Hindi Film 101: Dangers and Strengths of Romantic Fantasies, Alpha to Beta to Devdas

Alisa/BollywoodNewbie inspired me in another post, the way she does, by pointing out something I was so lost in that I was blind to it: Indian film plays in to certain specific types of romantic fantasies, types that do not work equally for everybody.

In terms of academia, there are two foundational ways of looking at erotic romantic fiction, the pre-Janice Radway version and the post-Janice Radway version.  Both of which are now somewhat out of date as the world has moved on.  But popular culture and attitudes towards romantic fiction have unfortunately NOT moved on from these two studies, so I want to define them both very quickly so you can go “oh yes, I’ve definitely read ‘feminist’ rants that use this as the basis”.

The pre-Radway studies came from all kinds of perspectives, literary criticism and feminist studies and so on and so forth.  And they all reached similar conclusions, romantic fantasies are a way of propagating the patriarchy.  They teach women to be submissive, men to be aggressive, they are filled with stories of damsels in distress falling in love with rapists.  They weaken women and are bad bad bad.

Then Radway came along and put in the missing piece of the study, instead of looking at the books, the texts themselves, she looked at the readers.  She talked to woman and learned that they don’t like books with heroes who cross the line into rape.  They don’t like books with stupid heroines either.  They like books with strong intelligent heroines and deep emotional heroes.  They are using the books to fill in gaps in their lives, the books are helping them survive the situations they are in, not making those situations worse.

I first read Radway in my very first grad school class.  And the teacher was terribly dismissive.  Her interpretation was that Radway showed that romance readers were bored trapped housewives who found strength in these terribly trashy books.  We all had a good laugh at those foolish people who were stuck reading romances because their lives were so empty.

I really wish that hadn’t been my first grad school class, and that I had read so little romance at the time.  Now, if I had a time machine, I would go back and tell her that romance novels are read by all woman, from the successful professional to the housewife with a high school degree to the grad students sitting in her classroom.  And I would tell her romances are written by extremely educated intelligent woman.  The most popular authors today have PhDs and law degrees and probably more credentials than she does.  These are not stupid books, Radway was right that the readers use them to feed emotional needs, but that doesn’t mean they can’t also feed intellectual needs.  And it doesn’t mean that the readers are unaware of what they are doing, are unaware of how they are picking and choosing fantasies based on what they need and prefer in the moment.

I think, for most romance readers/viewers, there is a conscious awareness of “this bad thing happened today, therefore I feel like this, therefore I need to self-medicate with a particular kind of fantasy”.  The films/books aren’t mind control changing people, they are tools being used by people to alter their minds and emotions in the way that is needed in the moment.

And the other thing, that I think Radway herself missed a little, is that they are used by the readers/viewers in different ways person by person.  The reasons I like a particular fantasy are not the same as the reasons someone else will like them.  I can only speak for myself.

So, with that in mind, let’s look at romances in Indian film and why I, personally, find one version or the other more or less appealing.  And I will use a simple description, “Alpha” versus “Beta” versus “Zeta”.  Or, Aamir versus Akshaye versus Saif, to put it in Dil Chahta Hai Terms.

Alpha/Aamir: The super confident, super in charge, super perfect hero.  This is the romance where the hero confidently pursues the heroine while she smilingly flees, where he grabs her arm and whispers in her ear, where he forces himself into her dreams at night.  It never crosses the line into actual threat (that is the “no rape” part that Radway found consistent in the readers she studied), but there is definitely a “take charge” attitude.

This is the hero I loooooooooove.  Whether it is Prabhas in Bahubali or Shahrukh in DDLJ or Aamir in DCH, this is like catnip to me.  I like it so much that it didn’t even occur to me until Alisa pointed out that she didn’t like it that this is really a matter of taste, not a universal.

I know why I like it too, it’s a pretty obvious fantasy.  I’ve been living alone and taking care of myself since I was 18 years old.  It’s stressful, I hate making decisions all the time like what to eat for dinner or where to put the furniture.  Just the little day by day build up of all the million things I have to decide all by myself pulls me down.

Plus, I have a personality that tends to end up in leadership roles.  Even when I was 6 years old, my teacher told my parents that all the other kids were always coming up to me and asking my advice.  And now I am the one my friends call when they think they found a bedbug or want to know how to register to vote or anything else.  Largely this is just because I am tall (it’s true, if you look up to someone literally you are far more likely to look up to them metaphorically).  But it’s also EXHAUSTING!!!!

And then there’s my “can’t stand to hurt feelings” problem.  I think mean things, but I can never bring myself to say them.  I always say “it’s fine it’s fine, I don’t mind”, even if inside I REALLY REALLY MIND!!!

So, that’s my fantasy, to be in a situation where there is someone who takes charge so I don’t have to make decisions, for myself or anyone else.  And someone who is so strong and confident that I don’t have to worry about hurting their feelings.  Those moments when Shahrukh teases Kajol in DDLJ?  I love them not for the teasing, but because that kind of guy would be someone I could be really nasty too and not feel bad about it, or worry about his feelings.

(This.  It’s not a male fantasy of a drunk girl, it’s a female fantasy of finally being just plain horrible and not caring because you have a guy with you who is even more horrible and deserves everything you do to him)

Of course, this is only a fantasy.  The reason I live alone since I was 18 is because after about 2 days living with other people I am desperate to be in charge of myself again.  I am the strong one because I can’t fold myself down (literally or metaphorically) and make myself into the weak one.  And I truly don’t like hurting people’s feelings, whenever I do it by accident it bothers me for days on end.  So instead of changing my life (which is really pretty much the way I want it), I have the little steam release valve of watching a movie or reading a book that let’s me live in a situation (usually a romantic situation) that is the opposite of what I have in real life.


Beta/Akshaye: The nice understanding softer one.  He will step back and let you take the lead but strongly support you while you do it.  This is the romance of the guy who dreams of the heroine, patiently waits for her.  He doesn’t demand anything, he doesn’t even ask anything, he is just there if you need him.

This is the guy I can sometimes see the appeal of.  For me personally, it is when I am sick of people nagging at me.  After a hectic committee meeting, no conflicts but a lot of feelings going back and forth, I have this desire for just blankness, a calm surface I can project myself onto and feel my inner power strengthened and reflected back at me.

It’s not when I’ve been attacked, it’s when I’ve been worn down.  Lots of people asking little questions and having little doubts.  I’m just tired and feeling small (not a common feeling for me, since I am very very large).  And that’s when I want someone else who feels even smaller than me.

It’s also when I am just plain sick.  I don’t want Shahrukh striding around the room while I am hacking my lungs out.  But Nagarjuna smiling at me under his mustache, or Nani making me laugh, or Diljit singing to me, that seems nice.  These are the caregiver types, not the hero protector types.

The fantasy here is that you go about your life, ordering it in your own way following your own plans, but you’ve got kind of a cushion to fall back on.  Just like in Phillauri when Diljit helps Anushka to get her poetry to a wider audience, or Irrfan in Piku helping Deepika with Amitabh, or Aditya Roy Kapoor in Deewat-E-Ishq following Parineeti around and feeding her.  You don’t even need them to do anything, sometimes it is better that way, to just pretend there is someone somewhere out there loving you from afar.

And again, it’s just a fantasy.  Speaking for myself (because I can’t speak for anyone else), I would get sick of that kind of behavior pretty fast.  I don’t want someone to just sit back and tell me I’m awesome, I want someone to challenge me.  That’s why I do all these things that exhaust me, chairing committees and so on, for the challenge.  I don’t even like people taking care of me when I’m sick, I like taking care of myself.  The reason I want to fantasize about the “beta” type is that it is like creating an echo of myself, a temporary and imaginary figure, and then once I am back to being able to be sufficient within myself, I have no more need for that fantasy.  A quick rewatch of a few DVDs, and I am settled.


Zeta/Saif: The broken one, the desperate one, the one who needs you.  He drinks and/or does drugs, he is desperate and self-destructive, he goes a little crazy, sometimes he has an artistic cough.  This is the romance of writing poetry and making mad gestures and threatening suicide.

I hate this guy.  But that isn’t a judgement on those who do, it’s just an awareness of who I am.  In the real world, I feel like I am surrounded by people who rely on me.  The last thing I want is to fantasize about yet another person hanging on me like a dead weight.

But then, those same people who rely on me in the real world also respect me and listen to me and make me feel important.  It’s great!  Everyone from my little doggie who makes eyes at me until I give her a walk to my co-worker who makes eyes at me until I go buy her coffee.  They all love me because I take care of them, and I love being loved.  I mean, everyone does, that’s what civilization is based on.  People love being loved.

(That one person sobbing at your wedding because your marriage is DESTROYING THEIR LIFE is a great little ego boost)

But even I have a very very rare situation where this might be the fantasy.   When I feel overlooked, alone in a crowd, sometimes I want that one person who really needs me, who looks up to me, who makes me the center of their world.  Of course I don’t really want that in reality, in reality I want the happy jostling of many people around me, and being the sole focus of one person would be over-whelming.  But it helps me get through a very rare and unusual rough day, imagining there is one person who really really needs me, just me.



The thing I realized when I started writing out these fantasies is that all of them, especially the first and last, have been spun as “bad for you”.  That woman are idealizing alcoholics, or abusive dominant partners.  That woman are told “stand by your man” and “the love of a good woman can save him” or that “he just does it because he loves you” and “he knows you want it”.

And yes, they could be bad for you.  In extreme uncontrolled situations.  But the point of fiction, whether it is romance novels or films, is that we (the audience) are ultimately in control.  All 3 of those fantasies listed above are more or less equally available in all romantic fiction.  And woman, in my experience, pick and choose between them based on personal taste and even mood.  There is no forcible brain training happening because you are not forced to choose one over the other, all three fantasies are very different and all are available everywhere.

(Do you want a nasty Aamir, a messed up needy Saif, or a dreamy and supportive Akshaye?  You can find all three in one film!  Pick your poison!)

In the same way, the mere fact of these options appearing in a romantic setting is not brainwashing either.  Sex is sexy, for lack of a better way of putting it.  Why would you fantasize about a protective dominant father?  Or a blindly soft and supportive brother?  Or a damaged and needy son?  I mean, you can, I’ve read plenty of books that have those plots buried in there somewhere, but it’s a lot more fun to put it in a romantic setting.

These character types appearing in a male-female setting, that’s not optional, that’s what makes them powerful.  These are the fantasies of the underclass and how they want the overclass to behave.  It has to be female fantasies of men.  Female fantasies of woman exist as well, I don’t mean same-sex love stories, I mean fantasies related to how woman relate to each other.  But they are completely different from these, serve different contexts.  They are about loyalty and understanding and strength, the virtues you fantasize that you have within yourself, not the behavior you wish to see in others.

(This is a fantasy for women about women, totally different, it’s that you have a friend who is enough like you to enjoy and appreciate you, but different enough to test your boundaries)



The only damage could when you self-medicate too much, lose track of what the problem is that you are trying to hide from.  These stories can be so powerful that reality begins to fade away, to lose its bite a little bit.  And you forget that they should be a temporary escape, not a permanent solution.  It’s not the specific content of the fantasy, it is that you are using fantasy at all.

Romantic fiction, especially romance novels and Hindi film (in my experience) is a bit like the drug therapy your therapist might give you.  It takes the edge of, gives you space and strength to heal.  But it isn’t meant to be a permanent solution, just to give you the time to find that permanent solution before any more damage is done.

For instance, I read all 4 Twilight novels during the 3 weeks that my apartment was being treated for bedbugs.  I had to throw away half my furniture, clean the whole place multiple times, and live out of a suitcase in the guest room at my parents’.  It was a baaaaaaaaad time.  And Twilight got me through, I essentially sedated myself and when I woke up, it was all over.

(This video really makes me far happier than it should)

But then back in college I first got into Hindi film.  And it became all I did, I had some friendly acquaintances at my campus jobs, people liked me in class, and I had two very close friends.  But I didn’t really do anything else, I just went back to my room and watched movies all evening and all weekend.  It was easy, it was safe, and it gave me that wonderful high that got me through.  Now, I look back and realize that was no good.  I should have put away the DVDs and gone out in the world more, found a club, found a group, found something.  It didn’t ruin my life or anything, but if I hadn’t had the crutch of the movies to fall back on, I would have done a lot more during that time.

I think most people here use Indian movies as that little pick me up as needed.  A bit of emergency medicine.  Some of you don’t even use them that way, it is a purely intellectual experience.  I don’t think anyone is using them to fully escape their life, because if you were, then you wouldn’t be here talking analytically about them.

But when I look at my 3 types up there, that is the only danger I see.  You aren’t going to fall for an alcoholic just because you like Devdas, but you might take longer to realize that you need to move out and get your own place.  You aren’t going to fall into an abusive relationship because you like Bahubali, but you might take longer to realize you need a vacation from your demanding job.  To put it in the Indian context, the real danger is that woman trapped in lives of drudgery, in marriages they didn’t choose, working long hours in the fields or in the home, with everyone demanding everything of them, expected to be perfect all the time and take charge and clean up after the men without getting any credit for it, will be too happy.  Will be so satisfied with the fantasy that they won’t notice their rights eroding away.  Will be given this little candy filled with empty calories to keep them quiet and complacent.

However, I think that is a very small percentage of the people who consume these fantasies.  I think the far larger percentage are the ones who consume them and they go home and are forced back into the reality of their lives, bringing with them the bit of strength and hope they got from the fantasy.  And using that to drive the reality of their lives just a little bit to the fantasy of their dreams.

(Rab Ne understood this whole thing on a deep level, she needed the fantasy and escape of “Raj” because she wasn’t ready for the reality of Surinder.  The danger was that she would find the fantasy less of a short term medicine and more of a life long addiction and would never be willing to risk her life on Surinder)

52 thoughts on “Hindi Film 101: Dangers and Strengths of Romantic Fantasies, Alpha to Beta to Devdas

  1. Yes, this analysis is spot-on! And also reminds me of the Janet Evanovich quote: “Romance novels are birthday cake and life is often peanut butter and jelly. I think everyone should have lots of delicious romance novels lying around for those times when the peanut butter of life gets stuck to the roof of your mouth.”

    Relatedly, I think a lot of the appeal of Evanovich novels (/ romantic movies) is the fantasy version of the reader-as-heroine as well as the fantasy heroes. Do you think heroines can fall into types and be appealing in different situations, in the same way? Say the Sai Pallavi fantasy of “being strong and fearless and breaking rules but everything works out” vs Aishwarya “being innocent and timid but also so special that everyone does things for you”?

    Liked by 2 people

    • Speaking of peanut butter versus birthday cake, aren’t you supposed to be writing an exam right now?

      On Wed, Oct 3, 2018 at 2:48 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:


      Liked by 1 person

      • Exactly, for men a similar fantasy would be action and adventure. And the same danger, of getting so lost in the fantasy that you forget to try to live in your real life.

        Liked by 1 person

    • That’s a great question. Not sure how much you(Sister)are familiar with Tamil films. But in Tamil films there is the ‘loosu ponnu’ type heroine-who is the dumb blond equivalent of English films, only she’s too cute & sweet to be chided or put down.This video perfectly describes it. I would love to hear Margret’s take on the different heroine types too.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Thank you! At last I have a term for this! There is the same heroine in Hindi films, the one who seems mildly brain damaged and is endlessly excited over things like the first rain fall or some childish toy. If it’s a romance movie, as soon as she falls in love she suddenly matures a decade and becomes noble and wise. If it’s an action film, she ends up kidnapped or dead, and then as soon as she is rescued, she is back to being all silly again, no PTSD or anything.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Shraddha Kapoor in Ek Villain. Shraddha Kapoor in Half Girlfriend immediately comes to my mind or Kajol in K3G. Savitri in Mahanati was also infantalised as cute & naive rt? Thankfully such a heroine has never been there in Malayalam. We may like to control our women but we don’t want them cute & stupid.

          Liked by 1 person

          • Well, now you are just challenging me to think of a similar heroine in Malayalam! I am sure there is one if I really really think, but right now all I can think of is Revathy in Kilukkam which almost makes fun of the trope.

            Liked by 1 person

          • I don’t know, to me she feels slightly different, more sort of childlike and shy and naive, rather than the aggressively “cute” behavior. But still strangely childlike for a heroine.

            On Thu, Oct 4, 2018 at 8:08 AM dontcallitbollywood wrote:


            Liked by 1 person

  2. OMG I had never seen that New Moon fan video!! That was awesome.

    In these days, I find myself self-medicating with romance novels and movies A LOT. Currently reading a book about a hot male nanny — beta hero trope much?

    Certain tropes are also catnip for me, too. Not just alpha or beta hero, but the situation tropes of romance novels — the arranged marriage, marriage of convenience, friends to lovers, and on and on. And I can find these in Indian films but they are mostly absent from Hollywood at this point. There’s a new hunger out there for these kinds of stories. Crazy Rich Asians had HUGE box office. It was the 6th highest grossing romantic film in HISTORY. To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before on Netflix was also a huge phenomenom — it’s the fake relationship becomes real trope, with an alpha turned beta hero at the heart of it. Plus Noah Centimeo is just…. gah!

    A guy may self medicate by watching a Terminator movie or playing World of Warcraft. I’ll be reading Eloisa James books instead, or watching Indian films, because they always have a romance track.

    Liked by 2 people

    • there was a study I read years ago, or maybe someone told me about it, anyway they tested pain response in children who had medication versus who were told to think of nice things (essentially). And they found the effectiveness was very similar, a well-trained imagination really can control pain.

      Anyway, when I am watching a movie or reading a book I definitely get that feeling of softening emotional pain. It doesn’t make it go away, but it makes it come down to a lower level so it is bearable. Which is why there are so many Christmas themed romance novels and the People Magazine Sexiest Man issue comes out at Thanksgiving.

      And yes to the forced to be married alpha to beta hero!!!! One thing I should have said in the post is that the best heroes combine all these traits in one. I mean, it’s almost it’s own trope, right? The damaged reformed alcoholic (zeta) who has become closed off and terrifying (alpha) until the right woman softens him and makes him open up (beta).

      When I was in middle school one of my favorite authors was Emilie Loring from the 30s-60s, she did kind of “soft” romances. And every single book was a variation on strangers being fake married or fake engaged. The explanations got more and more ludicrous as she got into the double digits, there was one where they had to be fake engaged so he would have a reason to make her stay in his aunt’s guest room which was somehow related to a Soviet plot. And the ONLY way he could get her into the guestroom would be to lie and say she was his fiancee. There were a couple were she flipped it, the hero and heroine were secretly married for real but they had to be strangers to the rest of the world (instead of strangers who are pretending to be married).

      On Wed, Oct 3, 2018 at 4:28 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:


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        • Yes! KANK would be an Alpha turned Zeta by tragedy, and then the love of a good woman makes him into a Beta. And it is NOT one of my favorite movies because I can’t stand Zetas. If Shahrukh had stayed cocky and egotistical and selfish, like he was in the opening, then I would be allllllllll about it.

          On Thu, Oct 4, 2018 at 7:41 AM dontcallitbollywood wrote:


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          • One thing I think KANK really got perfectly is how Rani’s “perfect” woman is so much more relaxed with nasty nasty Shahrukh because he lets her be nasty too, versus everywhere else in the world that expects her to be perfect and sweet and never joke or laugh loudly or anything else.

            On Thu, Oct 4, 2018 at 8:31 AM dontcallitbollywood wrote:


            Liked by 2 people

          • Is this why I’m a big fan of KANK?? I looooove cranky SRK. He’s my absolute favorite. I’m a fixer. I’m pretty sure it’s because I’m funny and I can make almost anyone laugh. Plus, I’m cranky and horrible inside, but I never say what I want to say because then I’d be a terrible, horrible, no good, VERY bad person. Oh, and I’m busted on the outside and super bitter about it, just like Dev! Sadly, I do *not* look like SRK and have no desire to divorce … so, there you go.
            Your conclusion that love, loving, fantasy, and self-medication is spot-on. It’s also why I have a *major* problem with what I consider “toxic femininity”. You know that old feminist phrase, “A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle” – yeah that concept drives me crazy. It’s not WEAK to love. That’s a leg-up women have always had over men. We’re generally not stupid enough to think emotions make us vulnerable. I hate the concept that being feminist means we have to – by definition – act more like men. Howzabout we all be be glad for who we are and appreciate that perhaps we need both halves of an equation to make a whole?
            When I started having kids, I stayed home to mom because my husband worked full-time, did army reserve on the weekends, and went to law school at night. I can remember getting crap exclusively from women about my choosing to stay home with the kids because *women don’t have to stay home with the kids anymore*. No, they don’t, but it’s a *choice* not a requirement, right? (Women can be really mean if you don’t represent properly. Wtf is that? Why can’t we just be supportive??)
            Anyhow, when my first was born, I was home all day with non-verbal bits of adorable-ness, and I was terribly lonesome and starved for intelligent interaction. I talked to my kids incessantly. Literally. By 6 months ALL of them were using words and had complete sentences by 12 months. No joke. None of that signing crap for us! To this day they all use big words and text in full, grammatically correct sentences. They were my spoken outlet.
            At the time, we didn’t have cable tv. Too poor. OJ had just become a murderer, and, because I lived in Southern California, EVERY tv channel was ALL OJ ALL THE TIME. I ended up watching every season of Beverly Hills 90210 – a show I had previously eschewed – because it was the only thing on that wasn’t crime-related. I was so disappointed in myself, but now I get the escapism aspect that … escaped me … at the time. 🙄 I’ve always been an avid romance reader, even though I am the least romantic person I know in real life. (Make or female.) And now, I have succumbed to the lure of Bollywood and SRK. (He clearly has an unfair advantage in this fight.) I’m no longer horrified at the thought of trashy tv and books. No guilt, just pleasure. That’s the way it should be! I appreciate the hell out of the fact that he’s not just a hot Ken doll. He’s ridiculously well-read, well-spoken, extremely accomplished, and a true man’s man who unabashedly adores women. (All women – even the feisty Kajol kind of women and the gossipy girly guys like Karan.) Such a heady mix!
            Damn straight romance is good for us.


          • I realized a few years back when taking a “Who is your ideal Jane Austen hero?” that I want Mr. Darcy because I want everyone to think I am the “nice” one in the relationship. Not like a really horrible person, just someone who says the slightly snarky things in a conversation so I can sit there and look nicer by comparison. And, okay, this is a pretty low bar because I am an insanely nice person so almost anyone would be meaner than me. I don’t need a Dev, I need, like, anything above a Suri.

            And yes to everything you said! I don’t know if you saw my more recent post on feminism, but I talk about how it has to be translated culture to culture because Feminism means choices. And the choices that are easy in some places are hard in others. So, an actress choosing not to date in America might be “brave” because she is showing that a woman can be happy alone, but an actress choosing not to date in India is expected, it is the dating that is brave. If that makes sense. Anyway, that’s what bothers me with the hard and fast “romance novels are bad” “woman shouldn’t stay home with kids” or whatever kind of rule you come up with. Whether it is the easy or the hard choice, the point is that it is a choice this woman has made and should be respected.

            On Tue, May 21, 2019 at 8:57 AM dontcallitbollywood wrote:


            Liked by 1 person

  3. That New Moon video OMG I’M DYING.
    I 100% agree on the stories and the dangers of the stories. There are some fandoms that terrify me, like Twilight and Outlander, because they are so deep into the fantasy and don’t separate out the toxic elements or have any perspective on the source material.
    In terms of romantic heroes, my current favorite is Akshay in Yeh Dillagi. I suppose he’s beta but Akshay has a physicality that means he’s always got a touch of alpha about him. Hrithik in Jodhaa Akbar is also pretty high on the list at the moment.

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    • One thing I notice about the Twilight and Outlander fans is how insular they are. I’ve read and enjoyed both serieses, but I don’t really find casual readers like myself engaging in the discussions. Or if they do, they are either shouted down or learn to convert to a different attitude. Either you read the books and forget them and never talk about them, or they become your whole life to a really unhealthy degree. Not just during a temporary bedbug period, but during times that you don’t need that level of escape. They are also the fans that I am more likely to hear say “i don’t like to read” or “I’ve never loved a book before”. I don’t know what that means exactly, but it does seem like somehow those serieses attract people who aren’t normally readers, have some kind of special sauce that draws you in even if you aren’t used to this kind of fantasy. Maybe that’s why readers tend to go overboard? There is no comparison for that feeling?

      That’s what I like, or used to like, about Indian film. Something like DDLJ has/had obsessed fans, but it was such an international hit that they kind of got lost in the massive wave of fandom, they weren’t able to build a little isolated kingdom. And just the experience of watching a film in a theater gives you that, you are aware of the other people around you reacting or failing to react and it kind of takes you out of yourself. Now that things are heading more in a streaming direction, and narrowcasting audience, I am beginning to see more of that kind of locked in attitude.

      On Wed, Oct 3, 2018 at 6:32 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:


      Liked by 1 person

      • Fantasy has been more of my escape genre than romance, and fantasy gender politics tend to be terrible, so I when I read Outlander – devoured, stayed up way too late, went through huge chunks of pages at a go – it was more as fantasy with a big romance track and stronger than usual heroines. I get how it turns people off though, the sexual violence is disturbing at times, especially how it keeps returning and how many characters are subjected to it. I’m still tracking the next book and will read as soon as it comes out, but not moved to go discuss the series endlessly online.

        To prove your point about smart women reading and commenting on romance, have you ever come across Smart Bitches Trashy Books? They have this book Beyond Heaving Bosoms that makes a lot of the same arguments you describe as coming from Radway, but with a sassy fan perspective.

        Liked by 2 people

        • Yeah, I had the same experience with Outlander. Read all the books in a month and a half (which sounds like a long time if you don’t know how very many books there are and how looooooooooong they are). The violence doesn’t bother me that much because it feels like a conscious artistic decision, she wants to give a sense of past versus “present” and one of the main dividing lines is the casual attitude towards violence (of all kinds, including things like nailing the ears of small boys caught stealing) versus the lack of violence in modern times. However, her poor plotting drives me INSANE. That’s what keeps taking me out of the books and makes me less interested in the newest one. What I find frustrating with the online discussion is how superficial it is. Kind of like online discussion of Indian films versus here. I don’t want to talk about favorite scenes or least favorite characters, I want a discussion of violence and the meaning of violence in the books, or the way they show the birth of an American identity, or the uniqueness of how they don’t shy away from the aftermath of rape, big thematic stuff. And the fan boards and so on seem to just keep driving people into the fantasy instead of into taking a step back and discussing why that fantasy is so potent and the other stuff in the text.

          And yes, I do know that website! It seems like in the past 10 years or so there has been a conscious bringing out of the closet of romance reading, Or maybe it’s just the internet making visible the female-female conversations that were always happening?

          Liked by 1 person

          • Not going to go full publishing geek here, but ebooks were revolutionary for romance in a way they were for few other genres. Bookstores don’t stock romance titles in the number or variety that really voracious romance readers like to read. It was hard to get access to all the books you wanted, and you didn’t have the kind of unfettered freedom the internet gives you to go deeper into the kinds of stories that spoke to you, and to find other readers like you. (Plus ereading = very discreet! More people willing to try romantic fiction when they’re not carrying around a paperback with a bodice-ripping cover.) eBook sales for overall trade publishing have plateaued just under 20% but for romance the digital share is way higher, significantly north of 50%. And romance readers are known as the most voracious purchasers by volume, the heaviest readers go through multiple novels a month, sometimes a week. So yes, the media paid attention because romance readers were on the leading edge of a tech/business revolution, which gave them a reason to demand being taken seriously. And the added respectability + coverage + access + forums made the community much bigger and more visible. (Oops, that went long. Sorry!)

            Liked by 2 people

          • Fascinating! Yes, that matches with my experience, I am much more likely to read a romance book on kindle than in paperback, and it has changed my style of reading. Romance novels in their packaging seemed to encourage the kind of sinful secret that the content had, which has its own appeal. But it also meant I was limited to only reading when home alone, reading on Kindle added on a good hour or more to my daily reading time and book consumption by letting me read on the train and while waiting for appointments and so on and so forth.

            Radway’s article focuses on a small town with a bookstore that specialized in romance, and a group of women who would exchange books and rely on the bookstore owner for recommendations. Basically what the online forums are now. so the community always existed, just it used to be limited groups of women who all knew each other in real life and existed only in invisible all female spaces.

            On Thu, Oct 4, 2018 at 10:33 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:


            Liked by 1 person

  4. I love this post. I too love the Alpha and Beta heros.

    However, I also underatsnd the dangers of certain types of fandom. For example, I read a lot of YA novels. They got me through multiple years of grad school while working full time. I also love YA tv shows (i.e. Buffy the vampire slayer). However, my biggest issue with these YA novels and series is the Alpha/Beta turned Zeta hero and a seemingly strong female heroine who feels that when the hero turns Zeta (i.e., Angel in the Buffy series) she needs to suffer through the abuse until he is reformed. She loves him too much to move on and only through her selfless suffering and love will he be reformed. This is where the fandom scares me.

    Liked by 3 people

    • What I find odd about the Alpha/Beta turned Zeta trope is that I haven’t found that the fandom necessarily loves it. It seems like something that (male) creators occasionally force on people. Maybe because they want to do something different with their male hero, not so much thinking about what it will do to the related heroine. I guess that’s what sets off the real “danger!” alarms for me, when I feel like a storyline is more about what they want to do with the hero than how that will affect the heroine.

      What I find common in romance novels is the similar trope of Alpha/Beta turned Zeta, but where he comes helpless and needy, thus allowing the woman to take charge and be the strong one for a while. Not abusive, but let’s say he gets a really bad case of Pneumonia and you get to be the angel of mercy who nurses him back to life, or he injures himself and you get to be the one who helps him travel across the country fighting off bandits as you go, or something like that. We were talking about the Outlander series, that’s one thing she does really well, her hero is strong and brave and perfect, but he also routinely is injured in some way and the heroine gets to rescue and save him as much as he rescues and saves her.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. That’s a very interesting analysis. Indian films mostly have Alpha heroes-especially in the mass films. The trouble though is that not only females, the males also fantasise about the alpha who has to protect the woman-sometimes even from herself. That turns into infantilising the heroine or teaching the heroine a lesson with a tight slap. There’s also the idea that even if a girl is saying ‘no’ she really means ‘yes, follow me’. We have had too much of these type of heroes & an audience who carry this fantasy too far into real lives. I would love to see a part2 with heroine types & maybe a part3 with situational tropes

    Liked by 1 person

    • What I’ve noticed more with male fantasies is the way the whole structure becomes a fantasy. It’s not just pretending you are an alpha hero, it’s that you start to assume the world is made up of “good” guys and “bad” guys and it is easy to tell the difference, that one lone hero can solve anything, that men and women should live separate lives (women kept away from anything real that is happening), and that you should never listen to anyone else. And that’s true across cultures, Jack Bauer in 24 with his constantly in danger daughter and his special knowledge and skills that let him be the only one who can save the world.

      Liked by 2 people

  6. What a great post and discussion. The title made me chuckle. My brain wants to go straight to toxic tropes like the nice guy and “friendzoning”, but I insist on staying in happy, emotionally useful fantasies. Suri from RNBDJ is the ultimate Beta type fantasy for me, especially after he integrates a little alpha Raj into his personality. Shah Rukh in real life (his public persona anyway) is my perfect alpha type–very competent at his job, a visionary leader, self-assured/deprecating, with strong beta leanings and enough zeta to awaken the protective instinct. Could eat that fantasy with a spoon every day and twice on Sundays!

    One female fantasy type that doesn’t do it for me is the noble, remote, possibly ordained or otherwise married to a job, guy. Think Victor Laslo or Ashley in Gone with the wind (for whom I’m named, ugh). This fantasy involves lots of sublimation and/or pining, with some close calls but usually no consummation. Aman in KHNH is almost this, but too earthy. And in my head canon he and Preity definitely had a few lovely long weekends together alone before his heart gave out. 😁

    Liked by 2 people

      • Those plots where the “bad boy” Zeta/Alpha type hero goes up against the “good boy” A+ hero and reveals that the good boy is actually the most evil of all are super satisfying to my revolutionary soul. I’m trying to think of an Indian version, I am sure there is one but I am just blanking. DDLJ, sort of, at least Amrish Puri thinks of Kuljit as the A+ type even if the audience knows the truth from the beginning.

        On Thu, Oct 4, 2018 at 8:02 AM dontcallitbollywood wrote:


        Liked by 1 person

          • Yes! EXACTLY!!!!! Anything where the father/family approved suitor turns out to actually be abusive, while the dangerous bad boy is the sensitive and kind one. It’s got the appeal of being able to rebel against social expectations for a good reason, and also affirming a truth of the world, that the socially approved “good” types are often the ones who hide the worst sins.

            On Thu, Oct 4, 2018 at 10:38 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:


            Liked by 2 people

    • There are a couple of really good writers that take the Ashley types and make them into secret Zeta/Alphas. That’s the only way I can take them, the noble perfect ideal man who secretly struggles with guilt or anger or something. Manmarziyaan just did that, Abhishek starts out as the boringly perfect guy, and then thank goodness they give him a couple of really angry scenes and a last minute reveal of the reason for his perfection (he caused an accident that injured a friend years earlier, it’s not said like a big guilty secret but it does fill in the gap in his character).

      Otherwise, yes! Uch to the Ashleys! Gone With the Wind does nothing for me, even without the racism, because you are left to choose between Clark Gable who seems like an Alpha but is really more of a Zeta, and Ashley who is the type I shall call “A+”. Like an Alpha, but more perfect. Although it does get into what I was talking about with the appeal of the Alphas being that their bad behavior gives you license for your own bad behavior. Scarlett can be as terrible as she wants to/with Rhett because he is even worse. Such a release, to just be your nastiest self without worrying about what people will think or hurting feelings.

      Now that I think about it, another interesting one is Hrithik in MDK. He is super boring in the first half, a Beta trying to act Alpha but we know the women are really in charge. And then in the second half he becomes a true Alpha with a little bit of a crazy Zeta mixed in, and it is sooooooooooo much more interesting to watch.

      And Hrithik in J-A would fit your description of Shahrukh in real life as the perfect Alpha, just the ultimate presentation of a natural leader. He doesn’t have to get angry or posture or anything, he knows he is good at what he is doing and knows how to do it.

      On Thu, Oct 4, 2018 at 8:00 AM dontcallitbollywood wrote:


      Liked by 2 people

    • It’s important to know yourself 🙂

      Also, that kind of makes sense because in his best movies, Maddy is the very best Beta. The super super strong and supportive and solid kind of Beta. Who has a secret core of Alpha that he can pull out when he needs it.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yes, and Tovino in Godha, when I fell in love with him, always there for his beloved, but never forced her or nothing. Or Unni in Oru Murai Vanthu Parthaya (when I fell in love with him 😉 ) too. Gentle, helping, but never aggressive.
        Oh man, I thnk I get a crush for every beta male playing actor with beautiful hair.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Boy, now that I think about it, Malayalam films are really filled with Beta heroes. Or else extreme Alphas. But nothing in between. Premam is interesting, because it’s only in the middle section that Nivin comes close to being an Alpha, and even there it’s mostly posturing and Sai is the one really in charge. And then he matures and becomes a real man, meaning Beta. With that little bit of Alpha left when he has to get nasty.

          On Thu, Oct 4, 2018 at 11:16 AM dontcallitbollywood wrote:


          Liked by 1 person

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