Yesterday I was watching one of my favourite movies Woh 7 Din (1983) when I realized, it might not remain a favourite anymore. The first half of the movie is absolutely endearing with the antics of a typical Punjabi Prem Pratap Patiyala Wale (Anil Kapoor) and the beautiful Maharashtrian Maya (Padmini Kolhapure). The lucid comedy would have you in splits, the gradual development of the love story between an innocent child-man and a matured lady would fill your heart with compassion. You would almost expect it to end on a happier note as the Indians love their movies.
The movie starts with Maya attempting suicide on the first night after her marriage with Dr. Anand (Naseeruddin Shah). Her love story is shown in flashback until the marriage happens. After getting to know that she was in love with another man, the husband decides to find the man and surrender his wife to the other man (as if she were a document or property, mishandled). Despite being forcibly married to the man she didn’t love, Maya refuses to go back to her lover because everyone in the movie (and the audience too in 1983, perhaps) believed in the power of the Mangalsutra. And exactly this part of the movie has always been disagreeable to me. The girl refuses to leave the state of marriage because she believes that a Mangalsutra once tied cannot be undone, her lover believes that he cannot take her back because she belongs to somebody else now and wears a Mangalsutra of the husband’s name, not to mention the confused husband who simply doesn’t know what to believe and had a perpetual perplexed expression. Why can’t forced marriages be shown in the movies as they ought to be? One might give it a benefit of doubt being in the 1980’s era and about two generations back from now. But I have another recent example for you – Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam (1999).
This one takes its story loosely from a Bengali novel Na Hanyate by Maitreyi Devi (1974). The movie is pretty much on the same plot – Nandini (Aishwarya Rai) meets Sameer (Salman Khan) who comes from Italy to Gujarat in search of a music guru who happens to be her father. They have their share of tussles, fights and fun-fights before realizing that they are in love. But the girl’s family would not have a ‘foreigner’ among them and ask him to leave when they forcibly marry her off to Vanraj (Ajay Devgan). The husband, besotted with his beautiful bride slowly realizes that she is still immersed completely in the memories of the man she loved. He feels too, that he ought to ‘return’ her to the other man who deserves her (gift unwrapped, of course). Their journey in search of Sameer is shown quite explicitly throughout the second half, and none can forget the frantic shrieks of ‘Sameer, Sameer’ by the girl on some bridge in Budapest which was marketed as one of the high moments of the movie. Finally the girl is to be handed over to her lover at a concert and the husband is teary-eyed (because he too is in love with his wife of a few days and he has confessed it to her when he was drunk).
What happens then? No brownies or points for guessing. The girl meets her lover, the guy is ecstatic to have her back and the moment he wants to touch her, he notices the Mangalsutra. Bang. Phiss. Fizz. Freeze goes the screen. The girls goes back the same bridge, or some other (who cares!) to the husband who was retreating as slowly as possible. I’m sure his character had watched the earlier movie too and knew the wife would come back *evil grin*. He ties the Mangalsutra round her neck and we have a super hit movie of the 1990’s as well.
Why? Should we be encouraging forced marriages on the basis of religion and belief? Having a break-up, moving on, marrying a stranger and finding new love is NOT the same as being married off to a stranger just because the family doesn’t approve of the lover. Its time we ask these questions, to ourselves and to the older generations. Mangalsutra might be a very wonderful thing to adorn yourself with and hold on to, but it should not compel people to carry the burden of unwanted, forced marriages which do not bring joy to either of the spouses.
Its time, seriously. Before another such movie is made. Or watched.