Ishq-Mohabbat-Pyaar-Vyaar: A Tribute to Filmy Love

March 08, 2009
Seema Dhindaw

Now that the controversies surrounding Valentine’s Day are in the past, I thought it would be fun to have a glimpse at the strange, comic and unusual things that love compels us to do. Catchy toe-tapping Bollywood tunes, the occasional romantic comedy, and sometimes corny poetic expressions have encouraged many of us to perform otherwise unthinkable, highly embarrassing acts of love. We can look back and laugh at spectacles that love or the illusion of it has inspired. The influence of the film industry, particularly Bollywood, hasn’t made matters any easier for those who have been pierced by Cupid’s arrow. In fact, many a times it is the sole culprit for implanting those bizarre and unrealistic ideas about love during those vulnerable, young growing years.

I grew up listening to Hindi film songs and religiously watched one Hindi movie a week with my family. When we were too young to know the implications of romance or love, my brother and I would act out the parts of hero and heroine, using trees at the park to play hide and seek which was followed by a high speed chase. We would eventually find ourselves running towards each other only to end the charade in a playful sibling fight instead of breaking into a song. When we didn’t know lyrics we would make them up. If we didn’t know the steps to a dance, we would choreograph our own crazy moves and our parents would watch sometimes in shock and at other times in dismay.

At home, it often felt like our parents were either villains in our lives or the stars of an ongoing Hrishikesh Mukherji film about complex marriages. When mom got upset over something, dad would sing and dance in a comical attempt to cheer her up. My brother and I would laugh in amusement, squeal in embarrassment or even play along. On Saturday mornings, mom made delicious parathas while melodious tunes played on the weekly Indian radio program. We anxiously counted the minutes, our eyes on the clock for the parathas and for the eagerly awaited weekly Namaste America television program that aired with previews of latest Bollywood movies, top ten songs and sometimes a special treat: an interview with one of the stars. Every week, I had a new crush depending on who was being interviewed and my brother had a new fight scene or dance move to play out. When Prabhudeva came on the screen we lost quite a few porcelain items. One of my first crushes was Salman Khan. I had a shirtless poster of his on the wall of my bedroom. That poster made a long journey with me from a small back alley in Rourkee, India and lived through my teen years in L.A. I remember my cousins hollering at me then for picking Salman over Shah Rukh. Today, if I make it back to Rourkee, I know for sure I will bring back a Shah Rukh poster instead. Tastes have changed.

In my teens, thoughts of how I would meet my knight in shining armor and what he would be like were always at the back of my mind. When I looked at Bollywood films for answers, the romances and love stories were fun and exciting, full of song and dance sequences, offering me hope but none or little practical advice. Hollywood portrayed a completely different perspective. Issues surrounding religion, career, premarital sex and race were at the forefront. Titanic, Father of the Bride, Sliding Doors, Sleepless in Seattle and many of Woody Allen’s films made things either too simple, fairytale-like or way too complex for me to grasp. Movies like Silsila, Lamhe and Chandni gave me hope that even if my soul mate was much older, married, missing after an accident or suffering from a predictable bout of amnesia, somehow miraculously and by defying every righteous principle, moral value and perhaps by way of nothing short of a miracle, he would end up being with me.

After watching Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, the prospect that I could have a guy best friend who would suddenly start to develop feelings for me years later when I grew my hair out, lost some weight and played basketball in a saree was extremely exciting. After a few years of shooting hoops, it didn’t take me long to realize that wasn’t happening. You’ve Got Mail offered hope of a promising fairytale romance which began after meeting a faceless stranger in an internet chat room. Thereafter began my brief and dangerous love affair with virtual chat rooms. I had my share of terrible experiences and realized that in the online world everything wasn’t as perfect or safe as the movies portrayed. As an adult, when I watch my nieces online, I feel a protective urgency come over me.

I slowly began to lose hope of finding my Prince Charming when one day I watched Dil to Pagal Hai. It suddenly all became crystal clear to me. Learning how to dance would lead me to the love of my life. I had to become just like Madhuri Dixit. A famous Kathak teacher was coming to Southern California for two months and taking her class was my only hope. I begged and pleaded with my parents. My dad made a few ill-timed jokes about California being earthquake prone and my mother politely suggested alternate hobbies that did not require much grace or rhythm. But they finally gave in to my childish whims and soon I was practicing tapping my feet to “tha thayi thayi” and undulating hand movements.




I observed in dismay that the Kathak classes were going too slow and I wondered if all this foot-tapping would break into a full-fledged dance any time soon. I figured I would have to be dancing to a song and not just these random beats in order for the love story to proceed smoothly. Nothing of the sort happened of course and the lessons were aborted within six months. I was left dolefully massaging the blisters on my soles.

After watching Maine Pyar Kiya, I turned to my amused parents and asked them if we had family friends that I could visit for a vacation in India. They did! And they even had a son. But as luck would have it, before my flight even took off, their beloved son had announced that he was in love with the girl next door and by then I wasn’t into love triangles any more. So I spent my vacation falling in love….with India and its people.

Recently, Hollywood, after years of criticizing the blatant escapism showcased by the Hindi film industry, finally caved and embraced the rags-to-riches, love story of Slumdog Millionaire. While controversies over the depiction of poverty in Slumdog continue, as an American, I was more taken by the moving story which spans several years and brings us a saga where tragedy, separation, loss and hardship, are all conquered by the one relentless pursuit of love. In India, love trumps all and I felt like this film captured that spirit.

I find consolation in knowing that I wasn’t alone in my filmi craze. Cousins, friends and siblings were also influenced by the love stories in the popular movies of the time. Unrealistic expectations and dreamy romantic ideas had infiltrated their minds as well. They too have sung in the shower, practiced pick up lines in front of a mirror and danced around the room in a towel like Kajol. I remember watching as my cousins practiced the famous pose of Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio in Titanic, standing on the edge of a balcony above a sea of busy city traffic amidst the beautiful symphony of random honks. Much to my delight, on one trip to India, I helped a cousin plan many a secret rendezvous with her lover. Objections of their being together by their parents didn’t stop them from eventually eloping. The rage and tragic aftermath they faced from their families caused them much grief but their ambitious first steps together set off a trend in the family. Five other elopements followed in quick succesion within the next three years. Inter-cultural, inter-religious and inter-racial marriages were becoming more common. Old barriers fell away over the years. Thanks to inspiration from the popular films of the time, stale prejudices began to dissolve, bringing together soul mates across these divisive lines.

So all in all, these filmi influences have had the power to unite, bring positive change and offer hope to all of us who wait patiently to find that one true love. In addition to the cute, comic and sometimes foolish things that films have inspired all of us to do without their influence, life, both in love and looking for love, would not be as much fun.

Seema Dhindaw is an American Born Smart Desi. She is a psychobiologist, a biomedical researcher and an instructor. She has experience in both writing and with tutoring children. She loves reading, watching movies and debates and discussions but detests prejudiced, judgemental crap and ad hominem.
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Aditi N
March 8, 2009
05:38 AM

Funny article Seema! You've chronicled some pretty hilarious and heart-warming incidents. Films have inspired some real life love tales I'm sure. I watched the British TV series Pride & Prejudice and had dreams about Colin Firth and drooled over his handsome "Mr.Darcy" character. Now there are some unique men in Bollywood who don't fit the buff, shirtless, brawny hero persona and yet seem to have plenty earthy sex appeal: Irrfan Khan, Farhan Akhtar, Kay Kay Menon. :)

Keep 'em coming!

March 8, 2009
08:08 AM

too funny! hits the spot! an's sketch too, especially the doggerel! thanks!

Ayan Roy
March 8, 2009
09:12 AM

Might sound funny, but I sometimes think of myself as a lone Numenorian wanderer like Aragon endlessly waiting for an elf princess like Arwen..a pristine, pure, ethereal, immortal beauty. :-)

On the other hand, Samwise Gamgee's feelings for Rosie Cotton were down to earth, simple, direct, sweet ..no complications and maybe more practical in real life.. will be happy to hitch up like that.

March 8, 2009
08:12 PM

Thanks Aditi for the comment and for the cartoon.

Thank you CS! Glad you liked it.

Ayan, thanks for sharing your own film-fantasies. They are funny but not any more than my own.

March 9, 2009
02:14 AM

By and large, Indians treat Bollywood fare as masala entertainment, nothing more, not to be taken seriously or to personal life. Although boys-meets-girl love theme has incessantly and exclusively predominated Bollywood for over 5 decades, latest survey shows it has had very little impact on Indians - only 18% of Indian women prefer love marriages. If you take out urban demographics which have strong bias for love marriages, the non-urban areas would poll the % in single digits. The inter-caste, inter-religious and inter-racial ones would be statistically insignificant.

The Survey

Seema's comment about run-away elopements is so true. They do come in spurts in a locality/community. When one incident occurs, it sets the precedence for series of them to follow. The same holds true for inter-caste and inter-religious ones too. In America, among NRIs, it is so true of inter-racial ones as well. When one person breaks a new ground, there are quite a few others who follow suit.

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