Where Has Bollywood’s Romance Gone?

In these divisive times, love remains a mere blip — not the central character it once was — in most Hindi films.

Meher Manda

March 1, 2022

Where Has Bollywood’s Romance Gone?
Shah Rukh Khan and Kajol in Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham (2001)

A woman, set to marry the brutish man her father has chosen, runs across mustard fields as she hears the melody that announces the arrival of her mandolin-playing lover. In bustling Mumbai, two lonely people find friendship and love by exchanging daily notes through a mislaid lunchbox. Former lovers begin an affair after marrying other people. Two crafty, spirited business partners of a wedding planning company muddy their relationship by having a one-night stand. A poet disillusioned with greed and hypocrisy finds love in the arms of a prostitute with a heart of gold. And a man who barely says a word falls in love with a woman who refuses to shut up, and learns how to live a life of joy.

Love has given Hindi cinema some of its most indelible moments. It is the force that unites two people separated by social divisions and circumstance, and colors scenes with sentiment and music, pushing audiences to cheers and tears. Chalk it up to the country’s historical penchant for love — in mythology, folklore, and popular narratives — or to a societal obligation to conjugal love. Romance has been the cornerstone of Hindi cinema since its inception. And yet, strangely enough, over the last couple of years, love has become a mere blip in Hindi cinema.