This is barely a thought I thought, but I still wanted to share the thought I thought I thought.
The movie War released and most of us here who saw it became immediately obsessed with the relationship between Hrithik and Tiger. And that is on top of the many many MANY times I have written (or you all have suggested) a romantic story between two men. But what really got me thinking is when I wrote this post suggesting alternative casting for War and I found myself expanding past same sex lead pairs and into older woman-younger man with the same joy I have in imagined male-male or female-female pairings. Why is that?
Okay, I’m gonna make an argument! That rests on three points and makes us all seem very classy and reasonable.
- The standard pattern of Indian film romantic couples is an older man and a younger woman
- Casting two men opposite each other enormously expands the possibilities of actors we might enjoy seeing together, and actors who already have shown great chemistry but were not made the focus of the film. The same is true for two women, or an older woman and a younger man.
- When watching a movie (in our imagination or in reality), it is not so much that we are putting ourselves in the place of the characters onscreen but that we are intoxicated by the romance we feel between them. You don’t have to be a gay man to enjoy watching two men together, or a lesbian woman to enjoy seeing two women, or a heterosexual to enjoy seeing a man and a woman together.
Therefore, it is entirely logical for the audience to crave non-traditional pairings, whether you yourself are attracted to men or women. We just want charismatic interesting movie stars being charismatic and sexy with each other and we don’t care about anything else.
The reason this is so popular in both fanfic, and against the grain readings of films, is because it is a gap that is not being filled in reality. Put it another way, I wouldn’t have to write so much m/m fanfic if they already cast my dream couples opposite each other onscreen. Same goes for w/w or for older woman/younger man. And on the other hand, what’s the point of writing fanfic about an older man falling for a younger woman when I can watch that on my movie screen?
Now, let me add an additional argument related to the few non-fanfic times we have seen this pattern. The traditional romance, the older man and younger woman, is so socially accepted that we don’t need to be convinced of it. The director/writer merely puts the two of them together in a room and we can believe they are in love. But a less traditional romance demands effort on the part of the filmmaker, effort to convince the viewer that this couple really does belong together.
Writing a same-sex romance, or one that otherwise does not follow a traditional pattern, serves as a spur to the filmmaker to create a simply “good” romance. You can’t borrow the same old romantic tropes and the same old way of doing things because your couple does not fit those tropes. In Dil Chahta Hai, for instance, all three romances were well-written but the Dimple-Akshaye relationship was something very different because it HAD to be different, because it wasn’t the same kind of relationship as is shown in every other film. Come to think of it, the same could be said for the Madhuri-Akshaye relationship in Aaje Nachle, because she was a divorced single mother. Any aspect of a character that breaks the pattern opens things up to something new.
Adding in some controversy (a really shocking age gap like in Cheeni Kum, or a violent first meeting like in Gadar) can serve as a secondary spur to make the romance something truly exceptional. It’s not the controversy itself which makes it romantic, it is the effort everyone from writer to actors have to do in order to make us believe in the romance despite the controversy. Pinjar, for instance, is a seemingly impossible plot to accomplish well. And yet the film succeeds and ends up feeling more filled with love than other more traditional love stories. This is less tempting in fanfic, unless you trust your readers to fill in that the love story will be that much more powerful because of how impossible it is. But when a film is announced staring, for instance, Alia Bhatt and Salman Khan, I find myself a little bit excited. With a lead pair that unbalanced, surely there is an amazing idea behind it!
But, with all of that, why is it that we still tend to get more excited about male-male romances than any other non-traditional pairings in our fanfic?
I think that might be a bit Indian film specific. The most interesting and charismatic actors are the men. Why shouldn’t we want Shahrukh and Irrfan Khan, or Anil Kapoor and Jackie Shroff, or Ranveer and Ranbir, to play a romantic pair? They are the actors we know best, the ones with the biggest personas onscreen and off. It’s lovely to picture a movie with Madhuri and Sushmita Sen as a romantic pair, but it is ever so slightly lovelier to think about Akshah Kumar and Bobby Deol.
Anyway, that’s what I’ve got! All romantic couples onscreen can be equally appealing to the audience because the magic between them is what matters, not who they are. The more out there the couple is, the more possibilities for original stories, and carefully built relationships. And because of the fame and popularity of male versus female stars, in Indian film fandom it is natural for us to crave more m/m stories than f/f.
Does that make sense?