A guy likes a girl, “makes” her fall in love with him, the couple faces resistance from their families, they either run away or fight, for the perfect ending. Sounds familiar? It sure would. This right here is the basic plotline of almost all Bollywood romantic films. Barring a few exceptions, the Hindi film industry has mostly given us moderated and slightly varying versions of lovers fighting the socio-economic barriers to get together.

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The mustard fields, damsels in distress, a strict father being somewhat of a constant, we have seen these tales, these characters decades after decades being played out in front of us. It now feels that Bollywood needs stories with a fresh and more realistic perspective. Misogyny, toxic masculinity, catcalling, sexism, homophobia have been normalized by many three-hour-long productions. Which is perhaps why the genre of romantic films has lost its hold on us.

Barring a few exceptions, the Hindi film industry has mostly given us benign and slightly varying versions of lovers fighting the socio-economic barriers to get together.

With a newly independent country and people full of hope, the 50s portrayed some really strong female protagonists in evergreen films like Mother India (1957). Romance in the 50s was about sharing an umbrella in torrential rains. Of looking at the moon and pinning for your beloved and companionship. Films like Awaara (1951) Mr. & Mrs. 55 (1955), Pyaasa (1957) initiated us into the Bollywood idea of love. Then came the vivacious sixties, which made proclamation of love in public a fashion. Mughal-E-Azam (1960) told us that you shouldn’t be afraid to love, An Evening in Paris (1967) made the trend of shooting romances exotic European locales mainstream. Aradhana (1969) explored the dimension of sensuality in love and sex before marriage.

Then in the 70s, the male lead became an angry young man, with focus shifting from romances and love triangles to action. However, love was still in demand among the audience. What set the romance from the 70s apart was that it moved from the grandeur of K Asif films to the setting of our drawing rooms, courtesy one Hrishikesh Mukherjee. In films like Guddi (1971), Abhimaan (1973) Chupke Chupke (1975), Golmaal (1979) the hero and heroine shed their glamour to become everyday people who you might see on the bus stop or in the garden.

The next two decades gave us some of the most iconic romantic films of all time whose references are still commonplace. Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak (1988), Maine Pyar Kiya (1989), Aashiqui (1990), Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge (1995),  Kuch Kuch Hota Hai (1998) to name a few. All these and many more have made the fans see romance through rose-tinted glasses. In reality, love is complicated and so are the relationships, which actually begun where these films end. Apart from simplifying complexities that may arise in a romance by limiting them to love triangles or opposition from families, these films also gave very specific ideas about love that many people carry around even today. It was the 90s that romanticised stalking, taught us that ladki ki na me bhi uski ha hai, and if she turns around to see you, she loves you back. Haven’t these notions cost women their safety and agency?

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Having said that, the beginning of the new millennium sure brought with itself new ideas and perceptions in Indian cinema. Directors and writers started bringing more issues to focus and love stories moved away from women dancing in chiffon sarees with men in sweaters and eloping for “true love”. Tum Bin (2001) dealt with the loss of a loved one and giving love a second chance. Saathiya (2002) showed the other side of that happily ever after to us, as the couple struggles to find harmony in matrimony after a breezy romance. Hum Tum (2004) made romantic films sleek and stylish while touching on commitment issues. Jab We Met (2008) told us how love did not always “happen” at first sight, and you take time to understand your feelings.

The beginning of the new millenium sure brought with itself new ideas and perceptions in Indian cinema. Directors and writers started bringing more issues to focus and love stories moved away from women dancing in chiffon sarees with men in sweaters and eloping for “true love”

Bollywood currently is constantly trying to change the conception of gender binaries. We got strong homosexual characters like that of Dr Shrinivas Ramchandra Siras in Aligarh (2015) Rahul Kapoor in Kapoor and Sons (2016). This decade finally gave us same-sex love narratives with films Margarita with a Straw (2014) and Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga (2019).

Many films in the last decade have challenged the conventional perception of love and relationships we’ve grown up watching. Ki & Ka (2016) questioned gender roles and revealed what it took to challenge these notions, Badhaai Ho (2018) normalised middle-aged pregnancy, and that seeking love at any age is completely okay. Shuddh Desi Romance (2013) brought co-habitation in the discussion, while The Lunchbox (2013) captured how seeking love at any age as completely okay. Piku (2015) on the other hand told the story of a daughter who puts her romantic and professional life on hold to care for her old father.

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There has been a change in how Bollywood portrays romance but we want inclusivity in Indian cinema more than the happy endings. The cinematic expression is an art that needs to be worthy enough for all to be impacted. We, as viewers crave for reality to be more prominently shown, cinema to be more reflective of real-life relationships. Love needs to be portrayed as it actually is.

Saavriti is an intern with SheThePeople.TV. The views expressed are the author’s own.

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