The greatest irony of the 21st century is that with the advent of modern internet technologies that brought the world together, people grew further apart from each other. Relationships, platonic and romantic, now rest flimsily, dependent on Wi-Fi bars and internet signals. Even the age-old idea of romance has been overpowered by the forces of cynicism and the evolved citizenry of the post-truth era. The fairytales are too sexist and regressive, Shakespeare's romanised portrayals of separation and sacrifice have lost their grim allure, and the formulaic narrative of boy meets manic pixie dream girl has been too overdone to ever appear fresh in retellings. Despite this, love is too potent and compelling an emotion to be subdued by the hurdles of aloneness, loneliness or heartbreak. Viewers of romantic films will never diminish—as predictable, unoriginal, politically incorrect or warped our ideas of romance may be, such films are manifestations of raw and uninhibited fantasies, loud and cringey gestures and cheesy one-liners that we have no room for in our real lives. They are escapist channels through which audiences can fall in love, with the movies, stories, characters, and the idea of love itself. So, here are some of my favourite films about love:
This is a love story different from others of its time – Hugh Grant is charming as William, the warm, gentle, timid and humble male protagonist, while Julia Roberts plays the confident yet vulnerable American actress. They make no sense on paper—the world renowned American star, and the book-selling British commoner. A meet-cute and William's blissful unawareness about Hollywood stars brings them together. While the spotlights and cameras shine a constant, blinding light on Anna, William reminds her of Anna the person, rather than Anna the star. He is a nobody, and she longs to feel like one. Which is why Notting Hill's portrayal of romance lies in small, seemingly insignificant normal experiences. Their love story isn't about the big romantic gesture, rather the family dinner and walks in British parks. The power dynamics are lopsided and complicated and the narrative allows their relationship to become messy and chaotic, as most romantic films do. But it does so without ever losing sight of the impending happy ending.
Ritesh Batra's The Lunchbox is a film that relates the most to the title of this article— Love in the age of Loneliness. Saajan is a character that doesn't seem to be living, only surviving—he eats the same greasy food, straight out of the container every night and glances into the homes of families enjoying communal dinners and laughter from his balcony, only to realise that he has only himself to go back home to. Ila on the other hand is a housewife, holding on to a dwindling marriage and overcompensating by cooking and sending her husband deliciously different meals everyday via Mumbai's famous dabbawalas. Through a fateful error, Ila's lunchbox, intended to reach her husband, is delivered to Saajan, and thus begins an exchange of food, letters, stories, and memories. They are two lonely souls, trying to hold on to the last shreds of hope in their monotonous lives, who connect by chance but continue to talk by choice. This love story is novel because it has been crafted with care, resulting in a delicate narrative infused with the charm of old-school romance. In a world filled with email and Whatsapp romances, Ila and Saajan depend on hand-written notes—instead of the click of a button, they are connected by pages that they know they both have physically touched and words that they have carefully constructed. In this way, The Lunchbox's quiet and subtle romance becomes a symbol of a way of loving that existed before the pressures of and accessibility to constant communication—a love that is anticipatory and flirtatious, and simultaneously, lonely and exciting, all because it only exists in the fleeting moments between the start and end of their daily letters.
Ayan Mukherji's second film, Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani, falls perfectly in the rom-com genre and consists of all the tropes that make a film a conventional contemporary love story. But I have always found the poetic romance of Wake Up Sid to be more appealing. Yes, it is a coming-of-age narrative whose focus lies on Siddharth's (Ranbir Kapoor) search for a purpose. And although one of the film's most potent criticisms on its release was the lack of 'chemistry' between Sid and Aisha (Konkona Sen Sharma), their relationship carried a quiet innocence that I can't seem to find on screen anymore. They have polar opposite personalities, a significant age difference and completely different priorities, yet she manages to complement his juvenility with a stable, mature perspective while he helps the "New Girl in the City" find comfort in the unknown and the uncertain. They fall in love without ever knowing it—somewhere between friends, roommates, and co-workers, they become each other's habit. And Sid, and her love for him eventually becomes the path that leads Aisha to fall in love with Mumbai, encapsulating the film's core message—attention, attachment, nostalgia, protectiveness, possessiveness linked to people, places and memories are mere manifestations of love.
I recently saw a meme that read, 'The Imran Khan era of Bollywood Rom-Coms was elite' and it made me wonder what it was about these films made them so distinctive and unique. I arrived at the conclusion that Imran Khan's rom-com protagonists were the opposite of toxic masculinity—they were consistently timid, quiet, loving and submissive, regardless of the narrative. Even though the film follows a group of college students, Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na is thrilling without being promiscuous and innocent without being immature. The story is simple, almost too ordinary: boy meets girl in college, they become best friends, blinded by this friendship they become each other's favourite people and everyone besides them are aware of their feelings. Despite this, it earns its grand ending—the Bollywood airport chase sequence. Imran Khan is affable as Jai, the loving and gentle best friend of our dreams, while Genelia D'souza's Aditi has the feisty personality of a chilled out tomboy. When the two come together, they display a child-like and playful version of love—there is no intimacy, or even a recognition of one's feelings until the very end, but what makes their relationship so enchanting is the age-old Bollywood mantra—love is friendship. The cheesy pet names, inside jokes, protectiveness and comfort is where their love story finds its roots, making Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na a nostalgic tribute to the "we're just best friends"' trope before it became a cliche.
Loving is as much about letting go as it is about cherishing and holding on to people and relationships. No film depicts this idea better than the 2009 animated Disney feature, Up. It might be difficult to position this choice as a movie about love; it isn't a romantic film, rather a commentary on what it means to love and lose. Ironically, the love story between Cal and Ellie is illustrated through a brief montage at the very beginning of the narrative—they meet, fall in love, marry, grow old together and eventually, Ellie dies. This is where the film begins—a grumpy and lonely Cal holding on to any reminder of his late wife. When we first meet him, his quaint cottage, one that he built and nurtured with his wife, becomes a tangible symbol of the remnants of their relationship. He isn't willing nor able to let go of the only standing reminder of the love he had and also the love he has lost. The grief turns him bitter and closed off to new experiences—it's almost as if he doesn't allow himself the privilege of joy because the fleeting smiles and courage to continue living seem like a betrayal to his wife. In the end, through many Disney-esque conflicts and adventures, Cal's flying house serendipitously lands on Paradise Islands, Ellie's favourite location and their retirement home. Through his journey, Cal is able to find a new way to love his late wife, by living and loving new people, places and experiences, because to love is not to either forget or fixate, but rather to cherish and reminisce.