by Emily Marquez
Anyone who has ever watched a Bollywood musical knows that there is one overwhelming theme: marriage. Much like the antiquated Greek comedies, most rom-com or melodrama, Bollywood films follow the same formula which culminates in matrimony. Even now that India is rapidly urbanizing and developing socially, this type of movie still seems to dominate the box office. What role does marriage play in this cinema that is becoming increasingly globalized? In this video essay, I’ve chosen to compare two very different Indian films: Love Aaj Kal and Imago.
Independently produced and only premiering at the Bombay Film Festival in 2018, Imago may not seem like an appropriate choice for the analysis of popular Hindi cinema. However, Imago being so completely antithetical to most (if not all) of its popular counterparts makes for a perfect critique of traditional Bollywood films. The protagonist of this movie is a teenage girl named Namrata, who is in the midst of her “coming of age” journey. Namrata is socially ostracized by her peers and finds solace in writing when a new, male teacher encourages her to keep up her studies and pursue her talent. As the movie progresses, Namrata begins to develop romantic feelings towards her teacher, and actually confesses this to him after she learns that both her grandfather and uncle married women who were over 10 years younger than them. While this may be uncomfortable, this is the reality for many young women, and even girls, in India. According to the organization Girls Not Brides, “27% of girls in India are married before their 18th birthday and 7% are married before the age of 15” (What’s the Child Marriage Rate?, 2019). While Namrata is fortunate enough to have adults in her life who prioritize her education and ultimately send her to high school, in real life many girls do not. Especially in poverty-stricken communities, marriage is a way for families to ensure that their daughters are no longer financial “liabilities” since they have no resources to earn their own money ( India’s Forgotten Child Brides, 2018). The issue is cyclical; many of these girls drop out of school when they are married, and have no means of improving their socioeconomic status which is perpetuated by each succeeding generation. The reality of marriage in India is a lot less romantic than Bollywood makes it out to be. The idea that marriage is a union that joins two families rather than a union for the pleasure two individuals is a cultural trait that transcends social or economic class ( Marriage in India is becoming less traditional, 2017 ).
While this idea is still standard in Indian society, the movie Love Aaj Kal offers a more romanticized perspective. Love Aaj Kal was the third highest grossing Indian movie in 2009, the year it premiered. It interweaves two love stories, one taking place in the past and one taking place in the present. The stories run parallel to each other and climax when the male protagonist “saves” their female love interest from a life of unhappiness with another man who they are supposed to be marrying, but do not love. While marriage is slowing becoming less traditional in more urban parts of the country, thanks to the globalization of more western ideals and the internet and dating apps, marriages in these scenarios are still almost always a compromise between the individual and the family rather than the couple themselves. There is a belief that
“love marriages” (marriages arranged without parental consent) do not last, which contrasts the overarching theme of “true love conquers all” in Love Aaj Kal. So how is it possible that this film garnered so much success and even critical acclaim in a society that values tradition and family so highly?
According to author Margaret Lundberg, “Films are both an escape from the harsh realities of life, and a window into the psyche of the nation” ( Bollywood Images, 2012 ), and in regards to Bollywood, Indian citizens cannot get enough. A romantic comedy like Love Aaj Kal is more likely to succeed because “Hindi films present life not as it is, but as it should be… ”(King of Bollywood, 2007 ). While always presenting one romanticized perspective of marriage in cinema can be negligent, cinema can still be a catalyst for change. Many Bollywood stars like Deepika Padukone (who also happened to star in Love Aaj Kal), are now using their platforms to speak out about social issues like gender inequality, in spite of the conservative national bias (Bollywood star Deepika Padukone seems firmly committed to feminism , 2015).
- Ali, Imtiaz, director. Love Aaj Kal. Illuminati Films, 2009.
- Chavan, Karan and Vikran Patil, directors. Imago . Aviraj Films Entertainment, 2018.
- Chopra, Anupama. King of Bollywood: Shah Rukh Khan and the seductive world of Indian cinema. New York: Warner Books, 2007.
- Girls Not Brides. “India – Child Marriage Around The World. Girls Not Brides.” Girls Not Brides.
- Khandelwal, Saumya. “India’s Forgotten Child Brides.,” National Geographic, 20 Apr. 2018.
- Lundberg, Margaret. “Bollywood Images: The illusions and realities of arranged marriages, weddings, dowries, and attitudes toward the girl child in the lives of women in India” 8 Mar. 2012.
- Maheshwari, Laya. “Perspective | Bollywood Could Bring Feminism to the Masses. Why Doesn’t It?” The Washington Post, 1 Mar. 2019.
- “Marriage in India Is Becoming Less Traditional.” The Economist, The Economist Newspaper, 23 Nov. 2017.
- McDonald, Soraya. “Bollywood Star Deepika Padukone Seems Firmly Committed to Feminism. But Not Everyone Is Getting behind Her Message.” The Washington Post, 27 Apr.2019.