Thinky Post: Shahrukh Khan and the Appeal of the Virginal Hero

Thank you Molly for bringing up this topic! I’m really excited to dig into it and then hear what you all think.

Let’s talk Virginal Romances! There’s two kinds in pop culture. The first one, which I don’t think of as “real” virginal romance, is the couple who has not had sex but really wants to. Think like Arjun Kapoor and Alia in 2 States. They are college graduates, they like each other, they start dating, and they have sex fairly quickly. It seems clear it is a first time for both of them, but it isn’t scary or strange or anything, they are adult people and can handle all the emotions that come with sex. It’s a virginal romance only in that they are technically virgins when they meet.

But the other kind, the one I find far more interesting, is the “virginal” romance where the entire relationship revolves around inexperience, around finding your way in uncharted territory. Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak would be the classical film of this type. Our hero Aamir and heroine Juhi are achingly young. They barely know how to communicate with each other, a brush of the hand is exciting and scary, and in the end when they run off together, they build a children’s play house instead of a real house and Juhi doesn’t even know how to cook. The romance comes because they are so in love, they are willing to overcome all obstacles, including the obstacle of their own inexperience.

7 Interesting Facts About 'Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak' Which Completes 30 Years  Of Release Today!

There are LOADS of movies of this type in Indian film. It’s not unique to Indian film, the concept of first love is magical, and it’s intriguing to see the purity when it shows up in very young people who don’t have any ability to lie to themselves about what they are feeling. But in Indian film, this isn’t just a rare film here and there, it is a whole genre.

The main genre is the “virginal romance” where the hero and heroine are both that special kind of pure. But there’s also the half-virginal romance, which is the other common genre. Our hero is cool and experienced and confident. Our heroine is painfully naive. In a lot of movies this is almost played for laughs, like it is “sexy” that she doesn’t understand any part of what is happening. Or at the very least, that it is desirable. But it can also be played in a really sweet way, Mani Ratnam is great at this. Because the reality is, in Indian culture, a young woman will be less sexually experienced than a man, even if just in terms of having knowledge without real experience. In the Mani Ratnam films like Roja, or Bombay, it’s about the hero gently helping his new wife to understand what she is feeling and not be afraid of it with a goal of sexual equality. The realistic belief is that, for most Indian couples, the man will be more experienced than the woman. And some movies make this attractive, some of them just deal with the reality, some of them even make it an ideal.

I have no issue with the many movies that deal with the half-virginal couple just as reality. For these two characters, this particular woman would logically not be experienced. But I do have an issue with the ones that treat it as default, like a man is born knowing everything about sex and a woman is incapable of real knowledge until after marriage.

Which brings me to the rare half-virginal couple where it is the MAN who is less experienced!!! This is not supposed to happen, this is unusual, and so the filmmakers can’t just mindlessly follow stereotypes, they have to think it through. So we come from a starting point of knowing this will be a very well written interesting unique character.

On top of that, what does it mean for the man to be a virgin? Let’s look at, for instance, Shahrukh’s character in Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi? It’s not just that he has not had sex, it is that he has no concept of love in his life even. And then there is Anushka, who had a boyfriend before, even if she did not have sex (which she might not have, since she was very young and a “good girl”), she had certainly kissed and held hands and knew what love and attraction felt like. In a patriarchal society, this is a delightful power flip, for the woman to be “on top”, as it were, for once. What makes it REALLY delightful is that the man finds this attractive! It’s part of the whole package, someone who can fill in his gaps, why wouldn’t he want it?

When Shah Rukh Khan Confessed Anushka Sharma Told Him He Can't Act During Rab  Ne Bana Di Jodi Shoot - DesiMartini

Let’s look at another half-virginal romance with Shahrukh, his first film Deewana. The heroine Divya is a widow. Even if she has not yet had sex (which the film barely leaves open to interpretation just in case the audience is uncomfortable with widow remarriage), she has been in love, made a lifelong commitment, done all of those things. And our hero is a feckless young man who has never known love. He is attracted to our heroine because she HAS loved before, and loved so deeply. He respects that in her, and tries to emulate it.

Shahrukh and Divya Bharti .... Deewana (1992 ) | Shahrukh khan, Shah rukh  khan movies, Vintage bollywood

A good half-virginal romance is quite quite good. But a bad one can be quite QUITE bad. Again, you are breaking the mold so you have to find your own way. And occasionally the way you find is total hatred and just plain nastiness in a way that society normally makes you hide a bit. For example, Ginny Weds Sunny. In which our nice “good boy” virginal hero feels effortlessly superior to the more experienced heroine, and tries hard to “fix” her. Before eventually succeeding and convincing her that she really wants a nice “good” boy. Sigh.

A classic love song in Jubin Nautiyal's voice in Ginny Weds Sunny - Social  News XYZ

Anyway, that’s what I’ve got! The idea of a “virginal” romance being beyond just sex, and more a whole idea of not being fully mature, awake to yourself yet. That this romance can be two “virginal” characters with a fragile kind of love, OR an experienced man gently guiding a virginal woman, OR (rarely) an experienced woman gently guiding a virginal man.

18 thoughts on “Thinky Post: Shahrukh Khan and the Appeal of the Virginal Hero

  1. I really enjoy virginal hero/experienced heroine movies (at least that part of it, even when they’re bad), because it’s such an alien concept to European gender ideas. Here, you can’t even really be a man if you are naive and virginal. A man must know everything better than a woman, always.

    Anyway, there are a million Govinda movies where he’s too much of a good boy to not be a virgin and there are filthy-minded women running after him, and I love it. He’s got a feminine element in his star image that suits it well.

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    • Yes! I can think of a fair number of “virginal couple” movies from the West, and “virginal woman-experienced man”, but the only “virginal man-experienced woman” movie I can think of is The 40 Year-Old Virgin, which was such an event it actually put it in the title. On the other hand, it’s not super uncommon in romance novels. Not as common as “experienced man” heroes, but for sure not unheard of. Definitely something that intrigues a female audience more than a male audience.

      On Sat, Nov 14, 2020 at 3:36 AM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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  2. Kettiyollaanu Ente Maalakha is all about an unexperienced man who doesn’t have an idea about sex. It’s not shown as a cute thing, more like something unusual and sad because he has nobody who could explain him what to do and how a husband should behave.

    Gantumoote – both the heroine and her boyfriend are very young and unexperienced. They experiment the first kiss, first hug etc together. Such a beautiful story, seen from the girl’s POV.

    Innocent guy- experienced girl is one of my favourite sub-genres, but as you said: the good ones are good, but the bad ones are so bad and irritating. Eg. Bhanumathi Ramakrishna & Pyaar Prema Kaadhal
    Two very similar movies with simple , nice hero and beautiful modern girl. In both the couple works together in an office and falls in love, but while Bhanumathi Ramakrishna is super cute and adorable, PPK is awful and so annoying.

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    • Yes! I was thinking while writing this “I think this is Angie’s favorite genre”. But only if the “experienced girl” is seen as desirable, like this is just part of her whole deal and the hero likes it about her like he likes everything about her.

      On Sat, Nov 14, 2020 at 8:28 AM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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      • Yeah, or if he treats it like a normal thing and doesn’t make a tragedy of it and doesn’t blame her for this everytime they argue (like in Pyaar Prema Kaadhal, man how I hate this movie)

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    • Oh, YES!!!! So much that! He loves Kajol because she is strong and confident and wise. And she loves him because he is innocent and the opposite of her mean judgemental husband.

      On Sat, Nov 14, 2020 at 10:48 AM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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  3. In Book One of the Outlander time-travel story, and also in series One of the screen adaptation, Jamie, the hero, is a virgin when he has to wed Claire who’s older, from another time, and already married. He’s a fast learner and subsequent scenes of their lovemaking are quite graphic. Not so much in the Indian films I’ve seen however, where the man is not experienced and the woman is. I don’t need a step-by-step depiction of his education, but the “they go to bed, she takes charge, and bam! next scene there’s a baby” approach leaves me frustrated. I wish I could name a film (there are so many of them) but it seems to me that if the director or writer took the trouble to show the sexual imbalance between the hero and heroine, the plot point should be more fully developed. Almost every film I’ve watched since I discovered Indian cinema seven years ago weaves in romance, hetero, homo, inter-faith, inter-caste,etc. Many times, it’s what sets the story in motion, and I hate it when its treated as a necessary evil.
    And while I’m at it (not much to do today) I also hate it when the woman who clearly likes the man who likes her, treats him like dirt for several reels. She insults him, walks away from his respectful compliments, throws his flowers in his face, all the while grinning behind his back. I just watched Keerthy Suresh in Miss India (not a great film, btw) rudely dismiss the man she loved wwhen he had the temerity to want to marry her. What is that?

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    • I think My Name is Khan maybe comes closest to being specific? But it’s still no where close to Outlander. Also, I love/hate that when the Outlander TV series started, there were some reviewers saying “ha-ha, like a big hunky dude would be a virgin.” Like, you don’t say that about women! EVER!!! And it’s really the same situation. He’s young, he’s in a culture where sex outside of marriage isn’t accepted, why wouldn’t he be a virgin?

      Ugh, I also hate that trope. I think it works if it is established that the woman is dealing with her insecurities, a little scared of falling in love, and so on. Have you seen Saathiya? That movie does it really well, the man persues and the woman is mean, but we also see the pressure she is under from her family and from inside herself to resist falling in love.

      On Sat, Nov 14, 2020 at 2:19 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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  4. Feel like a lot of SRK roles could go into one of these categories. Raju Ban Gaya Gentleman and Maya Memsaab and Chaahat are all cases of the more experienced woman pursuing the virginal man in a way that comes off as predatory and/or unstable. His older roles where he’s the virginal character, the women characters are allowed to still be strong but also have their own identities outside of desire – thinking RNBDJ but also Chennai Express.

    Later films flipped to him being the experienced side: Kal Ho Naa Ho, Paheli, and of course JHMS. JHMS is an interesting case, Sejal doesn’t start off seeing herself as virginal or at an experience deficit but because Harry makes such an issue out of sexual temptation she ends up being fascinated and drawn in to the point where it defines the power dynamic of their relationship.

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    • Oh! I was thinking about JHMS!!! Because that one really splits my two definitions of “virginal”. Shahrukh isn’t physically a virgin, but he is emotionally, he’s never gone through all those steps of a normal romantic relationship. Anushka has no physical experience, but she has gone through the steps of being in a relationship. So I’m gonna argue it actually fits better with the two-virgins style romance than one or the other. In a lot of ways it feels like watching children try to figure out their feelings.

      On Sat, Nov 14, 2020 at 2:34 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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    • Good point! In all ways, not just physical, but emotional too. Kareena has to kind of guide him in what love means and stuff.

      On Sat, Nov 14, 2020 at 3:40 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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  5. Thank for the shout out!! I was thinking about the innocent hero: Sunil or Suriā€¦I find it fascinating that Shah Rukh who is labled King of Romance does these characters so well.

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