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Kuch Kuch Hota Hai: Let’s talk toxicity

My first memory of Kuch Kuch Hota Hai is of me swooning over Tina’s outfits. Played by Rani Mukerji, the character of Tina had a soft, feminine aesthetic. She had long and silky hair, wore skirts and high heels, and never touched baggy clothes. A complete antithesis of this character was Anjali (Kajol), who had short hair, wore sweatshirts and was “one of the boys”.

Exposed to the movie at an impressionable age, it left a lasting impression on my mind. And it was not a positive one. It made me believe that if I didn’t adhere to the globally accepted feminine gender roles, my prince charming would dump me for someone else. The only way I could win him back was by changing myself. At least that is what the 1998 Karan Johar blockbuster taught me.

The character of Rahul, played by Shah Rukh Khan, exemplifies toxic masculinity. His disregard for Anjali, initially portrayed as a tomboy, is problematic. The movie suggests that a woman should change her personality and appearance to win over a man’s love. It not only reinforces outdated notions of gender roles but also trivialises friendship. It presents the idea that platonic friendships between men and women are impossible, reducing the value of such relationships to mere stepping stones to romantic involvement.

While Kuch Kuch Hota Hai has its moments of entertainment and nostalgia, it is doused in toxicity and misogyny — a common feature of Bollywood movies from the era.

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Long hair and feminine outfits portray the “suitable girl” in the film.

Credit: Special Arrangement

If you were to imagine a remake of the movie 25 years down the line, you would expect a progressive storyline that celebrates genuine friendships, personal growth, and love that transcends societal expectations. The story would revolve around the authentic friendship between Rahul and Anjali, who meet in college. Anjali encourages Rahul to embrace his emotional side and provides unwavering support during his wife Tina’s pregnancy and after her tragic death. When Rahul’s daughter is born, they raise her together as co-parents. The film would celebrate the strength of their friendship and explore the beautiful bond they share, free from superficial standards, stalking, or gender stereotypes. At least then, Rahul’s eight-year-old daughter won’t be tasked with the responsibility of fixing her father’s love life. A scene straight out of a modern utopia.

But, in reality, would that be the case? While these gender stereotypes might be dated for the western audience, they continue to find screentime in India. The troop of the ‘suitable girl’ wasn’t last used in ‘Kuch Kuch Hota Hai’. Popular movies such as ‘Main Hoon Na’, ‘Kal Ho Naa Ho’ and ‘Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani’ have also cashed in on it. Time and again, Bollywood has taught girls that male validation is the only thing worth striving for. Forget the idea of unapologetically being your most authentic self. While a few rotten apples still exist, Hindi cinema has changed significantly over the last 25 years.

As problematic as these movies are, they are reflective of the times they were written in, and the audiences they were made for. In a rush to be politically correct, changing a work from the past to suit modern ideologies is robbing the viewer of the opportunity to look at how dynamic the world is. It is an ever-changing, evolving place.

(Published 20 October 2023, 18:11 IST)

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