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Ishq-Mohabbat-Pyaar-Vyaar: A Tribute to Filmy Love

Now that the controversies surrounding Valentine’s Day are in the past, I thought it would be fun to have a glimpse at the strange, comic and unusual things that love compels us to do. Catchy toe-tapping Bollywood tunes, the occasional romantic comedy, and sometimes corny poetic expressions have encouraged many of us to perform otherwise unthinkable, highly embarrassing acts of love. We can look back and laugh at spectacles that love or the illusion of it has inspired. The influence of the film industry, particularly Bollywood, hasn’t made matters any easier for those who have been pierced by Cupid’s arrow. In fact, many a times it is the sole culprit for implanting those bizarre and unrealistic ideas about love during those vulnerable, young growing years. 

I grew up listening to Hindi film songs and religiously watched one Hindi movie a week with my family. When we were too young to know the implications of romance or love, my brother and I would act out the parts of hero and heroine, using trees at the park to play hide and seek which was followed by a high speed chase. We would eventually find ourselves running towards each other only to end the charade in a playful sibling fight instead of breaking into a song. When we didn’t know lyrics we would make them up. If we didn’t know the steps to a dance, we would choreograph our own crazy moves and our parents would watch sometimes in shock and at other times in dismay. 

At home, it often felt like our parents were either villains in our lives or the stars of an ongoing Hrishikesh Mukherji film about complex marriages. When mom got upset over something, dad would sing and dance in a comical attempt to cheer her up. My brother and I would laugh in amusement, squeal in embarrassment or even play along. On Saturday mornings, mom made delicious parathas while melodious tunes played on the weekly Indian radio program. We anxiously counted the minutes, our eyes on the clock for the parathas and for the eagerly awaited weekly Namaste America television program that aired with previews of latest Bollywood movies, top ten songs and sometimes a special treat: an interview with one of the stars. Every week, I had a new crush depending on who was being interviewed and my brother had a new fight scene or dance move to play out. When Prabhudeva came on the screen we lost quite a few porcelain items. One of my first crushes was Salman Khan. I had a shirtless poster of his on the wall of my bedroom. That poster made a long journey with me from a small back alley in Rourkee, India and lived through my teen years in L.A. I remember my cousins hollering at me then for picking Salman over Shah Rukh. Today, if I make it back to Rourkee, I know for sure I will bring back a Shah Rukh poster instead. Tastes have changed. 

In my teens, thoughts of how I would meet my knight in shining armor and what he would be like were always at the back of my mind. When I looked at Bollywood films for answers, the romances and love stories were fun and exciting, full of song and dance sequences, offering me hope but none or little practical advice. Hollywood portrayed a completely different perspective. Issues surrounding religion, career, premarital sex and race were at the forefront. Titanic, Father of the Bride, Sliding Doors, Sleepless in Seattle and many of Woody Allen’s films made things either too simple, fairytale-like or way too complex for me to grasp. Movies like Silsila, Lamhe and Chandni gave me hope that even if my soul mate was much older, married, missing after an accident or suffering from a predictable bout of amnesia, somehow miraculously and by defying every righteous principle, moral value and perhaps by way of nothing short of a miracle, he would end up being with me. 

After watching Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, the prospect that I could have a guy best friend who would suddenly start to develop feelings for me years later when I grew my hair out, lost some weight and played basketball in a saree was extremely exciting. After a few years of shooting hoops, it didn’t take me long to realize that wasn’t happening. You’ve Got Mail offered hope of a promising fairytale romance which began after meeting a faceless stranger in an internet chat room. Thereafter began my brief and dangerous love affair with virtual chat rooms. I had my share of terrible experiences and realized that in the online world everything wasn’t as perfect or safe as the movies portrayed. As an adult, when I watch my nieces online, I feel a protective urgency come over me. 

I slowly began to lose hope of finding my Prince Charming when one day I watched Dil to Pagal Hai. It suddenly all became crystal clear to me. Learning how to dance would lead me to the love of my life. I had to become just like Madhuri Dixit. A famous Kathak teacher was coming to Southern California for two months and taking her class was my only hope. I begged and pleaded with my parents. My dad made a few ill-timed jokes about California being earthquake prone and my mother politely suggested alternate hobbies that did not require much grace or rhythm. But they finally gave in to my childish whims and soon I was practicing tapping my feet to “tha thayi thayi” and undulating hand movements.