A group of female acquaintances were chatting about this andthat, and the conversation veered—as it does so often—to movies and Zero inparticular, which all disliked not so much because Shah Rukh Khan playedhimself without any variation or because he was cast as a vertically challengedman, but because his Bauua Singh was so arrogant and obnoxious and, two farsuperior women were inexplicably attracted to him. Aafia, a brainy scientist(played by Anuskha Sharma) fell in love with him, wanted to marry him, had hisbaby (out of wedlock); when she was to be married to a scientist, a man herprofessional and intellectual equal, she ditched him and waited for Bauua toreturn from his trip to Mars.
The other female, a superstar Babita (Katrina Kaif), stillhurting from a break-up, uses Bauua as a confidant and support system, seeingin him something that nobody else could (the audience certainly didn’t or thefilm would not have failed).
The argument went: Would bright and accomplished women havesuch low self-esteem that they’d settle for a man so inferior in every way?
In an earlier release, Kedarnath, a rich Hindu girl (playedby Sara Ali Khan) falls in love with a poor Muslim porter (Sushant SinghRajput) in the pilgrim town where they live, bringing the wrath of her familyupon her head. In another film this year, Love Yatri, an NRI heiress andbusiness school graduate, falls in love with an Amdavad boy, an academicduffer, who has no discernible qualities, except that he does the dandiya dancewell.
Keeping in mind that love is supposed to be blind, oppositesattract, and all that conventional thinking, today’s women surely have somestandards by which to pick a partner; in real life, how many women are marryingso beneath themselves?
Hardly any of these films in which ‘commoner’ men win thehearts of princesses, does the woman actually marry down and move into a hovel.If they did, how long would the marriage last? Or is it not even consideredbecause by the Indian rules of matrimony, the woman has to ‘adjust’ to everycondition in her marital home. (Even today, on some regressive TV serial youcan hear the dialogue about how once a woman’s doli has gone into a husband’shome, only her arthi should come out. It’s as late as 2017 (Toilet Ek PremKatha) that a wife walked out because her husband’s home did not have a toilet.A decade ago, she would have gotten used to going into the fields every morningwith the other village wives. In earlier films, if a wife walked out on hermarriage or wanted to set up home separate from her in-laws, she was seen as ahome-wrecking vamp.
It’s also a matter of some concern that hardly any of thesewomen seen to use their education to build careers, and if they do—like Aafia,who reaches an international space organisation—her work seems to take abackseat to her love life, unsuitable though the man may be.
In traditional love stories and fairy tales, it’s the manwho selects a woman—always for her beauty—and does the wooing and winning herhand in marriage, in so many stories, rescuing a woman from a wickedstep-mother. A man may marry a poor or uneducated woman, but one would have tostrain to remember a story which a man romanced an ugly woman. But women areoften settling for ugly men!
Jessica Bennett, writing in thedailybeast.com, quotes fromLori Gottlieb’s book, Marry Him! The Case For Settling For Mr Good Enough, inwhich “she counselled girls to forget the search for a soul-mate and nab thenext nice nebbish they could find (lest they end up, like Gottlieb herself,alone and regretful at 40). ‘Wouldn’t it have been wiser to settle for a highercalibre of ‘not Mr. Right’ while my marital value was at its peak?’ Gottliebwrote. ‘My advice is this: Settle! That’s right. Don’t worry about passion orintense connection … overlook his halitosis or abysmal sense of aesthetics.Because if you want to have the infrastructure in place to have a family,settling is the way to go’.”
Comments Bennett, “Though Gottlieb’s take was provocative,it was hardly new—“settling” is a trope that women have struggled with forages. You know the old adage: a woman who can’t find a man is a spinster; a manwho doesn’t want a wife is the envy of all his friends. Historically, ofcourse, women needed marriage in a way that men simply didn’t: a woman withouta husband wasn’t just lonely, she was broke, outcast, shunned. And so the modernmarriage debates—the case for settling versus the case for singledom—havelargely been written by and for women.”
An nytimes.com piece by Claire Cain Miller and QuoctrungBui, says, “From Cinderella to Kate Middleton, fictional and real-life fairytales have told of women marrying up. But it has been a long time since womensaid they went to college to earn a “Mrs. degree.” In more recent culturaltouchstones — like The Intern, with Anne Hathaway, and Opening Belle, the noveland Reese Witherspoon movie — the protagonists are highly successful women withhusbands who don’t work. (Spoiler alert: Conflict ensues.)…These changes havebeen driven by women’s increasing education and labour force participation, newgender roles, and the rise of what social scientists call assortative mating –the idea that people marry people like themselves, with similar education andearnings potential and the values and lifestyle that come with them.”
Most urban women, who have the freedom to choose, would wantto pick partners who may or may not have six-pack abs, but are educated,well-groomed, have similar interests, a career with prospects – men with whomthey can have a conversation. No wonder, they didn’t care for Zero– andBollywood had better pay heed to what women want, since they are now make upsizeable audience numbers. Not just because the man was a dwarf, but because hewas a frog who could never turn into a prince, no matter how passionate thekiss.
Deepa Gahlot is a Mumbai-based columnist, critic and author.