It is difficult to pick out one specific Bollywood movie on romance because every decade comes with its own version of love and once the film is a hit, studios rush to replicate the same story again and again. Such was the case with Kareena Kapoor Khan’s Geet and Shahid Kapoor’s Aditya in the runaway hit, Jab We Met which launched Imtiaz Ali’s career into the stratosphere.
Today, we have a term for the kind of character that Kapoor Khan played – the manic pixie dream girl. In 2007, we just called it “bubbly”. And that’s all it was because in 2007, there was only Geet. Jab We Met’s idea of love was bringing two completely different individuals together – the bubbly Geet and the serious Aditya. Geet changes Aditya’s life and in turn, Aditya saves Geet and the both of them fall in love. However, the success of Jab We Met and Geet gave rise to many wannabe Geets and Adityas. Remember Ek Villain?
What made Jab We Met the love story of the 2000s was its simplicity. There was no villain, no action sequence, no blood and gore. It was comforting and made people realise that love could be simple and still be romantic. It didn’t have to be a DDLJ where Shah Rukh Khan has to get beaten up before he can reunite with Kajol. It didn’t have to be a Devdas where the lover has to drink himself to death while the tawaif pines away in a corner.
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But love stories and Bollywood go hand-in-hand. Today, we do not have the mustard fields or the Manish Malhotra saree in the Swiss Alps but almost every Bollywood story has a romantic element to it – even films like Chhapaak or Mission Mangal.
In the 50s, the golden age of Bollywood cinema, love was all about baarish and chand. It can be seen in movies like Mr. & Mrs. 55 and Pyaasa. It was a very tadap tadap ke marna idea of love. In the 60s, we had the legendary Mughal-E-Azam which was another tragedy but the one takeaway from the movie was pyaar kiya toh darna kya.
In the 70s and 80s, we had Parveen Babi and Zeenat Aman ruling the roost. They were bold bombshells who didn’t mind drinking and smoking and definitely didn’t mind having sex before marriage. But the hero was the angry young man who would not give in to the heroine’s feminine wiles till she transformed herself into a virtuous woman. Here, love was transformational – it transformed the “wicked woman” into a woman who you could take to meet your mother. Anybody watching these films in 2021 would laugh.
And how does one forget Silsila? The film which took an alleged real-life three-way onto the screen shows us that the love of a wife trumps any affair that the hero may indulge in.
When one speaks about Bollywood romance, one must mention Saira Banu and Hema Malini. While the actresses didn’t necessarily star in movies from the same generation, they perfected what is now known as “the babe lost in the woods”. These women were sexy, sensuous and impossibly glamorous but they were never decadently so. They were sanskari but without being boring. Hema Malini was so successful in this avatar that till date she is known as India’s Dream Girl – an epithet that was given to her at the height of her fame.
The late 80s gave us true college romance. It all started with what our parents call “QSQT” – Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak. QSQT was a landmark film in Bollywood’s romance genre because it took the age-old story of Laila-Majnu and Romeo-Juliet and made it relatable and contemporary. The film turned Aamir Khan and Juhi Chawla into overnight stars. Musical romances like Dil To Pagal Hai and Aashiqui followed. Kuch Kuch Hota Hai belongs to this same genre of storytelling but often stands out due to its position in popular culture.
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In the 2000s, many credit Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham as path-breaking when it comes to romance but for all its popularity, that is simply not true. In fact, if one had to pick the film that kicked off the 21st century, it would be Kaho Naa… Pyaar Hai which turned Hrithik Roshan into a household name the minute it released. Here, love was bolder, sexier but it still had its obstacles – you couldn’t just fall in love and live happily ever after. You had to go through a series of tests and trials.
Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam was a powerful movie on love because it finally showed a man who didn’t let his ego trump his heart. Ajay Devgn’s character in the movie is Bollywood’s rare attempt at showing a male character who is not obsessed with possessing a woman.
However, remnants of the 80s and 90s still remained. The heroine had to be virtuous – look at Cocktail for example. In Cocktail, love’s transformational power over Veronica doesn’t work. She is doomed to be unloved by Saif Ali Khan and betrayed by Diana Penty whom she brought home and took care of. The message was simple – even though sex before marriage was accepted, women like Veronica would never know “true love”.
Thankfully, the years after 2010 showed Bollywood taking a more nuanced approach towards love, especially homosexual love. We had Aligarh and Kapoor and Sons which were so different in their treatment of homosexual love but both were beautifully portrayed. Films like Margarita with a Straw are also to be noted.
Ki & Ka normalised love that goes beyond gender roles and Badhaai Ho normalised love and sex in middle age.
And, then, we have Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan in 2020 which is a landmark movie when it comes to Bollywood romance. Who would have thought that we’d see an A-list actor kissing another man on-screen? The film had all the characteristics of an Ayushmann Khurrana movie – it addressed an important societal issue without getting preachy or violent.
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Has love in Bollywood finally matured? It is hard to say. For every Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan and Ludo, we have a Malang. For every Thappad which shows us that love does not trump self-respect, we have a Love Aaj Kal 2 which takes a beautiful movie and makes an unnecessary sequel out of it.