Anubha Yadav writes: Big-budget Bollywood has had its trysts with infidelity before, but Shakun Batra’s film makes a significant departure.
Big-budget Bollywood has had its trysts with infidelity before, moving away from its benign family dramas and romances, gently tickling the edges of the darker side of relationships.
In almost all Hindi films on infidelity made till now, the story is propelled by one or both parties being married. The conflict comes from the moral tension of leaving a marriage for passionate love. Of duty against desire. Of order against chaos. Of negating the self for the sake of keeping the family together.
Earlier, the story started with marriage and ended with loss of the passionate relationship, with the moral order restored. Shakun Batra’s film Gehraiyaan moves away from this. Here too, the end goal might be marriage, but the plot points and conflict emerge from other sources symptomatic of our times.
Alisha (Deepika Padukone), a yoga instructor, is working on an app and is struggling to find investors while providing for her “unemployed” writer boyfriend, Karan (Dhairya sitio de citas para solteros de fitness Karwa). Much of the tension in their relationship comes from both of them wanting to pursue their ambitions. In the neoliberal economy, the “creative” is a zealous entrepreneur, a self-driven technocrat on an innovation adventure.
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Alisha resents his never-ending “writing” sojourn. Karan wants her to let go of her big app dream, a startup idea in which a lot of money has already been buried. She feels exploited. He feels burdened.
Nothing is untouched by money in Gehraiyaan, that’s why it is a film of our time
They are their work. Wherever they go, the app and the novel go along – the mark of the new creative entrepreneur, who is always doing a pitch, for whom life itself is a work-pitch.
Then enters Zain (Siddhant Chaturvedi), with the myth of the “self-made” entrepreneur. We see the spectre of this image being destroyed by Zain’s fiance’s mother, who constantly reminds him about his past, his class, who breaks the myth of his atomic genius. Zain, the person, resents it. Zain, the entrepreneur, knows better all along. Just after Zain and Alisha start their secret affair, he decides to put money in Alisha’s app and yoga studio. This is meant to be evidence of his passionate love for her. Being with her is not enough show and tell, but investing capital in her dreams is.
A short scene is added to give dignity to Alisha. She can’t be redeemed if she takes his money as she sleeps with him secretly. So, she asks Zain, “You are not doing this as a favour right?” (As she sits in the luxury of a bathtub in his yacht.) He pops a bottle of champagne, and says, “Alisha, the partners loved the idea. Now shut up and make me some money.” (They seal it with a kiss in the bathtub).
Alisha buys it because that is the kind of love she wants. A love that invests in her dreams and makes them possible. Zain has done the same before, is still doing it with his fiance (Ananya Pandey) as he cheats on her. Somehow, Alisha does not see that. Somehow, we also don’t wish to see it that “way”. Zain is an equal opportunity gold-digger. Alisha can’t be the same – as she will then be reduced to being a vamp. A man can be a gold-digger and still be a fair play character. A woman can’t.
The final collapse is again stirred by forces of capital. The mythical genius of Zain erodes now. The mask comes off. He needs his fiance, if he wants to keep his company. If he walks away and chooses ruin, he can start again with Alisha. It sounds improbable, almost impossible even to the most old-school romantic. No millennial would have advised him to do it. But that is exactly what Alisha’s father, Vinod Khanna (Naseeruddin Shah), chose a generation back. The family split. Alisha’s father left it all to start again in the mofussil, Nagpur. Thus, Alisha is struggling while the cousin is living a splendidly rich life in America.
No one is left untouched by capital in this world. Every relational conflict is framed by it. The only person who rejects it totally, who refuses to partake in that world is Alisha’s father and he pays a heavy price for it.
Families forgive. Here too, in the end, there is forgiveness. But we must wonder what shape it takes in this world.
This column first appeared in the print edition on under the title ‘For the love of money’. Yadav is a writer-academic-filmmaker, who teaches at Kamala Nehru College, DU.