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Love Aaj Kal: It’s 2020 But The Trope Of Masculinity Persists In Bollywood

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Love Aaj Kal, the sequel, goes way ahead in breaking binaries compared to its predecessor. Unlike the predecessor which retained and glorified the stability and persistence of the ideal of love irrespective of social context, the sequel portrays a more authentic account of how disabling, and scary the pursuit of love can be.

The economic insecurities fuelled by capitalism have an inevitably complicated life and relationships which is aptly conveyed by the hysteria that Zoe experiences throughout the plot of the film, like every ideal which she believed to be the terminal truth of her life continually displaces and dissolves into troubling rivers of turmoil and confusion.

The movie also deserves due credit for substantially rupturing the binary of traditional and modern, by showing that the desire to attain happiness and fulfilment can be rendered elusive by sudden shifts in social environments and practices.

Love Aaj Kal Desires To Obtain An Intimacy, One That Sustains

The film trails the ups and downs of romantic attraction between the protagonists Zooey and Veer, with substantial forays into Raghu’s past, the owner of the café that Zooey regularly visits. Based on how its predecessor played out, a viewer would conventionally expect the parallel between the traditional and modern to remain in the sequel.

As per expectations, the traditional love-story would intuitively feature loyalty and devoted passion to the cause of chasing true, genuine and passionate love against all situational extremities, while the modern tale would be fractured by the relaxed norms of sexuality and casual approach in dating that seemingly appear to have made modern relationships more complicated.

By the climax, however, the contrast would be sealed by the one unifying thread of emotion that has remained uncontaminated and unhindered despite the shifts and flux in the external environment that evolve and adapt to changing times: the emotion of love.

The anticipated, prevailing trope would have been the desire for obtaining an intimacy that sustains over the tidings of time; be it a conservative, repressed social environment of the pre-globalization era, or the loneliness and alienation of a modern-day individual borne out of the pressurizing demands of building an identity of oneself through ‘career’; that has been heightened by the gruelling urban lifestyle and aspirations of modern-day capitalism.

However, neither Raghu’s flashback tale nor the present one that is the focus of the plot is devoid of exacerbated tensions at any given moment during the progression of the film.

A single mother has raised zooey in a family comprising solely of women, where the daughters have been taught the lesson since childhood; to be wary of that blissful euphoria of the feeling called ‘love,’ a state of mind that compels one to cherish a carefree and uninhibited embrace of what one truly desires, against what any norm of morality, either familial or social, induces one to believe.

Marriage, done out of impulse and instinctive passion, is bound to culminate into doom for women, for men render them emotionally and financially helpless, abandoning them once the infatuation dies. The ecstasy of love supposedly dies out after the brief hunky-dory phase of oblivion to real-life circumstances. The practical need to earn money and sustain one’s livelihood should drive the motivation of a woman to earn and achieve something of her own. This is what Zooey has been conditioned to believe all her life.

However, her ideas and perceptions about life and love are challenged throughout the plot. The anxiety of discovering that thing called ‘self,’ which lies repressed beneath the visible demeanour of a person, is the recurrent theme throughout the story. Zooey finds herself falling into the enduring attachment kindled by the emotion called ‘love’ that she has trained herself to resist.

Once she finds herself enmeshed in that emotional state, her tumultuous journey unfolds like a whirlwind. She fluctuates amid divergent beliefs at several moments. Having attained the zenith of what she believed was her dream, i.e., to secure financial independence, she realizes that this thing called ‘happiness,’ which she is supposed to feel is still beyond her clutch. She eventually chooses to reunite with Veer after a prolonged period of separation.

The Movie Demolishes The Binary Between Traditional And Modern Love

Raghu’s reminiscences and Zoe’s disillusionment from idealized cultural aspirations, both follow a similar trajectory. Both lives experience the fear of their notion of innocent and devoted love being ruptured by impending doom.

For Raghu, it was the sexual freedom discovered within pockets of urban glamour that had been unimaginable to his sensibility bred within the repressive environment of a small town. Freedom that dazzled and maddened him to such an extent that the love he had once cherished got buried beneath the angst and meaninglessness induced by the drudgery of an exploitative work-environment.

For Zoe, it was the dissonance between the fear of loss of selfhood that a woman is likely to experience in a hetero-romantic relationship and the desire to attain emotional intimacy and genuine care and affection within a mindless, consumerist culture that has implicitly conveyed a false message to the youth that money alone can resolve all pains in life.

Both these parallel tales have demolished the binary between traditional and modern love, as the necessity to engage in an emotionally fulfilling relationship persists. Raghu experiences immense pain and alienation from his self when he realizes that love still held a promise of that succour which his debauchery lacks. At the same time, Zooey feels the need to return to the allure of romantic intimacy, which she always feared.

Does The Film Manage To Redefine Masculinity? No!

There is still one unifying thread; however that has remained unchanged across the parallels, and it has been the unseen malady of Hindi cinema since forever: the trope of masculinity. Raghu’s estrangement from his self due to uninhibited indulgence in sexual freedom, and Zoe’s turmoil and confusion serve to reinforce the classic binary between masculinity and femininity.

Love is a heartfelt emotion that remains a womanly affair. Patriarchy does recognize emotionality in men, but it also systemically controls and regulates it to align those instincts into a constricted space, which exists solely to build an unflinching narrative of heroism.

The scene where Raghu tells his peers about his’ breathing problems’ which is followed later by Zoe hopefully asking Veer if he has felt something like that, (as if endurance of pain is supposed to make a man more desirable) was troubling moments to watch for a boy who has a history of bullying, abuse and emotional difficulties that took a toll on his mental health.

Often films colour our aspirations about love, life, and relationships. They teach us how to be the perfect and desirable girl or boy, woman or man, and films perpetuate the notion that fluidity is inherently feminine.

Male emotional behaviour is depicted as stunted, shortsighted and hinging upon extremes because it is never free from the performative pressure of masculinity, that ceaselessly wants us to believe that maleness inherently implies strength and charisma; which is why male emotional experiences portrayed on screen are choked by this insufferable need to channelize every desperate yearning into an opportunity of risk-taking action and heroism.

Raghu passes the test of manhood when he gives up his medical career and shifts to an unknown city without worrying about his economic security; because that is how manliness has been culturally defined. It is perceived as the ability to give up your sense of comfort and unabashedly jump into uncertain waters without worrying about your safety or well-being. All the tender tendencies and inklings of a boy are essentially supposed to be directed at the project of wooing a girl. Otherwise, they would make him look weak, unmanly, and undeserving of love.

“Show Love As Something That Happens Between Two People, Not The Fixed Identities Of Two Genders”

Zoe tries to fashion her life upon a specific ideal but is frequently caught between conflicting needs and hopes. She wants to be strong and in control of herself, but there are moments of weakness when she breaks down.

That doesn’t happen to Veer, however, because since the first moment, he has been shown as this uni-dimensional creature who has a certain idea about what love is supposed to be, and he wants to achieve that at any cost. When Zooey craves for him after a night of reckless drinking, he is able to refuse her because he knows that he wants her to come back to him in all her senses.

It was, in all likelihood, a fitting and natural response. Still, it was also a stoic response, and emotional stoicism is culturally-conditioned in men. They tend to believe that they must retain the ability to resist the impulses of their heartfelt desires and what they truly want.

Zoe is a much more aggressive and resilient person than Veer, and her aspirations are those of a modern, liberal, educated woman. Yet she breaks down. The uncertainties of contemporary love and the absence of intimacy, however, do not inflict any trauma or wound upon Veer’s psyche, and even if they did, we wouldn’t know it because viewers are supposed to believe that emotional turmoil is a fitting female business and men have only parts to play in those experiences.

The movie has overly glorified pain and reckless heroism when it comes to the male experience of love, which was rendered evident in the scene when Raghu tells Zoe that he wishes to be like his younger, daring, carefree self again who was willing to take risks without fearing the wrath that would be inflicted upon him as the consequence of his actions.

It’s 2020, and about time, we start showing love as something that happens between two people, not the fixed identities of two genders. Boys of all ages watch these films, and they subconsciously mould their behaviour to fit into the definition of the ideal man.

When you show the man as a cheesy chaser of the girl he desires, a reckless alcoholic and sex-seeker, or someone who has the tenacity to bear the separation from his beloved merely for the sake of an idea he believes at the cost of what his heart wants, the problem is not specifically with any of these individual depictions. But if these are the only depictions of male behaviour culturally available to us, the lessons about manhood are learned silently and implicitly by a boy before he ever gets a chance to understand his emotions.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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