Gehraiyaan. The most talked about film in the past week, at least wherever I went. After crossing multiple portals of disappointments, one of the most ‘interesting’ takes on this film that I happened to come across was regarding it being an advocate of polygamy. Since cultures are imbibed through conversations and conversations happen around cultures, does this movie make way for smashing the heteronormative institution of marriage?
It has been a while, at least a decade I presume, when conversations around the Brahmanical and patriarchal nature of the institution of marriages in South Asia have been prevalent. What Gehraiyaan does, through its disillusioned characters, is not question that institution, instead question who they wish to enter that institution with. Alisha Khanna (played by Deepika Padukone), 30, a yoga instructor, who grew up with the childhood trauma of dealing with her mother’s suicide because of a bad marriage, is clueless. She chooses to stay in an unhappy relationship with a man who takes her for granted. Without disregarding the effect of such a tragedy on a child, the plot doesn’t champion for her to change her circumstances by leaving her good-for-nothing boyfriend, Karan Arora (played by Dhairya Karwa), but what it does is give her an alternative to try and see the other side of life with a person with much more social and financial extravagance. The argument I am trying to make here is that despite the recent debates against monogamy and the ideas of love as a fluid concept that can encompass more than one individual or none at all, infidelity cannot be regarded as the opposite of monogamy.
What Padukone’s character in the movie does is begin a relationship with a man while being in one already. If this movie is a ‘conversation-starter’ for the proliferation of the idea of polygamy, why does a need arise to end the relationship with one to enter into another? This movie does anything but to reiterate the importance of monogamy, be it by making Tia (played by Ananya Panday) suspicious of Zain (played by Siddhant Chaturvedi) or by making sure to use the trope of blackmails. What got me even more flabbergasted was when Alisha has a miscarriage; she loses the baby around the same time that her relationship with Zain is disintegrating. Does the miscarriage then become a metaphor for a failed, untrue, and ‘impure’ relationship?
The constant imagery of the turbulent sea is also something which caught my attention. Whenever scenes and planes had to be shifted, the movie deployed the visuals of a surging sea. The immediate connection that can be drawn is to the turbulence in the lives of all these characters which got embodied in the turbulence of the sea. In certain ways, the movie showcased successfully how infidelity leads to such turbulences, again, not promoting polygamy.
Most importantly, the institution of monogamy stems from a sense of ownership where one or both parties become possessions of the other who cannot be owned by anyone else. The irrevocable tension in the movie to ‘leave’ one and unite with the other screams of such ownership patterns. Alisha’s unhappiness and dissatisfaction stem from the fact that Zain, despite sleeping with her, still ‘belongs’ to her cousin, Tia. In the midst of this, she has ceased to be possessive about Karan, she hardly cares if he is around or not. She has moved on from one to the other.
By inserting a sub-plot of Alisha’s mother’s story, where she takes her own life because her marriage wouldn’t allow her to be with someone else, is another metaphor used against the idea of multiple partners. The life lost signifies a lost cause, an end to something horrendous and socially unacceptable, something which is a disease and has to be eliminated, similar to the unborn baby of Alisha whom she loses; an unmissable reminder of her disobedience. (At the end, everything becomes Biblical and points to the great disobedience of the woman, no?) Moreover, Zain’s plot to kill Alisha or Alisha’s self-defense leading to the death of Zain are all markers of the said trope. There could only be any resolution by the end, any sort of stability or relief, if either of them were eliminated.
This movie could have been a conversation-starter in favour of polygamy had none of the characters been made to feel guilty of being with more than one person at the same time, had they been given the space to open up to each other without the fear of judgement. What this film instead does is make characters devoid of the ability to self-reflect, or give them the time to be better. It has no plot, none that is engaging to say the least, and is nowhere close to moving away from any sort of heteronormativity.
By Ananya Bhardwaj (Columnist)
Ananya Bhardwaj is currently working as the Assistant Curator, Oral Histories, with The Arts and Cultural Heritage Trust to curate the first Partition Museum in Delhi at the Dara Shikoh Library. She is a postgraduate of Literatures in English from St. Stephen’s College, University of Delhi. She is also the founder of Museum of Shadows of Partition which is a digital repository of inherited Partition memoirs which have been passed on to successive generations of Partition survivors in the forms of anecdotes, heirlooms, and documents.