Rakhi Sawant’s Swayamvar and Love Aaj Kal pressed the same buttons, argues Nisha Susan
THIS WEEKEND offered competing images of Big Love. A sepia-tinted runaway couple who had never had a conversation with each other but were ready to be battered for the sake of the irrational thunderbolt that had hit them; a sensible couple unprepared for the violence that love wreaks on them and their plans; a bad girl who has the country bent around her finger as it watches her search for a good boy.
Big love, grand passion, what place does it have in our lives? Once eminently practical, arranged marriage held infatuation back. Now we do it on our own, arranging to fall in love with those within our class and caste. Our Excel spreadsheets track prospects on shaadi.com. We assess partners for their ability to withstand culture shock when we emigrate. We marry before fertility withers and after careers stabilise. To these two generations of eminent practicality, Imtiaz Ali’s Love Aaj Kal brings his tender, destabilising attentions. The vintage Saif Ali Khan works in a factory. The modern one works hard for a dream job, grows to hate it and is then fired. Both versions are beaten cruelly to the ground. Deepika Padukone’s character wakes up to her mistake only after marrying another man. The fleeting glimpse of her divorce must have echoed painfully in millions of hearts.
Ali’s lovers are not the smartest people or the kindest. Framed by the Purana Qila, they do not think of their relationships as monumental love. But Love Aaj Kal is a strange, cinematic rejoinder to Jhoom Barabar Jhoom’s romantic, cutprice Taj Mahal — Humayun’s Tomb. And even more of a rejoinder to Sahir Ludhianvi’s Ek shehenshah ne daulat ka sahara lekar/ hum gareebon ki mohabbat ka udaya hai mazak.
There’s wonderful justice that in a culture which believes both that marriage cures all ills (insanity, poverty, homosexuality) and that any manner of crime can render a girl ineligible, the most ‘unmarriageable’ woman of all made big money in finding a groom. Rakhi Sawant is as aware of our schizophrenia — active sex lives and scarred hearts draped decorously under a variety of ghunghats — as Ali is, only her enterprise never had the choice of not being cynical. Her perfomance of bridal femininity is camp and impeccable. She minced, head bent perpendicular to the ground before her finalists. This was the culmination to all our hopes that she would find the right man. Then she squeezed a too-tight ring on her groom while making mocking, coital noises. What fools you all are, her knowing eyes said, staring out of pancake. And so we are: fools for love.
Why else did the architect of our constitution write a paean to love in the Annihilation of Caste? Why does every week bring stories of couples risking and losing their lives for love? In a country that turned the big, pragmatic marriage into an art form, we secretly cheer for the even bigger, unpragmatic love.