One such film was Bobby (1973). It emerged as one of the early films which showed teenagers as lovers in an entertaining and engaging way. Jyotika Virdi of University of Windsor points out in her book, “In Bobby, puppy love confronts patriarchal authority. The teen lovers face parental authority’s power to summon privileges of class and the support of the state via its restrictive age of consent laws.” The film had such an instant connection with the youth that today Bobby has become a benchmark in not only teenage love story but in the genre itself. Virdi observes in her book, “Curiously, Bobby’s astonishing success was not replicated for almost two decades, when the narrative elements of young love and defiance of parental authority became established genre conventions.” Other love stories that also provided template for future love were Abhimaan (1973), Avishkaar (1974), Koshish (1972), Rajnigandha (1974), Mili (1975) and Ankhiyon Ke Jharokhon Se (1978).

In the 1980s, with a few exception of love stories such as Ek Duje Ke Liye (1981), Love Story (1981), Ijazzat (1987), Ram Teri Ganga Maili (1985), and Sagar (1985), action films dominated a large part of the decade. However, in the late 80s, two films came as a whiff of fresh air. One is Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak (QSQT) (1988) and other was Maine Pyaar Kiya (1989). QSQT explored a Romeo and Juliet kind of love story in which families of the lovers shared a tragic past which created rift and hatred in them for each other. Maine Pyaar Kiya, directed by Sooraj Barjatya, was a benchmark for future love stories in the true sense of the word. It showed the importance of proving oneself as a worthy match and winning the consent of the families without resorting to unconventional ways of union was possible. It showed how one can love and accept social acceptance even with values that form the bedrock of Indian culture.

Post liberalisation of India (after 1992), after Maine Pyaar Kiya, Sooraj Barjatya made film Hum Aapke Hain Kaun (1994), which showed how ‘home’ becomes the background for romance and how family serves as a supporting link in the blossoming of a romantic relationship. Both Maine Pyaar Kiya (1989) and Hum Aapke Hain Kaun (1994) served as inspiration for future narratives on love themes such as Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jaayenge (1995) in which even when one transcends national boundaries one does not abandon the values and seek consent of families by proving one’s worthiness. This was followed also Kuch Kuch Hota Hain (1998). In subsequent years, the theme of love began coming into the foreground in Hindi cinema. Jyotika Virdi of University of Windsor in her book observes, “Over the twentieth century love became increasingly important in the pursuit of happiness, and was defined hedonistically in “individualistic and private terms.” Love is entwined with marriage and conjugal bliss as true happiness, and the happy ending is married life.”

On the whole the reading of the theme of romance in Hindi cinema can be summed up in an observation from the Encyclopaedia of Hindi Cinema edited by Gulzar, Govind Nihalani and Saibal Chatterjee. It says, “Romance in Hindi cinema does not depict as much of an individual’s spiritual, emotional and individual growth, and the sublime as it asserts the right of the individual to exercise his or her choice.” It is fairly evident that obstacles or conflicts required in love stories in the aforementioned films were provided by external factors. Causes for obstacles or conflicts in love stories before liberalisation of India were parents’ undisputed say in the union, social and economic divides, customs and rituals, caste, and other external factors. In these love stories despite these obstacles there is one clear trend: the remarkable clarity and acknowledgement of romance of equal intensity in couples. They never doubted their love for each other. They doubted the social acceptance of their love for each other. Contrary to this, in the past one decade, there has been a market shift in the way love stories have evolved.

Inner obstacle

Recent love stories in Hindi cinema such as Tamasha (2015), Shudh Desi Romance (2013), Love Aaj Kal (2009), and Befikre (2016), show a distinct pattern where the role of obstacle or conflict has shifted from external to internal–characters themselves are obstacles. Nasreen Munni Kabir, author, film historian and documentary filmmaker, points out, “I think love stories in older films often had obstacles in parents. Parents would not agree to the love. Now parents have no say in anything. Therefore there is no obstacle. In any drama if there is no obstacle you have to create an obstacle. So obstacle in today’s love stories is not an external one. It is neither the villain nor the parent but it is the internal dilemma of whether people are really in love or do they want to commit. This is a biggest change: the inner obstacle, which is interior to the character.”

Given this, an immediate question that comes to mind is what could have triggered this shift? Rachel Dwyer, professor of Indian Cultures and Cinema, University of London, feels these modern love stories are valuation of friendship as a serious relationship. She says, “Perhaps it is the valuation of friendship as a serious and fulfilling relationship that is part of the shift. The idea that romantic love isn’t the only important relationship one forms outside one’s family. A relationship that doesn’t have to become part of a family but stands apart from it.” There is also a cultural context to these love stories which can be traced back to classics in Indian mythology. Sanjay Ranade, assistant professor, department of journalism and communications, University of Mumbai points out, “It is an old expression area. It is a story of Dushyant and Shakuntala. These love stories are a contemplation on the journey from the point when Dushyant loses the ring and till he finds it. The point is the ring is found ultimately. Whenever you come across love stories where couple say they are romantically interested in each other, it is a story of a lost ring. You see there is a background to it. There is some ring that is going around. There is some fish which eats the ring and a fisherman catches the fish and then finally finds a ring in it.” He says, “The male in recent love stories does not remember anything while the woman remembers everything. Consider the film Yeh Jawaani Hain Deewani (2013). Deepika Padukone’s character remembers everything while Ranbir Kapoor’s character is fooling around and then due to some trick of events they come together. This is the underlying theme of most of these love stories. The entire frame of such love stories is of denial.” He adds, “Another peculiar aspect of Dushyant and Shakuntala story that matches with these recent love stories is the aspect of mental acceptance. Dushyant and Shakuntala don’t get married in ritualistic sense (Vedic). Their marriage is Gandharva marriage in which the union is mental thing and not a physical thing. It is a mental acceptance and does not have social sanction. In the same way couples in these love stories set in modern times will do everything a married couple would do but will not get married. Then just like Dushyant the male in today’s love stories forgets and then a ring comes in and that ring could be a car, an incident, a memory or a person which unites them together.”

Though these love stories seem to reflect the changing times we live in, they have garnered neither high critical acclaim nor have they proved to be money-spinners at the box office. A case in the point is the audience’s tepid response to the latest release Befikre. Dr. Piyush Roy of University of Edinburgh, points out, “In Befikre, the real change would have been in having the character of Vaani Kapoor getting hitched to her fairly eligible banker beau in Befikre and not returning to Ranveer Singh because that choice would have been a fairer reflection of real life decisions made in similar circumstances. Love stories today have become far less complex and real with the focus being on more to shock than telling a truly nuanced sexual tale. Being confused, noncommittal, selfish or stupid are personality traits that have nothing to do with the location of a person. So every time a character in Befikre or Ae Dil Hai Mushkil tries to justify its silly sexual dare as a possibility because of their being in Paris or London or Vienna is uninformed judgement.”

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