A 21-day lockdown can do strange things to the human mind. It’s only the first few days, and I am still in the “What if?” stage of grief. What if, for instance, my father was with me instead of him being stranded alone in a separate city? What if I was stuck with a stranger for these three weeks? Or maybe an old friend? What if I was stuck with a director whose film I’ve criticized? What if I were married and simply “stuck” with my partner? Who would I have been the happiest – or, actually, the least saddest – with? I will probably never know.
But I can imagine. I can visualize – if not about just myself, then perhaps also about fictional characters. I can imagine Hindi film characters who would have made for great Quarantine buddies. For some reason, I always imagined Hera Pheri’s Baburao Ganpatrao Apte (Paresh Rawal) and Piku’s Bhaskor Banerjee (Amitabh Bachchan) would get along like a house on fire (and maybe even inadvertently set the house on fire) during a lockdown without even knowing they’re getting along. Their overbearing, cacophonous and control-freaking attitudes would cancel each other out and keep everyone and everything – including diseases – at bay. Not to mention their verbal battles of cultural superiority (Marathi v/s Bengali) every evening.
But what about the characters who absolutely wouldn’t make it if stuck together? Or, to be more precise, what about couples – the post-liberalization couples who, by the end of a lockdown, embark upon their own brutal Marriage Story?
Here are five disasters waiting to happen:
Rahul and Pooja (Dil Toh Pagal Hai)
As much as this Hindi film shaped my rose-tinted vision of romance (and Valentine’s Day), my adult self can’t help but admit that its hero Rahul (Shah Rukh Khan) was an obsessive, temperamental and self-absorbed asshole. It’s also called being an “artist”. He was borderline abusive to his new ‘muse’ Pooja (Madhuri Dixit) – who, by the way, he would rather call Maya – and seems to be quite the boss from hell on the sets of whatever his dance/theatre/hybrid troupe does. If Pooja were to spend 21 days with the insufferable artist in a lockdown, you’d have to bet on him being Phantom Thread’s Reynolds Woodcock to Pooja’s Alma Elson. Except they wouldn’t be coming out of it with a poisonous omelette as a symbol of toxic love – Madhuri Dixit’s Pooja would probably exit more as Madhuri Dixit’s Shivani from Anjaam, a woman determined to cure Rahul only so that she can kill him with her own bare hands.
Karan and Romila (Lakshya)
Within a week of the lockdown, Karan (Hrithik Roshan) might finally realize that Romila (Preity Zinta) never loved him for who he is but for what he does. Contrary to the principles of pushy Indian parenthood, these are often two different things – especially in your early twenties. Romila dumped Karan’s drifter butt after college so that he straightens up and develops a sense of ambition. He joins the army and even makes his uptight father proud, but I never liked how Romila’s gaze completely changes the moment she sees him in that cool uniform. What if he had chosen to become an entrepreneur? She may have been all sorted early on with her Barkha Dutt hairdo, but why would she begrudge her own boyfriend his phase of callous confusion?
Ten days into the lockdown, and I’d bet my property (of which I have none) on the fact that Karan would pretend to quit the army to see if Romila still “loves” him. 21 days later, Romila would start emo-texting her fellow news anchor, Arnab.
Maddy and Reena (Rehnaa Hai Terre Dil Mein)
It wouldn’t take Reena (Dia Mirza) – the independent career woman with a penchant for bad boys – more than two days within four walls to recognize Maddy’s (R. Madhavan) fragile Brahminical masculinity parading as cute SRK-level edginess. By the fifth day, Maddy would be going all Kabir Singh on Reena (“honey, I love you like I slap you”), and the cops would have to break down the door in full hazmat suits to stop the couple from infecting one another with eternal bitterness.
Madhav Shastri was a dangerous stalker and an abusive lover. In a parallel universe, 21 days later, Reena left Maddy (who then overdosed after his lookalike played a nice guy in Rang De Basanti), and she grew older to become Dia Mirza – the strong, elegant single mother – in Anubhav Sinha’s Thappad.
Kabir and Naina (Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani)
I still can’t sleep at night when I think about the fake happily-ever-after from this film. It was all done and dusted, and understood: Naina (Deepika Padukone) is an introverted doctor who realizes that Kabir (Ranbir Kapoor) is too much of a free bird to buckle down, and Kabir is a restless travel-show cinematographer with a dream job and unresolved daddy issues. Kabir can’t possibly just show up at her place and convince her it’s all fine and dandy. From experience, I can tell you: That’s not how it works.
Three days into the lockdown at home, and she’d notice that Kabir is a relapsed drug addict who can’t stay still in one space. He’s bouncing off the walls. He wants to get on the next plane out. He insists on coming to the hospital with her for her double-shifts because he needs “fresh air”. I can imagine Naina tearing up as she treats suspected Covid-19 patients, because Kabir is restrained by the staff and sent into the isolation ward for 14 days. Once he’s released, he escapes into the wild – never to be seen again.
Vanraj and Nandini (Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam)
Two hours into the lockdown, Nandini (Aishwarya Rai) explodes. She confronts Vanraj (Ajay Devgan), for whom social isolation is as normal as breathing, and lets rip: Not a hawaa ka jhoka, but a frustrated monologue about how his self-righteous and grating nobility fooled her into choosing him over mercurial “artist” Sameer (Salman Khan). Vanraj is in fact a terribly boring and mediocre man who overcompensates for his lack of personality with his painfully quiet affection, and the prospect of being trapped with him (instead of, say, cheating on him and living a double life) for three whole weeks is unbearable for Nandini.
She also goes all Taani partner (Anushka Sharma in RNBDJ) on Vanraj, begging him not to be so awfully kind because it makes her feel cripplingly obligated towards him. By the fourth day, she would grab his face, look him in the eye, hold back her tears and whine: Tum mujhe tang karne lage ho, Vanraj. Great martyr Vanraj would then go out of his way – again – and help her locate Sameer (SamRockzz) on Facebook.