Thursday, September 01, 2011

The Narrative of Romance

I love love stories. From the cheesy Mills and Boon variety to epic ones like Dr. Zhivago and Anna Karenina and Wuthering Heights. And the movies – oh, there are some exquisite ones there. It’s almost like love stories fulfill some deep-seated need to believe in something pure and untainted in a very tainted world. Or a need to believe in magic – that some exquisite, inexplicable enchantment is possible in an otherwise dreary, wearisome world.

Strong consistent narratives keep recurring in these stories.

Like the Cinderella one. Poor girl, down on her luck, finds the man of her dreams. There are trials and tribulations on the way. Villains try to keep them apart. But there is a happy ending, when the prince disavows societal disapproval and figures that the girl he truly wants is the one without the money. Cinderella of course, is the role model. But there is also the dour Darcy falling for the feisty but poor Elizabeth Bennet; Richard Gere finding the prostitute Julia Roberts irresistible; the chauffeur’s daughter Sabrina falling for the lord of the manor; Jennifer Lopez seduced by Ralph Fiennes in The Maid in Manhattan. It works best when the girl is spirited, inventive and independent, not a boring Cinderella. Jenny in Segal's Love Story.

Then there is the Falling for the Bad Boy routine. Rhett Butler in Gone With the Wind is the ultimate bad boy. Scarlett takes her time, and the whole 1000-odd pages of the book to realize she has fallen for him, but fall she does. Baby in Dirty Dancing is no match for Johnny and his dirty moves. And of course, can any girl in her right mind resist Danny in Grease? It’s the lure of the unknown.

On the other side is the shrew. As in Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew variety. We had our Indian shrew in the form of Sridevi in Laadla, ultimately tamed by Anil Kapoor. A bossy Sandra Bullock in The Proposal is ultimately reformed by love. A tad distasteful is this narrative, a bit regressive perhaps.

And so we come to Forbidden Love. Always ripe for tragedy. Romeo and Juliet, of course. And the modern day Westside Story. Mani Ratnam’s Bombay (why do I love his love stories so?). The extra-marital love– Greene’s magnificent The End of the Affair, Karan Johar’s pretty bad Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna, Zhivago and his Lara, Wong Kar Wai’s In the Mood for Love. Very rarely does this narrative end in happily ever after.

Another one that rarely does is the dark, brooding, obsessive one. The Heathcliff variety. Sharon Stone in Fatal Attraction. Shahrukh Khan’s obsession for Kkkkiran in Darr.

One that can be quite touching is the unrequited, unfulfilled love. Sydney Carton in The Tale of Two Cities. Keira Knightley’s section in Love Actually. One of my favourites - Maharaj Kumar’s in Nagarkar’s The Cuckold. How could he compete for his wife Mira’s love with a dark-skinned god? Yet he tries, gamely.

And then what about the love that is delayed, for years? The Hum Tum variety. The Before Sunrise and The Before Sunset series. The sense of anticipation in these is quite delicious.

So many narratives. Over so many centuries. Each with its own powerful enchantment. Someday it could be material for a paper. Or a brand strategy perhaps.