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How to love like a local

Payel Majumdar Upreti | Updated on May 25, 2018

Not-so-happily married: Actors Sanjay Mishra and Ekavali Khanna in Angrezi Mein Kehte Hain

Fanning ardour: The film explores the idea of romance as a western construct fuelled by the Archies industry of ‘I love you’ cards and cutesy toys   -  K Murali Kumar

Angrezi Mein Kehte Hain puts up a strong case for PDA as a great equaliser in relationships, including the much-married kind

“Main office jaata hoon, yeh ghar sambhalti hai, issi ko kehte hain shaadi (I go to office, she manages our home, and this is what marriage is all about).” When Yashwant Batra (played by actor Sanjay Mishra) tells his daughter this in the film Angrezi Mein Kehte Hain, his wife (played by Ekavali Khanna) sighs inwardly — she doesn’t agree with him on principle, but knows this has been her lived reality for too long.

The film delves into the murky gender politics of what is ostensibly “a good Indian marriage”. The Batras, living in an ancestral house on the banks of the Ganga in Varanasi, are the very archetype of a ‘sanskari family’ — namely, “chock-full of upright moral values” and, therefore, too good to be true. Yashwant, who works at the local post office, considers his biggest responsibility to be finding a fine groom for his daughter.

The daughter is in love with her childhood sweetheart — the slightly dimwitted but sweet neighbour, played by Anshuman Jha. With wonderful comic timing, Jha effortlessly portrays the ‘innocence’ of first love, the eternal wooer, the Shakespearean fool in love, all of which stand out starkly against the cynicism and worldliness of the girl’s father.

The mother is in the mould of the long-suffering, self-sacrificing sati-savitri immortalised in countless yesteryear movies. Part-indulgent, part-defeatist, she lives in the hope that, someday, her husband will notice her as a person, and not just a useful human machine around the house.

When Batra is not brooding over real and imagined slights by his wife’s more affluent family, he is frantically thinking of ways to get his daughter married, including selling his ancestral house to meet the expenses.

A comedy of errors ensues in the first half, as Batra tries half-heartedly to be a supportive husband, while at the same time, taking care to not “overdo it” to keep his manly ego intact. But, after a point, the wife decides she has had enough. The couple separates after the daughter chooses love over duty. From this point, the film focuses on its main plot — an exploration of whether romantic love is a concept borrowed from the West, and fuelled by the Archies industry of ‘I love you’ cards and cutesy toys. The film’s title, too, is a reference to this. So, how to love like a local then?

Fanning ardour: The film explores the idea of romance as a western construct fuelled by the Archies industry of ‘I love you’ cards and cutesy toys   -  K Murali Kumar

 

Moreover, what is the nature and role of love in a lifelong commitment aka marriage? How important is it to tell each other how much they mean to one another, especially when you know that person is bound to be there for you, by a legal contract? And while the young are busy playing at love, how about the adult business of ‘getting stuff done’? When there are shared chores and responsibilities, would it be acceptable, or even appropriate, to scream ‘I love you’ from the rooftops?

Film after film takes itself very seriously while tracing the romantic arc of a young couple in love; on the other hand,ishq between seniors is reduced to comic relief, such as the romance between Anupam Kher and Himani Shivpuri in Dilwale Dulhania Le Jaayenge, or the clichéd devotion of Alok Nath towards his onscreen wife Reema Lagoo in Hum Saath Saath Hain. Public displays of affection between husband and wife are mostly treated as an affectation, and certainly not the basis of a healthy marriage, at least in the average Indian ‘family movie’.

Angrezi Mein Kehte Hain successfully overturns this trope, while keeping it ‘family-friendly’ too. The film’s best parts are those that capture the efforts put in by the daughter and son-in-law to get the older couple back together and teaching the father the new rules of courting. Certainly a must-see for women who have taken their husband’s unresponsiveness as status quo, the film puts up a case for PDA as a great equaliser in relationships. Have it, flaunt it indeed.

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Published on May 25, 2018
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