While Romance is a key element in popular cinema across the world, it is an essential component in Indian films. All fictional narratives work with elements taken from the real world – like social conflict, interpersonal relationships, the triumphing over difficulties and sexual attractions of various kinds. Where fictional narratives differ is that each narrative must be ‘closed’ in a way that real life is not and the closure must be satisfactory, i.e. a story must not leave one asking questions about what happened afterwards. In order to do this, a convenient way is to arrange a transition in the condition of the protagonist(s) and it would be helpful for the transition to be aligned with a natural transition in the individual’s life.
The different states in the individual’s life are normally accepted as childhood, adulthood and old age. The transition in Western films leading to the closure is, therefore, someone coming to maturity, and even romances function according to this notion.
In Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, the film culminates not in Elizabeth Bennet and Darcy only finding love but in their overcoming their mutual animosity, i.e., they shed their prejudice and pride respectively and move towards maturity.
When a film concludes with a defeat, it is the transition from adulthood to old age which is usually mimicked at the conclusion. One rarely sees a young person being ‘defeated’ in film narratives. It must, however, be noted that a person dying heroically at the crisis moment is not defeat as much the arrival of maturity – when the person realises that there is much more than self-interest at stake.
In India, the stages are not childhood, adulthood and old age but the ashramas – Brahmacharya (student/ unmarried state), Grihastha (householder), Vanaprastha (retirement) and Sannyasa (renunciation). The most common conclusion for a narrative would hence be the transition of the protagonists from the unmarried state to the married state, i.e., the culmination of the romance. It is to facilitate the closure that the romance is introduced and ‘love’ cannot justly be termed subject matter. To describe a popular film as a ‘love story’ is not a description since the closure imperative makes romance essential, i.e., virtually all films are love stories.
For love to become subject matter it must happen with conflicts of various kinds; like that between people of different classes (Bobby), religions (Bombay), regions (Ek Duuje Ke Liye). The other kind of conclusion – which is rarer – revolves around a married couple united with their children. In such a scenario, what is proposed is the transition from that of being householders to going into retirement when the householder’s responsibilities are taken over by his/her children (Mother India).
MK Raghavendra is a film/literary scholar, theorist, critic and writer. He contributes to numerous newspapers and periodicals in India and abroad, and has authored six books on Indian Cinema. He received the Swarna Kamal, the National Award for Best Film Critic in 1997.