By Pragya Gianani, Staff Writer
When I was about 5 years old, my mother told me one of my favorite uncles was getting married soon. Naturally my response was, “Have they sung a song together yet?”
To which her response (and yours, I assume) was, “…what?”
I repeated my question, half exasperated and my mother responded with “why…would they do that?”
“How else would they know they’re soulmates?”
I was quite adamant to know if my uncle was in good hands. Even five year old Pragya was like dang…marriage is for, like, life. He better be with someone he’s meant to be with forever ‘cause forever is long.
I had two unrefuted assumptions that led to this question, premised on my cultural and spiritual upbringing. Culturally, I was raised primarily on VCR cassettes of Shah Rukh Khan movies that we rented from the video store on the corner every weekend. My family and I lived in a tiny studio apartment for the first six years of my life, so we couldn’t really afford cable. Spiritually, to keep it short, I wasn’t raised on religion, but on an unwavering belief in God (which may or may not have diluted over time).
Shah Rukh Khan’s movie titled “Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi” (A Match Made by God) represented a pervasive, omnipresent idea that existed much before the movie came out. So my first assumption was that the only way for you to know you fell in love with the right person was if God gave you a sign. How would God give you this sign?
He (or she)’d play the music.
Because, of course, all the Bollywood movies I watched on VCR had that song. The song in a foreign land, with pyramids, or snowy hills, or piercingly green landscapes where Shah Rukh Khan romanced his lady love in her chiffon saree (a costume that never changed on any actress he romanced in the 2000s, regardless of the freezing/sweltering temperature). At the end of the movie, it’s the girl he sang a song with who ended up with him.
To recap: God plays the music. You sing the song. You marry your soulmate.
2 + 2 = 4. I really had my ish figured out at age five.
To me, as hilarious as this story is, it is representative of a much larger concern. I only knew of one way to love, and it was the way Bollywood presented. At age twenty, I am still struggling to unlearn and relearn love. My greatest love stories so far have been my friendships. These friendships have been just as (if not more so) rooted in immense kindness, compassion and beauty as romantic love seems to be. Twenty and I haven’t already met my soulmate in Europe? South Asian cinema, as far as I know, would perhaps portray that as a failure. I find this particular trend problematic because I find the romanticization of romantic love problematic. Recently, however, I have noticed an uptick in the portrayal of genuine friendships. It is not enough, but it is a start. In “Piku”, the friendship between Irrfan Khan and Deepika Padukone is my favorite part. This movie does not end with love. It ends with comfort, where Deepika is playing badminton with her friend (or perhaps, now, boyfriend/husband, we are left to decide that for ourselves).
So now, I guess, if my mother told me someone I knew was getting married I’d ask, “Are they friends?”
Fun fact to close this column, my mother crushed my dreams by informing me that Bollywood actors/actresses don’t sing the songs themselves and introduced me to the concept of playback singers and music directors. Bollywood doesn’t really have individual albums of musicians as much as it has soundtracks of movies which have songs sung by different singers, curated by a single lyricist and music director. There’s no “i” in team, I guess.