When did Karan Johar transform himself into everybody’s least favorite Nosy Aunty? The USP of his talk show, Koffee with Karan, has always been that he is a ‘fearless’ insider who can get away with asking intimate questions of the glamorous and powerful Bollywood elite of the type that would get the average filmi journalist blackballed. But the last episode of his show featuring sibling guests Soha and Saif Ali Khan was something else.
The topic of conversation was the fairly long ago demise of Khan’s marriage to yesteryears actress Amrita Singh. This event apparently captured Johar’s fancy to such an extent that he went to the length of inviting baby sis Soha just so she could sit and help him dissect the divorce. That either sibling survived the show with their dignity intact was entirely due to their own effort.
Somewhere in the middle of the interrogation, er, interview, Johar gave us an inkling as to why he was so fascinated by the topic du jour by announcing that he was against the institution of marriage. Really? Is that why he inflicted three different movies on us all revolving around a happily-ever-after scenario with painstakingly crafted wedding sequences?
I’m hardly the first to be irritated by the Bollywood-Marriage debate. Ever since Hum Aapke Hain Kaun ratcheted up the wedding game by devoting its entire length to the topic so dear to Yash Chopra’s heart (he’s had wedding sequences in most of his movies even if it was his son who brought it into sharp focus in the 1990s), people have talked of little else.
There are magazine covers devoted to the Bollywood-ization of marriage ceremonies in India; fashion designers sell collections with Bollywood themes at outrageous prices; obscure rituals are brought into vogue; and of course, TV serials slavishly copy entire storylines from the latest Bollywood wedding extravaganza.
Back in the 1980s, people were worried about the “I’m a rebel and I’ll elope for love” message that was being formulated by movies such as Qayamat se Qayamat Tak. That gave way to the tedious narration of the angelic couple who fight for parental approval a la Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge (till date about the only movie that has carried off the conceit in style). And with it came the criticism that Bollywood’s marriage focus was anti-woman and pro-patriarchy.
Maybe, maybe not. What I do know, is that it’s anti-reality.
If you were to base your expectations of reality on a Bollywood movie you’d end up in a right royal mess. You’d think your first love was It, that the boy you fell in love with at fourteen was the man you were going to be with forever. You’d think a woman who went out to work was a person incapable of maintaining a civil relationship and Gad save us all from the woman who wears a short skirt. Mothers in law are nothing but trouble and all our parents have blissfully successful marriages.
Lest you think I’m being facetious here, let me introduce you to Exhibit A: Aamir Khan. It was quite a few years ago when he and his then wife Rhea appeared on the infamously saccharine show Rendezvous with Simi Garewal. When asked about the beginnings of the relationship, Khan replied in true filmi style that he’d seen her through a window in her house and had immediately fallen in love with her.
My first reaction was disbelief – these people were actually married? Second was wonder – they were still married? Being a cynic who’s never fallen in love with anyone through a window, I was completely taken aback. There must be something wrong with me, I decided. But then, a year or so later came the news that the couple had divorced.
Sanity restored, I was surprised to find that I seemed to be the only one who wasn’t shocked by the demise of this marriage. I don’t know them personally so I might well be missing out on some intricacies of their personal dynamic that was visible to their intimates but from what little I’d gathered from the media, there was nothing in their divorce to shock me.
First of all, I’m a little hesitant about relationships that begin when the couple is in their teens. This, in spite of the fact that the most romantic, and faithfully married until his death ten years ago, couple I know in real life got married when she was 14 and he was barely 21. I rather think they’re the exception than the rule.
Not that Bollywood, or even Hindi serials, would agree with me. Everything is based on the Romeo and Juliet theory – young love is the only love. “First love” is something sacred and wonderful; everything else is sort of second-best. In actual fact, most people are complete assholes in their first love affair. They’re just figuring things out – boundaries, emotions, depth, etc.
Secondly, a relationship needs work and at least a modicum of understanding to work. I don’t think you need to be twin halves of a whole for it to work, but I do think it helps if you know what drives the other person. It’s simply unrealistic, for example, to marry a workaholic and then expect him/her to run home at the stroke of five to cuddle with you on the couch. I’m not saying workaholics can’t or don’t like to cuddle – it’s just that they like to work just as much or perhaps a little more than cuddling. It’s no reflection on you as a person.
Now look at what films and TV have to say on this: the moment a woman steps out of her house to go to work, the world might just as well end. There are, of course, millions of middle class women who go out to work and some of them even earn more than their husbands (which makes for a whole another debate). But in the Indian filmscape, by and large, a woman going to work means a magical transformation into the Bitch From Hell.
Men don’t get off that easy either – there’s poor old Put Upon Husband, trying to shield his wife from any gust of wind that passes by and invariably falling flat on his face. I don’t know who these husbands are in real life but they deserve a swift kick in the pants. The men I know, no matter the generation, have a healthy habit of discussing things over in minute detail with their other halves. Unless, of course, they hate each other or something, in which case they’re no longer married.
One of the interesting trends that I have noticed amongst men and women of my generation by the way is that the women tend to be more qualified than the men. Perhaps this is applicable only to South Indians, but an increasing number of marriages in the South feature men who’re less educated than their wives albeit with more work experience. This is especially true of weddings that place between India born and bred girls and NRI boys, specifically those settled in the Middle East.
Generally, these men are proud of their wives’ capabilities but you would never guess the same from watching a run-of-the-mill serial on Indian TV.
Thirdly, the reasons for a marriage’s survival or its demise are just as unique as the individuals concerned. Take, for example, infidelity. It’s a dealbreaker for so many of us but not for all. Some people would rather live in denial because it’s more comfortable for them that way. Others are perfectly aware of their spouse’s shenanigans but tolerate it for the sake of something they deem more important – like children.
Perhaps these are not the choices that you or I would make in their situation but it is one that works for these people. The other day, a woman wrote in to Dear Abby about her sister who’s been married for fifteen years to the father of her two children. In that time he also fathered half a dozen other children and was currently MIA after impregnating a woman who lived down the street from his wife. The wife refuses to divorce her husband. Is that what you or I would have done? Not me!
And then of course, there’s a thing called reversal of the traditional gender role. For some reason or the other, most of the dyed in the wool romantics I know (and this goes doubly for Indians) tend to be men more than women. It’s quite strange really.
I have a friend who, when out of a relationship, talks about marriage as a business transaction – he talks about his future goals and how he expects his wife to help him achieve them; he is very candid about dowry and earning potential, etc. The moment he finds a girl to fall in love with however, he’s a completely different person. He wants to be with her all the time, talk to her, hold her handbag, take her shopping, buy her silly gifts, take her on expensive trips… perfect Sugar Daddy material. And the sad part is, he only ever falls for women who would take advantage of that side of his. It’s like he has a built in radar for the hos of this world – and he knows it and likes it that way.
KJo should make a movie about him.