Shailesh Kapoor: The Changing Face of Love Stories

14 Feb,2020

By Shailesh Kapoor


Love stories have been a popular favourite for Indian audience. Be it cinema or television, some of the most successful content created over the last several decades belongs to this genre. There was a time when it was default genre for all content in cinema. And that’s why, the idea of the hero-heroine pairing still remains relevant. A film that does not have such a lead pair stands out as ‘different’.

While cinema embraced love stories almost 100 years ago, the genre flourished on television only in the satellite television era. The Doordarshan era focused on shows that were more real and relevant, than fantastical, which love stories are often designed to be. None of the best shows in that period are based on love as a central premise. Hum Log, Buniyaad, Yeh Jo Hai Zindagi, Nukkad, Dekh Bhai Dekh, Ramayan, Mahabharat et al explored a wide range of genres, but apart from a strong sub-plot in Shah Rukh Khan-starrer Fauji, there is little romantic content to talk about from that period.

This changed quickly when satellite channels entered, and tried to tell more escapist and aspirational stories, than real and rooted ones. From teenage love (Just Mohabbat) to office love (Jassi Jaisi Koi Nahin) to a wide array of shows, on love in the backdrop of familial relationships, often helmed by Ekta Kapoor, various shades of love were on offer.

And this continues to be the case even today. With the exception of Taarak Mehta Ka Ooltah Chashmah, which could easily have been a show in the Doordarshan era too, all the top successful fiction shows are centered around a romantic relationship. They may have a larger story that goes beyond love, but the heroine-hero pair is the pivot around which that story unfolds.

Many such successful shows on television explore marital love. Getting married is easy on Indian television. But falling in love with your spouse and consummating the marriage is a big deal. These shows are referred to by audience as ‘family love stories’, a somewhat oxymoronic phrase that works very well in context of the family medium that television is. The challenges in these love stories are often posed by conflicts within the family, or by circumstances that are triggered off because of one or more family members.

This external conflicts model dominated the love story ‘formula’ in cinema too, till the 90s. Maine Pyar Kiya, Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak, Gadar Ek Prem Katha, Hum Aapke Hain Koun, Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, Dil To Pagal Hai and all such long-named films from the 90s saw protagonists facing external conflicts that tested their love, and their resolve to come together. Often rooted in social or economic divide, these conflicts found their genesis in traditional India, where rich vs. poor and inter-caste marriages were big factors at play in marriage decisions.

Post-liberalisation, and with the advent of multiplexes, this formula began to look cliché. After all, in how many different ways can you tell a rich vs. poor love story? This is when Hindi cinema shifted its focus from external to internal conflicts. Challenges were more in the mind (career vs. love, commitment vs. free spirit) than in the world outside. Protagonists in films like Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani or Love Aaj Kal battled their inner demons, even as the world outside was completely aligned to the idea of them being together.

Some such films worked, but many didn’t. Internal conflict is still a dominantly Western idea, and barring a section of audience in the big cities, it’s not seen as being dramatic enough to be mainstream content. As a result, love stories stopped working, and then stopped getting made. In the list of the top 50 love stories of the decade of 2010-2019, the number of love stories is an abysmal five. Just five. The equivalent number for the 90s is in the early 20s.

Clearly, going away from external conflicts hasn’t worked for this genre in Hindi cinema. The nature of these external conflicts needed to be reinvented, but in a classic error of judgement, the baby was thrown out with the bathwater. Last year’s Kabir Singh (originally Arjun Reddy) showed us how external and internal conflicts can be brought together to make an engaging and dramatic love story. Similar impact was created in Sairat, another regional film. It’s the big-city syndrome that may have led Hindi cinema to get deviated from this line of thinking, even as regional films continue to explore it with new-age twists.

We need more such ideas. Love is a fantastical genre, and it may have been over-intellectualised in Hindi cinema over the last few years. It’s time to go back to the roots, and re-imagine the classical notion of love. And for a change, some inspiration can be drawn from television.



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