With sexting and instant messaging, relationships have become just that – instant and ephemeral. Books and films have emulated these real-life changes with often not-so-interesting results. Has the romance in art – and relationships – died?
What defines society today is words and connections. What separates this generation from the ones before is the power of the spoken word. We think that technology is what has changed us, made us the people that move faster, think faster and behave fast. While that may be true in some part, what has empowered technology has been content – online jargon for words. Thoughts, bubbles, discussions, emoticons, replies, retorts, criticism, feedback, conversations, investigations, observations, retweets, status updates…the list goes on. This generation has increased communication by communicating less and with fewer words. It faces the task of dealing with information overload while constantly putting out more information. The oxymorons define the mindset of today – a generation that wants everything, wants everything super quick and instantly accessible and doesn’t really have the time or the patience to sift, read, ponder. That is where texts, BlackBerry messages, tweets and status updates are the de facto means of communication. It is rare for anyone to pick up the phone and have a good old-fashioned chat, in the generation that prefers to stick to a far more impersonal, but rapid form of communication. It has its own personal vocabulary: insistent abbreviations – often indecipherable to the uninitiated – and instant communication. You find people with heads bent, eyes darting and fingers moving rapidly in practiced synchronisation: rarely able to maintain eye-contact for more than a couple of minutes, rarely can a conversation run its natural old-fashioned course without interruption, as we move into an era of distracted and continuous communication and therefore, erratic and easily dismissed short-lived relationships.
Popular culture represents the dialogue and relationships of today: faster, more impatient and often meaningless. Younger filmmakers have updated their scripts to emulate real life. While underworld films picked up the nuances of the underbelly through actions and dialogue, romance in the arts has been for the longest time linked to a larger-than-life drama. Case in point: the cinema of Karan Johar or Sooraj Barjaytya. Where they update the clothes and the music, the dialogue often remains over-dramatised and pedantic. While some may argue that romance needs the dramatisation, a striking example to contest the argument is that of Saathiya – where the dialogue is rapid, off-the-street and yet, is a powerful story. There is a strong resonation with the viewer, an easy relatability, which carries the film from run-of-the-mill to sensitive and meaningful. Farhan Akhtar’s Dil Chahta Hai made the trend a popular one, taken up by film-makers like Kunal Kohli (Hum Tum) and Imtiaz Ali (Jab We Met and Love Aaj Kal).
It is the language of frankspeak or straightspeak. Where once “You complete me” was the sigh-generating dictum, now, “I need a break” is easily said, without much angst, furor or thought. Quick answers, rapid and sometimes thoughtless decisions and a sense of bubbling impatience mark the dialogues that often don’t lead anywhere special. This is the nature of relationships of today and the conversations emulate them. Easily said, easy to bed and quick to leave – all takes place faster than a thought, and what is left are non-events. How does this make and fill the artistic and aesthetic space of a film? While Kohli-directed Hum Tum talks about a meandering relationship, When-Harry-Met-Sally-style, he pumps the story with events – which hold the weight of the relationship between the protagonists that appears to be going nowhere. In an attempt to emulate real life and their easy-come-easy-go relationships, Kohli’s recent production Break Ke Baad, directed by Danish Aslam, is a slick film that lacks a meaty story, full of ‘non-happenings’. Conversations, while witty and fresh, would make a better radio play than a long commercial movie. While this may be a comment on relationships today, the art demands a certain balance between real life and cinematic license – it demands that elements, moments and events become at the very least marginally larger than life, to create entertainment, to be watchable. Ali’s Love Aaj Kal nearly crossed the line to become over-ripe with conversations, in the same quest to describe modern-day relationships. Where LAK teetered dangerously, Jab We Met remained fresh in its cinematic experience, particularly through the crispness of dialogue and emotion.
Deepika Padukone’s character, Aaliya, in Break Ke Baad is not lovable in the traditional sense – much like Sonam Kapoor’s Aisha, she is unintentionally selfish and possibly doesn’t deserve the good guy. The industry buzz has it that Zoya Akhtar’s debut film Luck By Chance missed it’s calling because the protagonist, Vikram, was not a nice guy. We don’t feel empathy for the characters and don’t wish them to reach a happy ending. And that is dangerous ground for a film to enter in the romance genre. And it is also rather disturbing seeing that these characters have been picked from real life. Is it true, then, that we prefer the traditional romantic notion of characters that may be slightly misguided, but are nice? Even if that is not real life? So as dialogues get updated, people shouldn’t?
Two recent books speak a local language, but in entirely different ways. Anuja Chauhan’s Battle For Bittora speaks real politik – the language of local and honest-to-good (sense the irony) politics, seen through the eyes of a girl of this generation. There is amusement, cynicism and wonder. While the romance remains honest to chick lit, and the dialogues are basic, matter-of-fact and emulating real life, it is the clever writing and story that lifts this novel from being mundane to a page-turner. Where Chauhan’s effortless writing excites, first-time writer, Rhea Saran’s Girl Plus One is trying too hard, as are her heroines, to become a desi Sex and the City. Saran is not wrong in suggesting, rather obviously, the fact that Indian girls today are openly emulating Manhattan’s popular TV series; however, Saran misses Candace Bushnell’s witticisms that make all the difference between real life and drama. Would a real-life Carrie really talk in continuous innuendoes? No. She simply finds a correlation between her column and her life.
However art is updated to make it believable and real, it is obvious that the artistic license must be used to lift the dullness of real life to a heightened sense of real-life drama. In creating a believable sense of inclusion in a person’s daily, often mundane life, while bringing art into our homes, drawing rooms and bedrooms, we need to maintain a certain distance that allows us to appreciate the nuances of every character, story and relationship. These elements need to interesting and memorable, and often, real life is not. That doesn’t mean we need to regress and run around trees dancing amid roses, but it does mean that we need to assess the dramatic intent of the medium: does the film justify being larger-than-life? Does the book deserve to be printed and propped up on the ‘New Arrivals’ bookshelf rather than be a basic online blog? All in all, while pointing out the casual and matter-of-fact manner of everyday relationships, are we missing the romance in the written word and the spoken dialogue? And are we losing the romance in relationships?
And that leads me to question – do we want the old-fashioned nature of romance, or does that not matter to us anymore? Does a quick sext or a couriered designer bag charm us more than an old-fashioned hand-written note with a love song? Are we so accustomed to sentimentalising love and romance that we are unable to accept it in its matter-of-fact form anymore? If the written word stands for the way we think, then are we changing so dramatically that we question and often thwart sentimentality in its old-fashioned sense? Do we love, or do we ‘like’? Or are we confused because it is ‘too complicated’?