Why Bollywood And Karan Johar Hate Marriage

March 13, 2007
Amrita Rajan

When did Karan Johar become everybody's least favorite Nosy Aunty? The USP of his talk show, Koffee with Karan, has always been that he is a 'fearless' insider who can get away with asking intimate questions of the glamorous and powerful Bollywood elite. Questions that would get the average filmi journalist blackballed. But the latest episode of his show featuring siblings Soha and Saif Ali Khan was something else.

The entire hour revolved around the fairly long ago demise of Khan's marriage to yesteryear actress Amrita Singh. This event apparently captured Johar's fancy to such an extent that he went to the length of inviting baby sis Soha just so she could sit and help him dissect the divorce. That either sibling survived the show with their dignity intact was entirely due to their own effort and considerable charm.

Somewhere in the middle of this interrogation, er, interview, Johar gave us an inkling as to the origin of his morbid fascination by announcing that he was against the institution of marriage! Really? Is that why he inflicted three different movies on us all revolving around a happily-ever-after scenario with painstakingly crafted wedding sequences? Four, if you count Kal Ho Na Ho.

I'm hardly the first to be irritated by the Bollywood-Marriage debate. Ever since Hum Aapke Hain Kaun ratcheted up the wedding game by devoting its entire length to the topic so dear to Yash Chopra's heart (he's had wedding sequences in most of his movies even if it was his son who brought it into sharp focus in the 1990s), people have talked of little else.

There are magazine covers devoted to the Bollywood-ization of marriage ceremonies in India; fashion designers sell collections with Bollywood themes at outrageous prices; obscure rituals are brought into vogue; and of course, TV serials slavishly copy entire storylines from the latest Bollywood wedding extravaganza.

Back in the 1980s, parents could be heard moaning across India about the "I'm a rebel and I'll elope for love" message that was being formulated by movies such as Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak. That gave way to the tediously pious couple of the 90s who fight for parental approval a la Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge (not only the movie that kickstarted the trend but till date the only one that has carried off the conceit in style). And with it came the criticism about regressive moral standards and religious fetishism.

Whatever. One thing I do know, however, is that it's anti-reality.

If you were to base your expectations of reality on a Bollywood movie you'd end up in a right royal mess. You'd think your first love was It, that the boy you fell in love with at fourteen was the man you were going to be with forever. You'd think a woman who went out to work was a person incapable of maintaining a civil relationship and God save us all from the woman who wears a short skirt. Mothers in law are nothing but trouble and all our parents have blissfully successful marriages in which our mothers worship our fathers as befits proper Indian women.

Ha ha, you say, what rubbish! People don't actually base their lives on Bollywood!

Oh no? Let's look at Exhibit A: Aamir Khan. It was quite a few years ago when he and his (then) wife Reena appeared on the infamously saccharine show Rendezvous with Simi Garewal. When asked how they met, Khan replied in true filmi style that he'd seen her through a window in her house and had immediately fallen in love with her.

My first reaction was disbelief - these people were actually married? Second was wonder - they were still married? As a miserable cynic who's never fallen in love with anyone through a window, I was completely taken aback. There must be something wrong with me, I decided. But then, a year or so later came the news that the couple had divorced.

Sanity restored, I was surprised to find that I seemed to be about the only one who wasn't positively shocked by the demise of this marriage. I don't know them personally so I might well be missing out on some intricacies of their personal dynamic that was visible to their intimates but from what little I'd gathered from the media, there was nothing in their divorce to shock me.

First of all, I'm a little hesitant about relationships that begin when the couple is in their teens. This, in spite of the fact that the most romantic (and faithfully married until his death twelve years ago) couple I know in real life got married when she was 14 and he was barely 21. I rather think they're the exception than the rule though.

Not that Bollywood, or even Hindi serials, would agree with me. Everything is based on the Romeo and Juliet theory - young love is the only love. "First love" is something sacred and wonderful; everything else is sort of second-best. In actual fact, most people are complete assholes in their first love affair. They're just figuring things out - boundaries, emotions, depth, etc.

Secondly, a relationship needs work and at least a modicum of understanding between the partners. I don't think you need to be twin halves of a whole, but I do think it helps if you know what drives the other person. It's simply unrealistic, for example, to marry a workaholic and then expect him/her to run home at the stroke of five to cuddle with you on the couch. I'm not saying workaholics can't or don't like to cuddle - it's just that they like to work just as much or perhaps a little more than cuddling. It's no reflection on you as a person.

Now look at what films and TV have to say on this: the moment a woman steps out of her house to go to work, the world might just as well end. There are, of course, millions of middle class women who go out to work and some of them even earn more than their husbands (which makes for a whole another debate). But in our movies and serials, the working woman is a creature devoid of all humanity.

Men don't get off that easy either - there's poor old Put Upon Husband, trying to shield his wife from any gust of wind that passes by and invariably falling flat on his face. I don't know who these husbands are in real life but they deserve a swift kick in the pants. The men I know, no matter the generation, have a healthy habit of discussing things over in minute detail with their other halves. Unless, of course, they hate each other or something, in which case they're no longer married.

Another of the interesting trends that I have noticed amongst men and women of my generation by the way, is that women tend to be more qualified than men. Perhaps this is applicable only to South Indians, but an increasing number of marriages in the South feature men who're less educated than their wives albeit with more work experience. This is especially true of weddings that take place between India born and bred girls and NRI boys, specifically those settled in the Middle East.

Just the other day my father's banker admitted that he'd reluctantly decided that he would have to marry his daughter outside their subcaste because he was unable to find a young man who satisfied all their requirements vis a vis education, employment and family. It would be a blow to the older (female) members of his family, he said, but his daughter's happiness came first.

Generally, these men are proud of their wives'/daughters' capabilities but you would never guess the same from watching a run-of-the-mill serial on Indian TV.

Thirdly, the reasons for a marriage's survival or its demise are just as unique as the individuals concerned. Take, for example, infidelity. It's a dealbreaker for so many of us but not for all. Some people would rather live in denial because it's more comfortable for them that way. Others are perfectly aware of their spouse's shenanigans but tolerate it for the sake of something they deem more important - like children or living standards or just plain old tradition.

Perhaps these are not the choices that you or I would make in their situation but it is one that works for these people. The other day, a woman wrote in to Dear Abby about her sister who's been married for fifteen years to the father of her two children. In that time he also fathered half a dozen other children and was currently MIA after impregnating a woman who lived down the street from his wife. The wife refuses to divorce her husband. This was an American woman.

On another occasion, an Asian woman wrote in to say that she was contemplating divorce at the urging of her grown children who were appalled by their father, a serial abuser. She'd put off the decision for a long time because she didn't want to upset her family "back home" who were deeply traditional but now the children had decided enough was enough.

A couple of years ago, watching my best friend go through the complicated process leading up to an arranged marriage prompted me to write a piece on the great desi marriage. While my views have not undergone any substantial change since then, upon re-reading it, I realized I'd left out a very important detail of the Indian male-female dynamic as I'd experienced it: more than women, men are the real romantics.

I don't quite know why this is so - perhaps it is a cultural thing. In the European tradition there are many tales of the young women who considered the world well lost for love. In India, the two most famous examples of such women are Laila (who is an Arab) and Meera (who loves God). On the other hand, we have examples ranging from the Ramayana onwards of men who lost their heads over women who were disconcertingly practical about the whole business (Dasharatha and Kaikeyi, for example).

I have a friend who, when out of a relationship, talks about marriage as a business transaction - he talks about his future goals and how he expects his wife to help him achieve them; he is very candid about dowry and earning potential, etc. The moment he finds a girl to fall in love with however, he's a completely different person.

He wants to be with her all the time, talk to her, hold her handbag, take her shopping, buy her silly gifts, take her on expensive trips... perfect Sugar Daddy material. This happens on a fairly regular basis. The sad part is, he only ever falls for women who would take advantage of that side of his. It's like he has a built-in radar for trouble. And the mind-boggling thing is he knows it and likes it that way.

KJo should make a movie about him.

Amrita Rajan is a writer based in NYC
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Deepti Lamba
March 14, 2007
04:37 AM

Amrita, you seemed to have left out the man Saif Ali was married to but yeah I don't understand the emphasis people put on marriage and then kids.

Marriages don't make people happy nor does changing diapers make a person whole

March 14, 2007
01:07 PM

This boollywwod karan joohar fellow, is he living in shantytown in the bombay or in a good house ? SInce he is rich boollywood guy no doubt he has the enough money to live in house instaed of shantytown.

March 14, 2007
01:09 PM

Gizmo - it takes talent to troll. Polish up your skills and try again

March 14, 2007
01:45 PM

If the top booollywood actors are like the Chahrukkhs, then there is no hope at all for the boollywood in the International scene. How can them compete with those hollywood ones like linardo di caprio, tomm hanks, schwarezenegger, clint eastwood, charlton heston, denzel washington, will smithe etc ? hopeless case !

March 14, 2007
02:03 PM

Amrita, I beg your forgiveness in advance for encouraging Gizmo. But of all the baiters here, Gizmo is by far the most entertaining. I love the way his words spill over each other as if they all think that period is a finish line and they have to get there fast.

Gizmo, can you please spell Aishwarya for us? I'm already in splits over how you spell Shahrukh Khan and Bollywood.

March 14, 2007
02:40 PM

Great piece, Amrita. I thought the bit about falling in love by looking at someone through a window was damn funny:)
Yeah, both my significant other and me were exhausted at the end of the Saif-Soha show; and what gets me about KJ is why make insufferable films about what you don't believe in? HumeN to baKsh do, bhai!

March 14, 2007
03:44 PM

Aw come on - look how well he went with the Hollywood names - Arnie, Clint etc!!

The answer to your q posed in the title of this piece is cos he is (in a hushed voice( G.A.Y??

March 14, 2007
07:50 PM

DG, he got 4 out of 7 wrong. So there is hope for me yet. Gizmo! Where are you! I demand that you entertain us! :)

March 15, 2007
01:11 AM

Aspi - hey, I never stand in the way of other people's fun. But I think you scared him off.

Come back, Gizmo, we didn't mean it!

PH - I love that Rendezvous show, its way funnier than KJo's asskissing coz on Rendezvous, it's the host who does all the clinging which is way more entertaining! KJo says he now has the cojones to tackle something "different" now that he made KANK (!) so god only knows what next in store.

DG - Somebody ought to introduce him to Ryan Seacrest or like they call him on TwoP "Sprinkles". :D

Dee - lol, he does like em with the possibility of a mooch: ex-girl Rosa looked pretty manly too.

Thanks for reading everybody!

Deepa Krishnan
March 15, 2007
12:54 PM

Amrita - what a satisfying read, as usual!

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