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6 ‘Sanskars’ I Wish Sooraj Barjatya’s Films Had Never Taught Young Women Like Me

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It was 2000 (and I was barely in first grade) when I saw “Hum Saath Saath Hain” for the first time, along with my entire extended family. Although I was too young then to comprehend what was going in the film plot-wise, I did notice one interesting thing – nearly all my older family members were watching it with rapt attention, weeping or nodding along enthusiastically every time any mention of family or sanskaars came up.

And herein lies the success of the typical Sooraj Barjatya film – it panders to this extremely outdated, highly patriarchal, upper-class Hindu sensitivity and emotionally manipulates us all into thinking that the values portrayed in it are beyond reproach. But the truth is far from it, and in fact, over the years, the things Barjatya’s films have taught me are actually far from “valuable”. Here are six things I wish Barjatya never taught young women like me.

1. All Families Are Hindu

For someone who claims to make films about “good Indian family values”, Sooraj Barjatya’s understanding of the Indian family sure seems pretty narrow. The only time we see someone who’s not Hindu in one of his films is Anwar Bhaijaan in “Hum Saath Saath Hain” – and he is as “token Muslim” as it gets. He’s a walking mess of stereotypes – speaks in archaic Urdu, wears Lakhnawi shirts and topis, and isn’t given a steady family life at all. As writer Imaan Sheikh puts it in her satirical review of the film, he is “one beard away from being SuperMuslim”.

2. Men and Women Can’t Be Friends Because Hey, Healthy Gender Equations Don’t Exist

“Ek ladka aur ek ladki kabhi dost nahi ho sakte (A boy and a girl can never be friends),” said Mohnish Behl’s character in “Maine Pyaar Kiya” in all his wisdom. Of course friendships between men and women aren’t sustainable, because at the end of the day, sexual attraction will always get in the way. And healthy platonic equations between these two genders – what, can that even be possible? At least Mr. Barjatya doesn’t think so (it’s probably even un-sanskaari to him). This scene was also probably the birth of the ‘friendzone’ as we understand it in Indian pop culture, making men think that they deserve a woman’s reciprocation no matter what, as her friendship is, in reality, the basis of romantic love.

3. A Woman’s Ultimate Life Goal is Marriage, Of Course

According to Barjatya, literally all women do is wait with bated breath for a guy to sweep them off their feet… or wait around for her parents to arrange their rishta. Almost none of Barjatya’s women have independent careers, and when they do (like in “Prem Ratan Dhan Payo”) – the importance of that is subsumed by their marriage. Even when the women are portrayed as intelligent and well-educated, like the three female protagonists of “Hum Saath Saath Hain”, their character arcs do not go beyond their roles as good, obedient, and silently supportive wives, whereas their husbands are shown involved in important business and family matters.

4. But Dark-Skinned Girls Get No Rishtas

In “Vivah”, Chhoti, the dark-complexioned younger sister, is entirely ignored by her father who instead focuses all his rishta-hunting energies on the more conventionally attractive elder sister. Poonam’s (the elder sister) fairer skin is constantly mentioned as a mark of her beauty and is glorified, while Chhoti is sidelined and totally desexualized. At one point, her mother even tries to brighten her skin tone by applying liberal amounts of powder on her face. This film came out as recently as 2006, and to think that it tells young dark-skinned girls that they are somehow inferior because of their appearance, is pretty appalling. Slow claps for all the colourism.

5. Babuji is Boss, And His Sexism is Always Justified

Barjatya loves his patriarchs, and every film of his has one. Whether it’s the humble and hardworking Babuji of “Hum Saath Saath Hain” or the long-suffering Babuji of “Vivah” – they have one common goal – to get their children married off. But when it comes to daughters and daughters-in-law, their double standards come through in full force. Their ‘ideal’ daughter is soft-spoken, virginal and always submissive to the men in their lives, but the sons are supposed to be loveable flirts and successful businessmen. But most importantly, an ‘ideal’ daughter has to be obedient to a fault. How dare a woman marry someone out of her own agency when Babuji is here to approve and fix up every single match?

6. Not Just Babuji, The Husband is Boss Too

“Mujhe Haq Hain (I have the right)” goes the refrain of a popular song from “Vivaah”, in which the would-be husband of the female protagonist pretty much lays down how he has an irrefutable ‘right’ over her body. And that sums up the entire aesthetic of Barjatya’s ouevre – where what the husband wants always comes before the woman’s agency. In “Prem Ratan Dhan Payo”, the male protagonist (who is an actual prince) has the ‘haq’ to order the woman (played by Sonam Kapoor) to wear a dress of his choice whenever he pleases, and then take it off to have sex whenever he pleases. And when she refuses, he gets angry with her, because of course, female consent does not matter.

But despite all of these horrifyingly regressive lessons, Sooraj Barjatya still seems to be going strong. Though the portrayals of family in Bollywood have somewhat evolved over the times and are no longer this explicitly patriarchal, it’s disturbing how much TV time Mr. Barjatya’s movies get every single weekend, and how my older relatives still watch “Hum Apke Hain Koun” and “Hum Saath Saath Hain” with rapt attention, clearly still holding on to those same “family values” (and maybe even enforcing them). And the worst part? I bet they aren’t the only ones who do.

You must be to comment.
  1. Lakshya Ilu Barjatya

    dont you think he is just showing one part of indian culture??? whats wrong in it?? Is it necessary to show love by kissing scenes only??

  2. Deekshitha Bhattathirippad

    Also heteronormativity and homophobia

    1. Sree S

      “1. All Families Are Hindu”

      Well that is your “secular” interpretation from his movies. Agreed that he makes movies only with Hindu families but that is simply not the same thing as saying “All Families Are Hindu”. It is your brilliant mind that is able to come up with brilliantly secular thoughts like these. After he is the one who is investing his money not you.

      “2. Ek ladka aur ek ladki kabhi dost nahi ho sakte”

      Making mountain out of molehill. Well why dont you just stop believing instead of making everyone to stop believing in what he depicts in his movies and instead making them to believe what you want them to believe

      “3. A Woman’s Ultimate Life Goal is Marriage, Of Course”

      Movies largely are social events based entertainment destinations. They are not IIT coaching centers or IAS/IPS training centers to provide career counselling to women or for that matter to men

      “4. But Dark-Skinned Girls Get No Rishtas”

      My response is same as response to point 2 above

      “5. Babuji is Boss, And His Sexism is Always Justified”

      You are comparing what was depicted as a family value in a movie from the year “1989” to the way family values are in the society in 2017. WOW what a brilliant comparison !!!! You surely must be one of the adarsh liberals who think they are the custodians of all things that happen in India

      “6. Mujhe Haq Hain (I have the right)”

      Well even the indian law says that. Both husband and wife have rights over each other as long as they do not violate the rights of each other and only a brilliant mind could find polarizing opinion even from an above sentence

  3. Rajat B

    I don’t know who you are…no seriously, I think you have a wrong number

  4. Prathiba Sripada

    Would you much rather have muslim families with women in their ‘oh so liberating and matriarchial’ Burkha? come on lady get a life..dont hate your own traditions and sanskars so much that soon you will forget who you are

  5. Sonali

    When you talk about point “4. But Dark-Skinned Girls Get No Rishtas” then I feel the movie did not give that message which you find is correct. It has shown one angle of the society and the point has not been repeated in Barjatya’s other movies to be proven as uniform thought-process. Other points are somewhere right. 🙂

  6. Alisha

    It’s not only the old generation, even I as a 25 year old youth watch Rajshree movies. Your headline read as “Nobody Needs” which is completely wrong. There are huge groups of audiences who still watch his movies religiously which further benefits the TRP of channels. That is why, every weekend Zee Cinema ends up airing either Vivah or Hum Saath Saath Hai or Hum Aapke Hai Kaun. And Prem Ratan Dhan Paayo has become the must telecast film on the day of Rakshabandhan, just like Border and LOC Kargil on Republic Day and Independence Day. And these are not the forceful decisions of the govt or the channel heads. People will continue to have time and special space for these movies. You overlooked good facts about Hum Saath Saath Hai because you only saw marriage as the ultimate goals of a girl in the film. What about foreign brought-up Tabu? She had no tantrums and her character portrayed a certain level of stability. When she becomes part of her husband’s family, her role is not only confined within the kitchen. Remember that scene, when she is taken to the office and her father in law clearly instructs his son to consider the ideas of his wife while taking important decisions in business. Wasn’t that a message that today’s women are craving to hear? The eldest son being an adopted child, family picnic, brothers supporting each other in times of family crisis – these concepts cannot be labelled as old and outdated traditions. I don’t see a vast change in marriage concept from Hum Aapke Hai Kaun till date. The celebration and excitement is same, apart from bride today has become a swaggy dulhania by wearing cool black shades. Take Himesh Reshamiya for instance. He was the first one in our generation who gave a new look to the discotheque themed music and he continues to generate such commercial music. As a matter of fact, the same Himesh Reshamiya was the music composer of Sooraj’s PRDP. Himesh who has a youth appeal in his work could have easily walked off from such projects because that is not what he is famous for. However, he worked for Sooraj Barjatya and you know the reason why, because we all humans crave for the warm love and family environment at the end of the day. And that family essence and fulfillment is found only in Rajshree movies. The problem is not with Barjatya’s movies. The aforesaid movies were made long time back in their right time. If people are still ready to watch them, who’s fault is it? As per my observation, changes have been made in Rajshree films according to the changing time, but the central idea has always remained intact i.e. family and respect for each other.

  7. ajit kumar

    Seriously you got nothing except ranting about the old Bollywood movies. People should understand that movies do not promote anything, they just show the things which are going on in our society.
    It clearly seems that when you people get nothing else to write you just go behind these old bollywood movies which were made a decade earlier.

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