Have you had a chance to check out the much anticipated sequel to Tanu Weds Manu? Creatively titled Tanu Weds Manu: Returns (TWMR), the movie has an equally creative stalker-lover subplot thanks to writer Himanshu Sharma. This unfortunate narrative more or less ruined the entire TWMR experience for me despite Kangana Ranaut’s amazing performance as both Tanu and Kusum.
In TWMR, supporting character Pappi’s love for a girl named Komal culminates in Komal getting knocked unconscious and kidnapped despite her assertions that she does NOT love Pappi (played by Deepak Dobriyal). Not surprisingly, the characters in TWMR handle this crime in the most nonchalant of ways. Pappi barely gets a slap on the wrist for the harassment, assault, and subsequent kidnapping of Komal. Say what?
Far from funny, the irresponsible way in which Bollywood throws around these stalker-love stories is a crime in and of itself. In a country where violence against women runs rampant, and when Bollywood portrayals of stalking have been used as a legal defense for real-life stalking, what kind of message is India’s beloved film industry sending countless moviegoers?
That it’s okay to knock a woman unconscious and have your way with her? That it’s forgivable to kidnap a woman because you “love” her? That all is fair in stalking and harassment when it’s a matter of one’s dil? Please, please, please say it isn’t so, Bollywood.
— Kavita Krishnan (@kavita_krishnan) January 29, 2015
Back in the day, creepy-stalker-lovers were portrayed more or less accordingly. Take for example, Shahrukh Khan’s roles in both Darr and Anjaam. In Darr, no number of K-k-k-k-kiran’s could win the heart of Juhi Chawla’s character. Just as in Anjaam, where Madhuri’s Shivani ultimately exacts her revenge against SRK’s character Vijay — albeit only after Vijay has successfully ruined her entire life.
Now the key difference between these movies from the 1990s and the present-day stalker plots? SRK’s characters were appropriately called villains in both Darr and Anjaam, in sharp contrast to modern day Bollywood’s stalkers-in-love who actually seem to be placed on some sort of pedestal.
Don’t believe me? Let’s take a minute to look at two examples from the post-2000 era.
As music professor and self-entitled professor of love, SRK’s Raj Aryan not only harbors his own skewed views on ishq vishk pyaar vyaar, but he also spends the entire movie imparting his horribly ill-conceived “lessons” to all his students. If you think back to the plot of this 2000 romantic drama by writer-director Aditya Chopra, then you should be able to easily recall the three distinct love stories that played out between the following characters:
- Karan and Kiran — Jimmy Shergill and Preeti Jhangiani, respectively
- Sameer and Sanjana — Jugal Hansraj and Kim Sharma,respectively
- Vicky and Ishika — Uday Chopra and Shamita Shetty, respectively
*Spoiler Alert* (Although, let’s be real, if you haven’t seen this movie yet, then just don’t do this to yourself.)
With Professor Aryan as their puppeteer, Karan, Sameer, and Vicky long for the company of women in their boring all-boys Gurukul Academy. Karan falls in love with a girl he randomly sees once at a train station who turns out to be the nearly-widowed Kiran; Sameer is still holding on to his childhood love for his former BFF, Sanjana, despite her current boyfriend; and last, but certainly not least, Vicky falls head over heels for the headstrong Ishika when he sees her stealing apples near Gurukul. Not exactly recipes for great love, if you ask me.
Professor Aryan, however, encourages the boys to purse their loves, NO MATTER WHAT.
Karan is told to pursue Kiran despite her loyalties to her missing husband’s family because Karan “loves her.” Sameer is told to break-up Sanjana’s relationship with her current boyfriend because Sameer “loves her.” Vicky is told to make Ishika love him because, well, Vicky “loves her.” Ultimately, all three of these young men “win” the hearts of their beloveds and Professor Aryan is a hero. Sigh.
Last time I checked, Bollywood, everything is not actually fair in love and war. What kind of message does Mohabbatein send to young Indian men? That a girl’s refusal is not actually the end all be all? Because if you try, try again, and if you stalk, stalk again? Because that’s really all I got out of this movie.
Along with always being annoyed with trying to figure out how many A’s belong in this movie’s title, I was so horrendously disappointed when I saw this movie. Although, with the same writer-director combination as TWMR, in hindsight, I should have expected the 140-ish minutes of stalker-romanticization that was front and center in Raanjhanaa.
Meet Kundan Shankar (played by Dhanush) who has been harboring a one-sided crush on Sonam Kapoor’s Zoya Haider since childhood. Teenage Kundan even goes so far as to slit his wrists if Zoya refuses to tell him that she loves him. This dramatic display of “pyaar ki kurbaani” doesn’t go over well with Zoya’s parents who then ship her off to Aligarh Muslim University (AMU). Eight years later, Zoya returns, and Kundan’s childhood crush has evolved into restraining-order-worthy stalking.
Zoya does not even remember Kundan’s name when she returns from AMU, but this doesn’t seem to deter Kundan’s firm belief that she looooooooves him. He takes her laughter at him and his jokes to be her bashful way of displaying affection. When the reality of the situation begins to sink in, Kundan again slits his wrists in protest of Zoya’s rebuff of his love. The story takes umpteen twists and turns, but ultimately, it seems to praise Kundan’s unrelenting pursuit of Zoya, a women who never loved him.
So, I come back to my original dilemma — when did obsessive stalking become flattering and respectable? For every Pappi in TWMR, there is overt violence against women. For every Sameer or Karan or Vicky in Mohabbatein, there is blatant disrespect of a woman’s free will and personal commitments. And for every Kundan in Raanjhanaa, there is a woman whose life is ruined by one man’s misinterpretation of her intentions.
Too often in India art imitates life and vice versa. And it is high time for Bollywood’s art to start making some changes. The filmy duniya has to stop condoning this behavior, and rather needs to highlight the wrongs that underlie these so-called acts of love.
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Farah Naz Khan is an internal medicine resident at Emory University. After graduating from college in Boston, she returned to her Alabama hometown to attend medical school, and was reunited with the mix of Southern hospitality and South Asian culture that had shaped her childhood. Follow her on Twitter @farah287 or read some of her thoughts at farah287.blogspot.com.