How pop-culture failed us 90s’ kids


“Pyaar toh mein ne kar liya hai maa,” says a morose Anjali when her mother questions her about her feelings. Anjali Sharma, the quintessential tomboy, spent a decade loving her best friend Rahul Khanna from college. The best part is, she didn’t even see him in the last decade. We all loved watching these movies. I mean, BuzzFeed even has quizzes on Kuch Kuch Hota Hai and Kabhie Kushi Kabhie Gham and we have all scored a good 90% in those. Because obviously, no one gives a damn about your ICSE Board Results in this day and age anyway. Rahul Khanna, on the other hand, is one of those guys with zero self-awareness – he does not know what he needs ever, he gets attracted to the hottest girl in college because she can sing ‘Om Jai Jagdeesh’ and delivers cheesy lines about ‘Mard ka sir sirf 3 auraton ke saamne jhukta hai,’ and all that BS. I mean, how about your boss, how about your teachers, how about a respectable woman? NO. He doesn’t care because he doesn’t know better.

Yes, Rahul Khanna’s character did receive a lot of flak in the recent years with feminism taking centre stage. But the female lead in the movie is of no good either, did anyone realise that? I mean, get over him, that boy is a shallow boy who loses to you in basketball every single day and wears a chain that says ‘C.O.O.L’ for crying out loud. And in 10 years, you haven’t seen his face. I mean in those days, there was no Facebook, how did you even remember his face? But no, Anjali Sharma’s character decided to stay in love with him and hence Karan Johar successfully taught an entire generation that love is painful and the beauty of it is in the suffering. Aman Mehra (Salman Khan’s character; had to mention since the dude only appears for an extended cameo and surprisingly, in a movie with Shah Rukh Khan, Kajol and Rani Mukherjee, he is the only one you can really stand), people say, is far more mature and actually deserves Anjali. But I don’t agree. The truth is, Anjali doesn’t deserve Aman. He is sorted and he is a peaceful soul. She would have drained his energies had they married. Anjali and Rahul actually deserved each other because if Rahul is shallow, Anjali is a loser. A sore loser who loved another loser for years on end and actually did nothing with her life expect learning how to tie a saree and grow her hair. *Potential bahu in the neighbourhood alert*

Not just this. There are a plethora of these films that us, as 90s kids, grew up watching. And for whatever reason, these stood out the most and the lessons they tried to teach got drilled in our head so deep that it is alarming how some of us might be living in beliefs that this is how love and life should be. Do we remember Kal Ho Na Ho? Oh yes, that movie with that song with the heart beat music that everyone uses as background score in farewell videos. Naina loves Aman, Aman loves Naina, but we are not proud of you. GUJJU. Okay, that Aman dude literally forces Naina to marry someone else because he is dying. I mean, that woman is walking into the mandap of her own wedding, in tears. But Rohit (Saif’s character) has no self respect, so he will marry her anyway. Because love is supposed to hurt, right? And some 20 years later, Naina recounts this story to her kids and Rohit walks in and says ‘I love you’ to her and she doesn’t even say it back. I mean, still? Aman died. Rohit is nice. Love your husband. Stop showing us that love is painful and love is all about the suffering.


Death brings me to the rise of Hrithik Roshan. Remember those days when most of us actually liked Hrithik Roshan and him making a debut on silver screen was actually the best thing that happened in the year 2000? Everyone knew how to groove to Ek Pal Ka Jeena. The dude dies in the movie. And his girlfriend finds his doppelganger and falls in love with him. I mean, what’s the guarantee that she won’t scream the previous dude’s name instead of the new dude’s when they are doing it, man? And this new guy is rich, suave and dances well and can score anyone. But why not be the shining knight in armour to that damsel in distress, although you can clearly see that she has issues and that’s why she is stalking you. But he will fall in love with her although he knows she may never really love him back because well, love is supposed to hurt, right?

And that magnum opus Mohabbatein that most of us were prohibited to watch (but still somehow sneek in rented DVDs and saw it) because Shamita Shetty’s character wore hairbands for blouses? Raj Aryan Malhotra returns to his college after years to seek vengeance on his deceased girlfriend’s father, in the form of love. So he propagates lessons in love to some dudes that can’t even manage to act and sings songs while he imagines his dead girlfriend running around pillars and meadows of England. He has psychological issues. He believed that love can change the world while he hurt himself and we all believed that he is the ultimate preacher of the lessons in love.

Has anyone noticed that all these characters that believed in this and waited till the end of time for their college lovers to return to them, actually lead pretty darn mediocre lives? Anjali Sharma was chilling in summer camps, Naina was storytelling to her kids, Raj Aryan Malhotra was teaching the violin and beating the drums on the roads during Karvachauth. The truth is, love is not about the suffering. And you’ve gotten your entire life wrong if you believed so. I don’t have an issue with the way Imtiaz Ali deals with love (well, mostly). Shahid Kapoor’s character returns happy and rejuvenated when he returns back to his normal life after falling in love and letting that person go, in Jab We Met. And when he returns and lets it go, he achieves a truck load of things. Love is the wisdom to realise that it is more important to love yourself the way you’d want to be loved. It is realising that you should validate yourself before some Raj or Rahul comes into your life to complete that fairy tale.

Indian pop culture failed us. There is a reason we don’t have our Devil Wears Pradas, there is a reason we don’t have our Batmans. There is a reason why most things that taught us sense back in the day (and even till date), is considered parallel cinema (or simply failed at the box office) or just remained on comic books and was restricted to TV (until crap Saas Bahu serials took over, of course). The reason is really simple. We don’t give ourselves enough credit and respect. And we as a growing economy, were so engrossed in the pretty locations and awesome new clothes on silver screen post liberalisation that we did not realise that the values and lessons that these movies were teaching us about ourselves were utter rubbish.

It is really up to us to cleanse ourselves of these disrespectful, self-deprecating ideologies ingrained so deep in our heads. And the first step to that is realisation. I mean watch Kuch Kuch Hota Hai the next time it’s on TV. But don’t you fucking feel bad for Anjali while watching it. Laugh at it. I know you’ve already done that. Laugh at it some more and go love yourself. And for all those people who somehow escaped the storm of the 90s Bollywood cinema, I am extremely happy for you. And I am coming for you. Let’s be friends.


One stop ahead of sexism


Through a blanket of dust, through shattered pieces of glass, a splash of water and a shower of red chillis; the quintessential Tollywood hero makes his entry in the middle of an action sequence, exhibiting his machismo to the goons and, through the screen, to the audience.

He beats up the bad guy and his army, protects the victims, seeks revenge, slaps the female lead character when he thinks she is being stupid and delivers a page long dialogue about being manly. That’s it. There is no more to his character. Wait, let’s rewind, he slaps women. He has no character.

The female lead on the other hand might as well sit at home in the comfort of an AC. But no, she comes on the screen every time the male audience is bored of ‘pants and shirts’ and the female audience wants to connect with the dumbness and dependency she epitomizes. Oh, more importantly, she turns up to be a part of the most redundant yet unavoidable sections of a film- song and dance.

Boy meets girl, boy stalks girl, girl feels uncomfortable, boy makes sexist jokes about her, the whole cast makes sexist comments about women, then boy ignores girl and girl falls in love with the boy. The stalking could be the other way round also, but the sexist comments are a constant.

I’ve grown up watching Telugu films. Don’t jump to conclusions, I was exposed to my fair share of international films, songs and other pop culture as well. I mean, I did have Hi TV and SS Music, Pogo and Cartoon Network and the legendary Skyline theatre for my monthly fix of good English films. But the truth is, our cinema provides such high decibel entertainment value that it is extremely difficult to sit at home, shut your ears and ignore its existence. So week after week, we flocked to the nearby RTC Crossroads, stared in awe at the god-sized posters of our heroes and enjoyed the hooting and immersed ourselves in the story line or the lack of it, while increasing the occupancy levels of an already highly occupied South Indian cinema hall.

Being the 90s kids, Telugu cinema for us has been synonymous to Mahesh Babu and Pawan Kalyan. Of course there was Indra, Narasimha Naidu, Manmadhudu and Samarasimha Reddy, but Obul Reddy, pata basti, kabbadi, Pandu gadu, vayyari bhama nee hamsa nadaka, made in andhra kurrollu and Siddu Siddhartha Roy will forever be fresh in our memory. These landmarks in Telugu cinema came at a point when Bollywood had stopped sexist portrayal of women and started exploring the sensitivity of a man behind the macho. Bollywood produced Dil Chahta Hai, Rang De Basanti and Fashion. It produced some good love stories as well. Stories where the girl and the boy played a man and a woman and the relationship was built from a genuine connection. Sex also became an easy thing. But Tollywood couldn’t say sex, they still had to jump into song and dance. The 2014 Mahesh Babu starrer ‘1 Nenokkadine’ is probably the only film where you feel that the girl and the boy might have a sexual relationship as well but it leaves no clues, because honestly, the film could have done away with the female lead character if given a choice.

Mahesh Babu and Pawan Kalyan thus churned out a million films with chauvinism and sexism sprinkled all over them, with love stories with no emotions and female characters with no importance. Tollywood simultaneously boasts of SS Rajamouli. The guy is a great director, he has never had a flop in his career, agreed. But Kajal Aggarwal plays an extremely dependent, insecure and suspicious character who falls for a stalker, in Magadheera, Genelia D’Souza exists in Sye to cheer lead and let’s not even get to Tamannah’s character in Bahubali: The Beginning. Again, I don’t blame the actors, I blame most of the directors who probably still think that women belong in the kitchen. I don’t mind making a list of the most sexist directors in Tollywood for anyone who is interested. Srinu Vaitla would undoubtedly top the list, followed by Gunashekar.

I shamelessly watched Mahesh Babu and Pawan Kalyan portray such sexist characters again and again. I adore Mahesh Babu, so I watched each of his films 10 times in the theatre (including the highly sexist films such as Dookudu), knowing fully well the influence they had on public and trying to ignore the offensive content, because the punch dialogues and forced comedy were too entertaining. I watched and I watched and I watched until I got tired and saturated and couldn’t take the sexism anymore. I saw Aagadu once and cringed at the idea of watching another Telugu film ever again. I had had enough. Just because you grew up with something doesn’t mean you let it disrespect you for the rest of your life.

Almost ten months went by and I didn’t dare watch a single Telugu film, not even on TV. Then came Bahubali: The Beginning, dragging me to the cinema hall. Apart from the magnum opus that it was, the emotions in the film were disappointing. While it had Tamannah and her immature love story on one side, it had Ramya Krishna roaring the screen on the other. It gave me hope. But avoiding sexism is not about making female dominated films. It’s about making an equally strong female character in even a male dominated film. But that sounded funny and Tollywood producing something like that was impossible.

It was August 7 and my deeply rooted love for Mahesh Babu drove me to a nearby cinema hall in New Delhi. Higher taxes and costlier popcorn, Srimanthudu better be worth it, I thought before entering the screen. The film got over and I walked out realising that I hardly ever noticed Mahesh Babu in the 2 hours and 43 minutes. Both my eyes on Shruti Haasan and all my heart with the writer and director Koratala Siva. I went back to the screen the next day hoping to feast my eyes with Mahesh Babu, but I saw Shruti Haasan yet again and fell in love with Harsha.

Harsha is the name of Mahesh Babu’s character from Srimanthudu. I watched every single film of Mahesh Babu’s a thousand times over. But I don’t remember falling in love with the character he portrays in any of the films. I read a lot of books and watch a lot of films in other languages and I’ve fallen in love with some fictitious characters before. But never one played by Mahesh Babu. Harsha was different, Harsha was acceptable and Harsha was respectful. He treats Charuseela (Shruti Haasan’s character) with immense respect and thinks she is beautiful on the inside. He doesn’t stalk her, he doesn’t pass any comments on her. He values conversations over coffee and he acts on the little things Charuseela says and accepts with dignity when she rejects his love.

Charuseela on the other hand is a strong independent character. She doesn’t fall for a stalker, she doesn’t encourage bullshit. She is smart and does anything to stick to her ideals, including rejecting the man she loves. She shows a confused Harsha the right path in life and he, finds his passion there. And the relationship between them is love, the real, genuine one (I don’t think I ever felt the love between the male and the female lead characters in a mainstream Telugu film before, as much as I felt in the scene where Charuseela and Harsha meet each other after 3 months, in the second half of the film). It is not a high school (fight with each other type) equation, it is not a damsel in distress falls for the shining knight equation and it is definitely not a love story made for the songs. It is, simply put, the light at the end of a long tunnel. A long dark tunnel full of Tollywood films.

Today, I don’t write this post to appreciate the fact that my favourite hero’s film managed to portray what was deemed to be hopeless and impossible in Telugu Cinema. Today, I write this post because I am genuinely happy as a woman. I am genuinely happy that an industry I grew up watching and giving so much of my time, mind and love to, finally respects me back.

Here’s hoping that Srimanthudu doesn’t remain as a one of a kind film but sets example and standards to all Telugu films in the future and marks the beginning of a much needed change in this industry that we love like no other.