Thought Post: Why Do We Like SlashFic FanFic?

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.

  1. The standard pattern of Indian film romantic couples is an older man and a younger woman
  2. 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.
  3. 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?

I don’t mind this pairing, but I also feel no need to write fanfic about it

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?

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16 thoughts on “Thought Post: Why Do We Like SlashFic FanFic?

  1. I don’t have time for a long reply but wanted to jot this down while I’m thinking of it: straight women are often caught up in a power dynamics in their sexual relationships that range from uncomfortable to oppressive and downright dangerous. So by shipping a same-sex romance they are able to fantasize about a relationship free of gendered expectations/power dynamics.

    Liked by 1 person

    • What a fascinating idea! Yes, that immediately feels true to me. I would add, particular in terms of physical attraction. If I watch Hrithik and Aish together, I love their chemistry, it’s sexy and great, but I look at Aish and have that little bit of “why don’t I look like that?” feeling. If I look at Hrithik and Tiger, no problems! I can enjoy them as a spectacle without any envy.

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      • I don’t feel envious of women like Aish in love scenes but it’s been interesting to experience this fascination with Khalid/Kabir because it’s purely about observing them. I have no interest or desire to insert myself into the narrative, it’s all about watching them. And as a woman I don’t get to experience that very often.

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        • Maybe envious isn’t the word? Just the occasional tiny taking out of the scene as I find myself thinking “my body doesn’t look like that” or “those clothes wouldn’t fit like that on me”. Not inserting myself into the scene, but comparing what I see onscreen with what I see in the mirror and being taken out of the moment. Which is all about how women are trained to think about their bodies all the time and so on and so forth. and with Hrithik and Tiger onscreen, there isn’t that. I would never compare them to me.

          For me at least, it is the same feeling when I watch Anil Kapoor and Shefali Shah in DDD (for instance). I have not been their age yet, I can empathize with them but there isn’t that sense of comparison taking me out of the moment. Losing the easy ability to self-insert is definitely worth it, at least for me.

          On Thu, Oct 17, 2019 at 8:24 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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          • This is so interesting! I don’t experience being taken out of the scene like you do. But seeing men display themselves for the sexual appreciation of women and other men is so rare in Western media and it’s one of the things I love about Indian films. Like Aish watching Hrithik practice with his sword and Hrithik is aware of it and showing off his body to her. Or when Khalid is our audience surrogate and we get to watch and desire Kabir through his eyes. Ranveer does this a lot but it’s more jokey. Salman sort of does it but it’s not sexual, it’s more of a display for his fanboys. I haven’t seen enough SRK movies to know if he does it but I presume he does because of how women react to him. Ranbir doesn’t do it which one of the reasons I dislike him.

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          • Agree about Ranbir, definitely feels like he has the “why don’t woman just want a nice guy” attitude but about his body. As in, “if you aren’t attracted to my character wearing lots of layers and whining, that’s because you are shallow” kind of thing.

            Shahrukh does make himself into an object, but often in a pre-Hrithik way. I mean, you’ve seen that yourself with 90s movies, right? It wasn’t about the shirtlessness and muscles so much as cute haircuts and funky clothes and dimples and smiles. I still love it, when the camera goes in for a close up on the pretty face and perfect eyes of the male actor. Like 7 minutes into this video from HAHK, Salman and Madhuri are made equally beautiful and worthy of desire in their close ups.

            It’s not the same as the explicitly sexual moments, but it feels related to me, an actor preening and primping and a filmmaker working with him to make him as attractive as possible for the gaze of the audience, not because it fits his character, but just so we can look at a beautiful thing.

            On Thu, Oct 17, 2019 at 8:49 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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          • That’s the interesting thing! Shahrukh spent the first 2/3rds of his career not displaying his body, and then there was this slow increase that peaked with Dard E Disco and Happy New Year. I find it fascinating that the same career has so many movies where the body is invisible and it is all about the character, along with a few moments where the body is fully on display for the female view.

            On Thu, Oct 17, 2019 at 10:30 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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  2. So I will admit I’m not on the same exact wavelength as you and many of your readers with being obsessed with the male on male fanfic. I LOVE the idea of SRK and Irrfan together, because I want to see their distinct energies bounce off each other. I don’t really care if it is romance or friendship or a familial relationship. I’m probably more interested in female pairings, because I am female, my relationships to other females have been so central to my life, and because I hate the fact that so many films make it look like there is only one important woman in existence. I’m hungry for humans connecting outside of the singular male / female expected interactions. This is probably why I like Dil Dhadakne Do so much, so many different ways for the humans to connect.

    The comment about inserting yourself, but then comparing yourself to the actresses on film is interesting. The relief of not having to judge yourself when you see two men on screen would be welcome. I know that I don’t insert myself now. Few movies have a place for married women in their 40s with multiple children. But I stopped inserting myself earlier, mid 20s, after I experienced trauma – I only just figured this out now, one doesn’t usually go about wondering when or why they stopped inserting themselves into movies. On the one hand I feel frustration that such an intelligent & perceptive woman can’t help but compare herself a bit to professional models turned actors, but then when I dig into why I don’t… may you insert yourself into movies until the day you die, but hopefully lots of those movies will have multiple studly men in them so you don’t have to.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Normally I crave the female-female connections for the same reasons you describe. But I find myself not doing it as much with Indian film and the best answer I can come up with is because the male stars hold so much more importance in the industry, I am more interested in seeing them connect than women.

      When I think about male-male connections purely in terms of seeing actors opposite each other (like Nawazuddin and Shahrukh in Raees), I think the reason I want to make it a romance is partly just time. The beauty of the movie War, which was not written to be a romance, is that the entire film revolves around the relationship between two male actors. Usually it is a matter of the lead actor, his enemy, his romance, and also his friend. You don’t get that male-male relationship at the center of it. Romance is the one genre where the relationship between two people is all that matters, is the center of the plot.

      On Fri, Oct 18, 2019 at 2:10 AM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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  3. All of this is also applicable to fandom in general, I think, and why fanfiction as an entire concept is completely valid and normal. It’s filling in the gaps to your favorite pieces of work, it’s living vicariously through a romance of your own creation, and it’s also a creative outlet. I don’t have much else to contribute to the conversation beyond that, even specifically about Indian cinema, but I do agree with a lot of your points.

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    • What I find interesting with Indian film fanfic is that it is this massive shared universe. You can write specific fanfic about specific movies, but also just sort of a general fanfic based on the standard onscreen personas of certain actors. A Don fanfic works just as well as a Shahrukh fanfic, we know exactly what each one means.

      On Sun, Oct 20, 2019 at 4:18 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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