By Takshi Mehta Sep. 16, 2022
On paper, Brahmastra had every right to think it would revive the larger-than-life romance. The fact that none of the Ranbir Kapoor-Alia Bhatt spark translates on screen says a lot about mainstream Hindi cinema’s dated ideas, and the modern viewer’s demand for nuance.
For a film about mystical powers, superheroes, and a battle between the forces of light and darkness, Brahmastra, keeps yapping about love, like a broken tape recorder. Starring Ranbir Kapoor, and Alia Bhatt, in leading roles, Brahmastra’s inability to translate that real-life romance, into reel-life, is jarring, to say the least. Touted to be, one of the loveliest celebrity couples of B-town, Bhatt and Kapoor share a weird, forced chemistry, that is worsened by trite dialogues and banal meet-cutes. The fact that a film so hyped and publicised can’t get the tone of something you’d consider a shoe-in is indicative of a larger fact. Bollywood is clearly struggling to sell romance at a time when we are probably struggling just as much to buy it.
In a scene from the film, Isha (Bhatt) quips to Shiva (Kapoor) “Isha ka matlab hain Parvati, aur agar Shiva ka saath Parvati nahi degi, toh kaun dega?” a couple of days after she has met him. Even in a film that bets on your ability to believe the unbelievable, this silly romance is hard to digest. Are love stories a thing of the past? Is romance truly dead? Are social comedies, and virile magnum opus’ the new genre du jour for Indian entertainment, with romance taking a step back for a change? Well, for starters, let’s just begin by pointing out the obvious – Bollywood hasn’t produced a decent romantic film for ages. Ironically, Ayan Mukerji possibly directed the last decent romance film which begs the question has old, larger-than-life Bollywood romances simply become passé or have we graduated to ask more of our cinema.
Are love stories a thing of the past? Is romance truly dead? Are social comedies, and virile magnum opus’ the new genre du jour for Indian entertainment, with romance taking a step back for a change?
Of course, there’ve been films like Badhaai Do, Chandigarh Kare Aashiqui, and Manmarziyan in the recent past, but none that you could recall, have created the kind of mushy, but ultimately sweeping magic of the 90s or the 70s. Much like Bollywood itself, romance as a genre in Hindi cinema is trying to find its footing, an identifiable template between realism and fancy, between woke-ness and disarming bliss. A lot of this may have to do with general awareness around consent, of how modern relationships work for one. When Isha runs off to Shiva’s home, despite knowing him for barely a few moments, I was wondering not about how exciting it is, but about how unsafe it might be. When Shiva jumps into an elevator in order to meet Isha, because it’s a classic case of love-at-first-sight, I wasn’t jumping at the sight of how blatant that act of commitment was, but how creepy it would feel to me in the real world.
However, while getting the politics and intersectionality of romance is imperative it is also true, that many of us, including myself, are in search of those stories that you wish to lose yourself to.
For any fluffy, cheesy and soppy love story to work, there has to be the conviction to make it look plausible, despite the evident disbelief. Not everyone, it is evident can sell or frame this story the way Hindi cinema did with stunning regularity. Something, that has clearly become a bit of a hill to climb recently.
When Isha runs off to Shiva’s home, despite knowing him for barely a few moments, I was wondering not about how exciting it is, but about how unsafe it might be.
Ranbir Kapoor’s earnestness does not compensate for his inability to carry inane antics and sloppy writing on charm alone. Another rather important facet of love stories is their competency to empower a woman’s emotional side, as Shahrukh Khan said in an interview, about why his love stories worked in what was possibly the golden period of Bollywood romances. In Brahmastra, Isha is limited to becoming a tool for Shiva’s adventures, rather than emotional sounding board that should shape his trajectory. This, in a film that wants to argue that love is the greatest superpower of all, is all the more baffling.
In Brahmastra, love could’ve been the antidote to the machismo that superhero films usually parade, but it ends up being an annoying distraction from the real matters at hand – the astraverse. It makes you ponder whether it is a fantasy film or an urban love story lost in the Himalayas by chance. While the technical prowess of the film shines, it consequently undermines the emotional heft of a relationship that is more than just a casting coincidence of course. So is the romance just too old-school, or have we given up on it?
The days of practically willing people into relationships are gone, and it takes a lot more to convince us about love, about attraction at first sight, not to mention the gender politics that comes after.
I think it’s a bit of both, after all, for love stories to do their magic, in today’s day and age, maybe the wand has to be flicked with a lot more modesty than it used to. The days of practically willing people into relationships are gone, and it takes a lot more to convince us about love, about attraction at first sight, not to mention the gender politics that comes after. The audience has matured, and so has the world. It doesn’t necessarily mean we are more cynical, or deny love the way it was offered to us previously. It just means we want to be seen better, wiser and most importantly, equally, in the stories we see.
Takshi believes that in the end, we are what we stand up for, and thus you'll always find her wielding a pen and writing frantically. When she isn't writing, you'll find her dancing or reading. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter at @takshimehta