Director Shakun Batra has promised a take with Gehraiyaan on modern relationships that we haven’t seen ever before. Since the film deals with the theme of infidelity, we are keen on it. Why? Because Bollywood’s many legendary takes on love have served as fodder for romantic dreams and aspirations of generations across decades. The formula of ‘boy meets girl and they lived happily ever after’ has cemented its place as the be-all and end-all of successful relationships. Of course, there is always a conflict but it all works out in the end. Our generation finds it hard to relate with such happily ever afters.
Love is hardly ever so uncomplicated as our films would like us to believe. Thus modern viewers yearn for representation of those sticky bits of human relationships that are handcuffed to vulnerabilities of jealousy, cheating, distrust, inadequacy and so much more. It is not as if Bollywood hasn’t tired. Odd mainstream films like Silsila, Arth, Ijaazat and Masoom, which attained classic status, dared to open a dialogue on the difficult intricacies of relationships, casting a mature lens on adultery. But you can count such complex portrayals of love on your fingers. Bollywood’s brand of romance still largely remains fluffy and uncomplicated.
Could Gehraiyaan change that? The Deepika Padukone and Siddhant Chaturvedi-starrer, directed by Shakun Batra, has managed to make a lot of noise prior to its OTT release in February. Even at the outset, the trailer shows the film promises to be different from its peers.
The atmosphere of the film has a ‘vibe’, as millennials would say, that exudes the youthfulness of its take on modern relationships (complemented heavily by its acoustic soundtrack). Two couples – one married, another not – aren’t as happy in love as they appear to be. This truth lies exposed when a partner from each pair engages romantically.
Echoes of guilt and self-reproach ricochet off the calm moodboard of the film.
Is falling in love with someone else justified when you fall out of love with your partner? Can this brand of cheating or adultery find justification in its honest-seeming motive? Who carries the heavier burden of culpability, a woman deceiving her husband or a man deceiving his girlfriend?
Gender, of course, also forms a key part of the discourse. The stakes for a woman to be villified when she pursues love outside of an established relationship are always considerably higher than when a man assumes the same position. Upon the ‘boys will be boys‘ adage, society finds it easier to let men off the hook when they transgress.
Our personas are not one-dimensional. The new generation, a composite mix of millennials and gen-z, appreciates that reality when forming judgments about people, situations and conflicts. Is that making us more considerate in relationships? Has it made us more sensitive to the sensibilities of our partners?
A survey by Hotstar in partnership with international firms in 2019 reportedly showed that urban Indians have rather liberal takes on infidelity in relationships. Aged between 18 and 64, around half of the married 1088 respondents said they were willing to forgive a cheating partner if they were convinced it was a one-time fault.
However, many also said they would forgive their partner for the sake of avoiding societal shame or for the benefit of their children. This should prompt us to question: Are relationships in the modern world still caught in the trap of age-old social stigma?
Marriages in India have sustained at a measly one percent divorce rate through a culture of adjustments and compromises that instructs couples to honour the sanctity of the institution at the cost of their own impulses. Even if the partner cheats or beats.
The younger generations are no less messed up. But a lot of us are willing to engage. By not falling back into the principles of society-appeasing apology our forebears exercised, we are already making some progress. Could our rationalisations around illicit love affairs and infidelity then take us further towards positive reform?
Views expressed are the author’s own.