Hindi cinema is notorious for its obsession with matters of the heart.
For the longest time, our films haven't just preached to us what love is, they've also hammered into us what love should be. They've bombarded us with the same old done-to-death bag of tricks to enforce what constitutes true love and romance. These are the 'filmy' moments and actions and sequences we should aspire to for our romantic connections to be validated somehow.
From the very first meet-cute to infinite instances of staring longingly into each other's eyes to the very idea of happily ever after – love has developed its own repetitive, tired onscreen language. Ahead of Valentine's Day, we asked members of the film industry about the one romantic cliché they're tired of seeing onscreen:
Varun Grover (lyricist, writer, stand-up comedian): The male lead driving a car and the female lead sticking her head out of the sun-roof while an upbeat romantic song plays in the back. It's stupid and nobody does it in India anyway with the kind of pollution and all-year access to harsh sun we have.
Anupama Chopra (founder and editor, Film Companion): My pet peeve is a heroine standing with her hair billowing around her like she's in a shampoo commercial in the first sighting scene. It's the first time the hero sets eyes on her so of course she must look breathtaking and flying hair is an essential element of this. I've never understood why.
Atika Chohan (writer, Chhapaak): The one romantic trope I am tired of seeing in Bollywood films is that of the happily ever after. Why can't two people mutually incline towards dis-uniting for positive reasons too in Bollywood films? Think it will encourage the society to have a healthier approach to separation and parting. The relationship should be judged for its depth and intensity as against its length and Indian society still needs a heavy dose of validation of this fact through its popular cinema.
Rahul Desai (film critic, Film Companion): I used to love that travelling was a device of vulnerability and bonding in romantic films. Many think Imtiaz Ali is responsible for this device, but it really went far back – to the DDLJ and Before Sunrise/Sunset days. It's now an annoying cliche. No, you don't fall in love if you're an Indian travelling abroad – you're too busy trying to convert euros into rupees in your head. No, the trains and flights do not support single (unmarried) people sitting next to one another either. It never happens, and it's time filmmakers acknowledge the sheer privileged snobbery of this age-old narrative trope. Personally, I'm done being fooled.
Rajeev Masand (film critic, CNN-News18): The one romantic cliché that needs to be phased out ASAP is the climatic dash to the airport to stop your one true love from leaving. There is inevitably a stuck-in-traffic moment, reaching the check-in counter to realize the flight has already taken off, the sad walk back towards the exit only to realize she didn't leave because she couldn't. Awwww? No, aaarghhhh! It's been overused and now it's just a joke. How so many films continue to resort to this ending is unfathomable – and reeks of sheer laziness. The saddest part is there isn't any attempt to do the same ending with some flair or some novelty. I long for the day I watch a film in which the guy reaches the check-in counter, discovers the flight has taken off already, walks away slowly, turns to look at the sitting area, both us and him expecting to see her there – but she isn't there. There's a note pasted on the seat though from her that reads: "I'm not that girl. This is not that film. I deserve better, and so does the audience." That ending I would cheer for.
Debbie Rao (director, Pushpavalli): I don't know where it was written that harassing a woman is the most effective way of making her fall in love with you. Following her, showing up under her window, manhandling others, sometimes even manhandling her – how this can be the love of your life I cannot imagine. Also, how anyone wearing glasses is always nerdy, shy and underconfident. From Yeh Jawaani Hain Deewani, to Superman, your poor vision is the only thing that stands between you and becoming a confident hottie.
Sumeet Vyas (actor, writer, Tripling, Permanent Roommates): The desperation to get married. If every love story has to culminate in marriage for it to be completed, it feels supremely cliché. I think the ones that don't, sustain the drama and tension besides the romance.
Gazal Dhaliwal (writer, Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga): What I'm tired of seeing is a buildup of romance through a montage of shots playing over a remixed old song. Most films use this method to show the characters fall in love. I think it is lazy writing and filmmaking. A love story truly moves you only when you grow with the characters, you feel the graph of them falling in love – which requires actual scenes and moments to be written and filmed, not just taking the easy way out by showing shots on beaches, shots of the couple on a bike, or them dancing at a club – all such uninspired shots playing over uninspiring music.
Hussain Dalal (dialogue writer, Judgementall Hai Kya, Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani): We live in a country where kids mostly either don't make time for love, or fall in love when their financial condition allows it. Devdas was a nikamma. He was rich so he could sit and cry for love. It's an elitist tale. I want to watch zimmedaari wala pyaar, where breakup ho raha hai lekin rent bhi dena hai aur ghar pe paise bhi bhejne hai toh aasoo rok ke kaam pe jaana padta hai. That's the kind of love I'll write about soon.
Hardik Mehta (director, Roohi Afza): When the guy and girl are eating and there's food on someone's lips and the other person notices and the first person is awkwardly like, 'Hehe, thanks for noticing.' It's such bullshit. Also: 'Aaj baarish bohot ho rahi hai, kya mein raat yahin pe guzaar sakta hoon?' It's such a cliche. It tells you – time for a song, time for lovemaking.
Kanika Dhillon (writer, Manmarziyaan, Judgementall Hai Kya): So the biggest cliché in romantic films is the idea that two people meant to be together complete each other like two broken halves come together to make one whole. I feel it is two complete people who come together, not to complete each other but grow together as individuals.
Juhi Chaturvedi (writer, Piku, October): Aarti and Subrata from Mahanagar, Vijay and Gulabo from Pyaasa, Sujata and Adhir from Sujata, Subir and Uma from Abhimaan, Kripal Singh and Virender Kaur from Maachis, Mahender, Sudha and Maya from Ijaazat, Piku and Rana from Piku, Dr Ramchandra and Deepu from Aligarh…these are just a few examples to say that a relationship between two people is far more complex and layered and is not confined to our popular and limited understanding of love. In our films, every time a filmmaker or a writer has bothered to explore that subtext, that palpable undercurrent, I have found those moments extremely romantic. All the other times, we have just catered to a mass-scale production of synthetic love and romance and clearly stayed on the obvious surface, a cliché in other words.
(As told to Mohini Chaudhuri, Suchin Mehrotra and Gayle Sequeira)