Features, India

On Our Big, Fat Movie Weddings

Once, a white-haired, dagger-tongued taxi driver, speeding me through traffic towards Royal Opera House, where Raj Khosla’s Do Raaste (1969) was showing, had asked, “Why are you wasting your time and money on such stuff? They’re all about boy meets girl, and whether they get married at the end.”

“Not quite,”I answered. “Sometimes they have a tragic ending.”

He scoffed audibly, “Chhha, it’s always the same old story. Yeh toh Achhut Kannya  (1936) ke zamane se hota raha hai. Khair, jaise tumhari marzi.”

Khosla’s dysfunctional family drama in Do Raaste did depend to a considerable degree on the final coming together of Rajesh Khanna and Mumtaz, despite familial obstacles.

That’s also true of the mammoth, cult romance, Dilwale Dulhania  Le Jayenge (1995), or DDLJ, wasn’t it? Piquantly, the original script was about a Hindu boy and a Muslim girl who escape the communal riots of 1992-1993 from a railway station, fall in love, but are prevented from formalizing their marriage by their families far too touchy for Aditya Chopra’s debut. Scriptwriters Javed Sidiqui and Honey Irani were rescinded from the project. Chopra Jr majorly rewrote the script.

This was equally so in line with an all’s well wrap-up for Raj Kapoor’s iconic teenage love story, Bobby (1973), vis-a-vis the wealthy Hindu parents of the hero and the daughter of a Goan fish-trade family.

As for, unhappy endings (with shades of feuding families in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet) which did click big-time, K Balachander’s Ek Duuje Ke Liye (1981) or Mansoor Khan’s Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak (1988) have evaporated with the wind. In Ek Duuje Ke Liye, it was Punjabi and South Indian cultures that clashed and culminated in the double suicide of characters played by Kamal Haasan and Rati Agnihotri. Newspaper reports had even claimed that the film had incited several cases of real-life suicides. Would Ek Duuje… have clicked big-time today? No categorical answer to that.

Way earlier, Nasir Hussain had to alter the tragic end of his supposedly black-and-white neo-realistic Baharon Ke Sapne (1967) – about exploited millworkers — by hurriedly changing the end to an upbeat one, the logic being the audience couldn’t bear to see the hero, Rajesh Khanna, breathing his last.

Like that perceptive taxi driver, the audience is wary of going back home under a cloud of gloom and doom.

Indeed, after Aditya Chopra’s DDLJ, Karan Johar has steadily made movie weddings into a genre by itself, complete by founding fashion trends, elaborate dance set pieces and interludes of tears wedged in, right from Kuch Kuch Hota Hai (1998) and Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham (2001) right down to his last shaadi bonbon Rocky Aur Rani Ki Prem Kahani (2023), which admittedly was a whopper entertainer, pitting stubborn Punjabi and Bengali families, with their disparate cultures against one another.

Produced by Karan Johar and directed by Abhishek Verman, 2 states (2014) had similarly set up a resolved conflict between a North Indian boy and a Tam-Brahm girl. Again a box office winner.

Doubtlessly though, today in popular Hindi cinema, weddings are  considered a safe bet. They ensure dollops of melodrama, as well as blasts of sound, or songs-and-dances, which can be replicated in real life at the real-life sangeet, mehndi and showy shaadi ceremonies at exotic overseas locations. In fact, Vikas Bahl’s Shaandar (2015), the  first ‘destination wedding’ to be conceptualised in Bollywood, was only to be expected.

For the last two decades and some more, marriages are being made all over the country’s heavenly royal palaces-turned-hotels and in Europe at incredible expenses involving chartered air flights, performances by international pop stars and our own A-lister actors, and banquets fit for emperors. That’s grist for the movie mills, its outcome depending of course on the skills of the chef behind the camera.  Shaandar, as it happened, bombed. The profusion of ‘destination wedding’ entertainers (on OTT shows, too,) in fact, continues though,  underscoring the point that those ‘saat-pheras’ jamborees are the most preferred genre –call it a sub-genre of family dramas if you will – in B-town’s trade circles to date.

More than those hearts-a-palpitatin’ love stories, which could perhaps culminate in downbeat finales, the road towards a traditional marriage has an in-built clause towards a yippee-let’s-bury-our-differences ending. And who knows? After love’s labor found, there could even be deleterious  side-effects, as in Shakun Batra’s Gehrayee (2022) and Shirsha Guha Thakurta’s Do Aur Do Pyaar (2024). Neither proved to be public favourites.

The bigger picture is that genres in popular Mumbai-produced cinema is a mind-spinning one. Unlike the rest of world cinema, it cannot ever be divided into the distinct categories of action, romance, musicals, comedies, horror and of late, special effects-driven super-heroism. A film to be successful, preternaturally, must include elements of every genre in various quotients. Take the example of Ramesh Sippy’s Sholay (1975), perhaps the most-adored Indian entertainer of all times. Although depending on such thrilling moments as the train heist, gun combats and Gabbar Singh’s assorted bestiality, it became a cult because it recipe of  disparate ingredients was blended to perfection. Quite tellingly, one of its most warmly-remembered sequences is an addled marriage proposal, a friend damning the intended groom-to-be by listing all his weaknesses.

Or take the dramedy Vinil Mathew’s Hansee Toh Phansee (2014), the chemistry had to be a fantasy-come-true between its unmade-for-each-other pair bubbling in the laboratory of an impending wedding. Of the hundreds of films produced every year, only Maneesh Sharma’s Shudh Desi Romance (2013) crossed the limits, obtusely though, for a resolution which suggested that a live-in relationship may not be such a bad idea in an era of fleeting relationships.

Eras or contemporary conditions aren’t reflected as a given. Instead the accent has been on conservatism, the glorification of traditions and the sanctity of the joint family, the foremost example being Sooraj Barjatya’s Hum Aapke Hain Koun..! (1994) in which veggie picnics, bright and bouncy ceremonies, retro-chic costumes and joint family bonding were so overvalued that they struck a chord majorly with the audience deeply rooted in the conventional. Barjatya confected a wedding cake so sweet  and wholesome that it continues to be the most fantasy-fulfilling examples of ‘wedding movies’, which he sought to take to another level with Hum Saath Saath Hain  (1999) but in vain. Hum Aapke Hain Koun..! remains unbeatable. Moreover, it is frankly acknowledged as a major influence by the wunderkinds Aditya Chopra and Karan Johar. It also began the phenomenon of real-life relatives and friends, being trained assiduously in typical Bollywood moves, to be performed at the sangeet and mehndi ceremonies. Life imitating reality? Perhaps because traditional weddings needed a touch of novelty or should that be a needless mega-hike in expenditure. Weddings are a perfect a scenario for an often gross display of wealth.

Mira Nair’s Monsoon Wedding (2001) did take a credible look at the behind-the-scenes hoopla, in a style that alloyed warmth with social commentary by subtly foisting in the element of sexual abuse. It worked as a film which had something significant to say. To an extent, a quasi-realistic style served in elevating  Aanand L Rai’s Tanu Weds Manu (2011) and its sequel three years later as well as Maneesh Sharma’s Band Baaja Baarat (2010). Their plots may have been implausible but were interspersed with believable vignettes. Inevitably, their commercial success has contributed to the longevity of the wedding movies genre.

Genre? Is too much importance given to the word in relation to our moviemaking system which is an outlet for variety entertainment? To quote the eminent critic Robert T Jameson, “Genre isn’t a word that pops up in every conversation about films… but the idea is second nature to the movies and our awareness of them. Movies belong to genres much the way people belong to families of ethnic groups.”

Right, at this very moment then, wedding hooplas are the most successful destination towards commercial success. Even senior producers and tradewallas light up like brand-new grooms at their very mention. After all, currently Bollywood weddings can only yield pleasant side-effects. The taxi driver’s words still ring in my ears.

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