Female bonding in the alternate universe of Sooraj Bharjatya and Karan Johar

Back in the early 90s when the likes of Hum Aapke Hain Kaun and Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge hit the silver screen the Indian audience was left enraptured like never before. The latter’s screening at the Maratha Mandir from the day it was released to today has been a testament to this stuff of legend. The makers of the movies were quick to get the pulse of the audience; it seemed that they could never get bored of good old filmy romance set amidst families that inhabited larger-than-life palatial houses. Riding high on the success of these the Kuch Kuch Hota Hai and Hum Saath Saath Hain were released for us to lap. Neither did the makers disappoint the audience nor did the audience disappoint the makers. The movies again proved to be one of the highest-grossing blockbusters of the respective years they were released in. By the 2000s Sooraj Bharjatya and Karan Johar’s charm had begun waning as was evident by the relatively lukewarm response received by Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham and Vivah. While Sooraj Bharjatya continued directing family-oriented dramas such as Ek Vivah Aisa Bhi and Prem Ratan Dhan Payo, undeterred by the platonic shift in the taste of the audience, Karan Johar ventured into unchartered territory by directing movies such as My Name is Khan at times which received a mixed response and Student of the Year at other times which was panned by the audience and critiques alike. By the 2010s, all these movies were being revisited for reasons very different from the intent with which they were made. Pretentious movie reviews were the trendsetter when it came to making movie reviews in an audio-video format that intended to poke fun by pointing out logical fallacies in the plot, character development, and even dialogues. This trend was taken forward by LOL Revisits, Yogi Baba, and Behensplaining. Although binge-watching some of the aforementioned cult classics have been a guilty pleasure for me I can’t deny that some of the reviews were bang on in tickling my funny bones. In sync with the mood of the present era, I have come across many comments and articles that ranged from calling Rahul from Kuch Kuch Hota Hai for being a douchebag to Anjali in terms of reciprocating her love to scathing criticism of Hum Saath Saath Hain for making the womenfolk of the household slog in the kitchen for preparing elaborate meals to not letting the daughter of the family have a share in the family property.

Today to mark Women’s Day I shall be writing about the seemingly insignificant but extremely sweet moments of female bonding and gestures of taking a stand for each other in movies that have long since are only being put down for their treatment of female characters and loopholes in the plot. Enough critiques are doing the ‘women telling women stories’ made famous by Sucharita Tyagi and although women-oriented films might be relatively fewer in number they are definitely not as rare they are made out to be. This line of thought also precludes male directors from being given due credit for deft character development and sensitive handling of emotions of female characters.

In Maine Pyar Kiya we get to meet Kaushalya Choudhary who takes care of the teenaged daughter of Karan Shrestha, a family friend, Suman when left in her care by her father while going for a business trip. Not only does she act as a mother figure to the motherless Suman, her feelings remain unchanged when she discovers that Suman and her son Prem are in love with each other. She also takes a stand for Suman when her husband opposes the match. As against the evil saas brigade usually churned out in Hindi cinema, here we see a mother-in-law who is not only respectful of her son’s choices but accepts his girlfriend wholeheartedly. Hum Aapke Kaun Hain’s central plot revolves around a younger sister, Nisha who is willing to give up her budding romance to marry her elder sister’s husband after her death out of a sense of responsibility towards her infant son. What I found even more touching was how the recently wed daughter-in-law, Nisha treats her house help Chameli, especially because they seem to be the only women in a household dominated by men. In a country where there is negligible legal literacy and domestic workers struggle to make ends meet, the relationship was rather heartwarming to watch on screen. One of the most touching aspects of Hum Saath Saath Hain was how the three sister-in-laws Sadhana, Preeti, and Sapna look out for each other being pitted against each other time and again. At a time when saas-bahu daily soaps where women are shown to be overzealously putting down each other have become the norm and we are constantly talking about the need for women to support each other isn’t it super refreshing to see three women who come from varied backgrounds and vastly different in terms of temperament and inclinations constantly look out for each other? Another scoring point for me in this movie is the bond the three share with the married daughter of the family, Sangeeta. We see the same warmth reflect in the relationship between the older bhabhi-nanad duo Mamta Chaturvedi and her bhabhi. Vivah and Ek Vivah Aisa Bhi for their part focus on sisterly love between the female protagonist and her sister respectively. While the relationship portrayed between Poonam and Rajni in Vivah becomes even more endearing because Poonam is immensely disliked by her chachi, Rajni’s mother, in Ek Vivah Aisa Bhi, Sandhya is practically raised by her elder sister Chaandni, who forsakes marrying her boyfriend for the same.

In Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge, we meet a docile mother who has given in to her patriarchal conditioning all her life only to finally raise her voice to support her daughter Simran get together with Raj, for the sake of her happiness. One of the most memorable things about Kuch Kuch Hota Hai is how Tina and Anjali look out for each other despite vying for the attention of the same man both of them have fallen in love. Isn’t the behavior simply awe-inspiring? In Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham again we see an elder sister Anjali, raise her younger sister Pooja, despite being married. How about cheering her for breaking the diktats of patriarchy? Another high point in the movie is how Nandini affectionately treats the caretaker of her children of many years, Sayeeda, and how Sayeeda for her part attempts to save Nandini from embarrassment during a certain scene. In My Name is Khan we meet a single mother, Mandira who after a bad marriage starts from scratch and successfully runs a hair cutting saloon aided by an all-women staff. Rizwan’s marriage to Mandira has acted as a wedge between the brothers Rizwaan and Zakir who are already distant as the latter doesn’t approve of the marriage. Screen time of just about a couple of minutes has been dedicated to the bond that sister-in-laws Mandira and Hasina share but it is enough to acquaint us with the warmth they share despite the not so pleasant relationship their respective husbands share.

With this, I come to the end of all things bright and beautiful regarding women empowerment even in movies that have been receiving flak for being regressive. Next time someone teases you about watching these movies, you can quote the aforesaid points. Better still, you can come up with your observations and let me know as well in the comment section below. This Women’s Day don’t let anyone tell you how you should be living your life. At the same time learn to live and live. Yes, you might be already doing that but the more accepting you try to become every day the more surprised you would be regarding the biases that lay deep within all of us.

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