28 Years of Lamhe: Bollywood Could Do with More Heroes Like Anil Kapoor’s Viren

Bollywood

28 Years of Lamhe: Bollywood Could Do with More Heroes Like Anil Kapoor’s Viren

Illustration: Aishwarya Nayak

When you think about it, Yash Raj’s cult classic Lamhe (it turns 28 today) has a fairly creepy premise. Pluck it out of Bollywood’s rosy context and place it in a cultural, everyday one and you can’t help but see it. Imagine a guy that you had a vague, undefined relationship with. He’s a friend, but not quite — there’s this unspoken romantic-cum-sexual awareness that ebbs and flows between you two. Oh come on, admit it, we all have that one friend, who could have been more, but wasn’t, for some silly logistical reason or another. Maybe you were just never single at the same time. Maybe you moved cities, or he took too long to get over his cheating ex, and the chemistry eventually fizzled away, its once-upon-a-time-existence unacknowledged, but not unfelt. Yes, so that guy. Now imagine your daughter hooking up with him, like, one hot minute after she turns 18. In reality, most of us would gasp and shake our heads violently in disgust and disapprove of such a pairing. That’s understandable. The thought of a woman’s somewhat ex — no, it doesn’t matter that they never actually did it — getting it on with her daughter is enough to make the most woke among us uncomfortable.

And yet, the word and phrase you’ll most often see sitting next to Lamhe are “bold” and “ahead of its time”; not “scandalous”, which is how most of us would describe such a relationship in real life. For a long time now, I’ve found this reel-real contradiction intriguing. And yet, I do believe Lamhe is one of the best romantic films to come out of Bollywood.

lamhe_sridevi_anil_kapoor

What made it unique was the man’s intense internal struggle, self-flagellation, and multiple desperate efforts to not act on the impulse.

Yash Raj Films

I’m not sure why it’s called ahead of its time — May-December romances, with older men pursuing women young enough to be their daughters, aren’t exactly rare or shocking occurrences in Indian society. Young girls across the country are routinely forced into exactly such marriages. Bollywood, especially, has been particularly accommodating of ageing men’s romantic whims and inclinations. Dilip Kumar was 44 to Saira Banu’s 22, when the two got married. Kabir Bedi has out-aged two of his four wives by two and three decades. Sanjay Dutt is 19 years older than wife Manyata Dutt. Anita Konwar is 26 years younger than husband Milind Soman. And these are just couples where the man reached adulthood before his lady love was even born — there are plenty more with less shocking but significant age gaps.

So no, Lamhe is not “ahead of its time” for daring to show a salt-and-pepper Viren falling for a barely legal Pooja. What made it unique, to me at least, was the man’s intense internal struggle, self-flagellation, and multiple desperate efforts to not act on the impulse. How often have we seen a hero who doesn’t feel entitled to the affections of the woman his heart desires? We’re used to seeing them stalk, kidnap, harass… basically exhibit behaviour that would make most women run screaming in the woods to get away from them. But self-doubt and condemnation for their own questionable behaviour? Nope.

What makes Lamhe progressive and worthy of admiration even today, almost 30 years after its release, is not its love-conquers-all premise, but its treatment. Anil Kapoor’s Viren mirrors our own queasiness with the morality of romancing his former love’s daughter, even if one was to overlook the yawning age gap between him and Sridevi’s Pooja. So much so that he even commits to getting married just so that she’d agree to a more age-appropriate match. We can see the shock and discomfort on his face the day he realises that Pooja has replaced Pallavi in his heart.

What makes Lamhe progressive and worthy of admiration even today, is not its love-conquers-all premise, but its treatment.

Minus his palpable connection with his conscience, it would be hard to describe Viren as little more than a creepy old man with mildly paedophilic tendencies. Love is as much about what we stop ourselves from doing as it is about what we do, after all — a consideration that is often missing from Bollwyood’s porky understanding of love.

I wish the hesitation and restraint that Viren visibly grapples with were sentiments that had received a more regular airing within the annals of Bollywood. Given its opinion- shaping power and influence, maybe then we’d have had a healthier culture for girls to grow into women in. One where they’re not fair and acceptable game for men old enough to have fathered them. What would that world look like? One where women weren’t constantly being bombarded with messages that emphasised that their romantic value was vested in their age, that they couldn’t take time to shake off their insecurities because what if they were too old for the one they were meant to be with by then?

lamhe_anil_kapoor_sridevi

I wish the hesitation and restraint that Viren visibly grapples with were sentiments that had received a more regular airing within the annals of Bollywood.

Yash Raj Films

I was all of 25 when I briefly dated a man 15 years my senior. It was a tumultuous relationship — I was often in over my head even though I didn’t know it at the time. I wasn’t old or experienced enough to know when I was being toyed with, or object in any meaningful way when I felt uneasy about the way I was being treated. It never once occurred to me to question what made a man closer to my parents’ age than my own court me with such confidence and cockiness. I never wondered why no one — not me, or his vast circle of friends — ever thought it inappropriate. At best, there were jokes that revolved around his mid-life crisis and ended with me being called his trophy (when they were being kind) or twinkie (when they were being cruel). But it was never wrong, just funny.

I’m not vilifying relationships with major age gaps, not at all. The best — and worst — thing about love is that it has this unnerving ability to spring up like a toadstool, without warning or provocation, wherever it desires. I’d be as acutely disappointed as the next person if Viren and Pooja hadn’t eventually found their way to each other. Although, if I’d had it my way, it would be after many more years had passed, when she wasn’t still so painfully young and had had the time to pursue dreams, and their romance didn’t still carry the unpleasant whiff of cradle-snatching, but that’s just me. All I’m saying is that maybe it’s time we see restraint as an act of love just as much as we believe defiance to be. Lamhe did that, and it did it with a tenderness that was unthinkable in the hot-headed ’90s, a tender that is still rare and hard to come by, which is what gives it its timeless appeal.

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