Adult lives are mostly messy but where are the films on messy adults here?

Stories that were once told, aren’t told as often anymore. The stories of adults, of adults in love, of messy individuals caught between societal expectations and where their heart pulls them

Adult lives are mostly messy but where are the films on messy adults here?

Saumya Baijal

Watching lives unfold and emotions unravel, seeing our deepest desires, anxieties and vulnerabilities is what makes viewing films special.

And yet, stories that were once told, aren’t told as often, anymore. The stories of adults. Of adults in love, of messy individuals caught between societal expectations and where their heart pulls them. Of being in situations that require negotiations, heartbreaks, tears, and those that can never be resolved, trying to live with consequences of choices made and the pain that follows. Of stories of ambition and heartbreak, of lives they wish they led, and the ones they actually do. Stories beyond the happily ever after. This is possibly because we look to being ‘settled’ by the time we are in our late 20s.

In films, however, we don’t normalise career switches, being aimless in the mid-30s, finding love in mid-40s or even a greater purpose much later. We don’t talk about physical desires, intimacy sought by those beyond the late 20s.

We still don’t speak of struggles that mark seemingly perfect lives. Such ‘progressive’ narratives are still considered niche. While OTT is democratizing conversations, it continues in an isolated echo chamber, accessible still to the few.

Middle of the road cinema in the 1970s and 80s was a little more accessible and we saw some films deep dive into the turmoil faced by adults and more realistically. Gulzar gave us Aandhi (1975) and Ijaazat (1987), Shekhar Kapoor Masoom (1983) and Mahesh Bhatt Arth (1982).

Aandhi had an ambitious woman at the heart of it, ambitious and yet yearning for love, comfort and security. And it had the male protagonist (the sublime Sanjeev Kumar) play the estranged partner, still very much in love and trying to overcome the complexities of loving someone and yet having to live without her.

Parichay (1972), a remake of Sound of Music, looked at tussles between unconventional and unacceptable career choices, commitment and love. A similar narrative was there in Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s Alaap (1977).

Ijaazat was a tale of triangular love, of three people in love but caught in circumstances born out of choices they made and the struggle they go through. Conventionally, the ‘other woman’ in cinema would be the temptress who ‘lured’ the man from his unsuspecting victimised wife. But here was a tale of three strong willed people, each hoping to navigate the pain of unrequited love, failing, trying and failing again. What was also striking was that there wasn’t a positive resolution in the end. The distances remained, each life still where it was left. Isn’t that how stories of adults end in real life? Seldom do couples live happily ever after.

Ijaazat opened the space for reconciling with thwarted hopes and the pain of moving on. It dealt with rare sensitivity on intimacy beyond the physical.

In Ghar (1978) Gulzar looked at the impact rape has on a woman and how it changes intimacy and how the male protagonist fights through the notion of shame. Incredibly sensitive, the film looked at all dimensions of a rape survivor in a marriage.

Shekhar Kapoor with Masoom unraveled the impact of the past on the present, complexities that follow and of wavering trust andthe difficulty in accepting the past.

The 1990s also saw some important films. Phir Teri Kahaani Yaad Aayi (1993) by Mahesh Bhatt was brave enough to look at how difficult loving can be. Dil Se (1998), in its political context was a critical film dealing with commitment and the excruciating pain of unrequited love.

While relying on tropes of music and dance came Madhuri Dixit’s Aaja Nachle (2007). Mainstream Hindi cinema finally saw a middle-aged actress being the protagonist of a film, a single mother willing to fight for her art. Having a protagonist like this is critical, given that women typically are slotted in conformist roles.

Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna (2006), too attempted to look at love after the idea of marriage, a mature take on the idea of partnership and the need to move out of a marriage that didn’t make partners happy. Ishqiya (2010) and Dedh Ishqiya (2014), both reflected on tales of lonely men who are surprised to find love; It provided a fresh look at what adults seek, separating sex from love and the act of sex as the culmination of love.

Dum Laga Ke Haisha (2015) looked at issues of body vs confidence and intimacy. Piku (2015) again looks at the agency of a single woman, straddling expectations, and finding love in the most unassuming spaces, initiated by empathy and understanding, and not conventional physical attraction. The usual suspects The Lunchbox (2013), Aankhon Dekhi (2013), Waiting (2015), Ram Prasad ki Tehrvi (2019), again enter realms of alternate, but propelled the needed conversations multifold.

Kapoor & Sons (2016), another sublime take on dysfunctional families, secrets, and yet the need and willingness to be with each other for each other, was a critical and liberating take, going beyond the conventional families we were used to seeing.

Gehraaiyaan (2022) did launch a valiant marketing campaign claiming to be a film exploring complexities and yet it faltered. It didn’t dive deeper into the moments. What prompted the characters to fall in love while they were committed to others remained unclear. And while it was liberating to watch a woman exercise agency for physical intimacy, the character seemed to be craving for sex and not for the emotional intimacy her character seemed to demand.

We need more films with adults at the centre. We need stories like Once Again (2019) to hit theatres, to normalise the mess and the angst, conflicts and confusion in life and in love.

(This was first published in National Herald on Sunday)

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