Everyone loves a love story, Bollyood does too, and Indian audiences can never tire of it. In the land where Laila-Majnu, Heer-Ranjha, Sohni-Mahiwal, Shrin-Farhad, Dhola-Marwan, Jesal Toral are part of folklore, Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet is still an inspiration for love stories.
Wherever warring clans or social differences are the main conflict in a love story, Romeo and Juliet come to mind—whether it is Achut Kanya way back in 1936, when caste came in the way of a couple in love, to Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak in 1988 to Ishaqzaade in 2012 and dozens of films about star-crossed lovers in between. A new version of Romeo and Juliet, called Issaq, comes out today, set amidst the bloody feuds of lawless Banaras. Yet another film on the same story, Ram Leela, is set in Gujarat, is under production.
One can see why this plot appeals to Indians. Even with all pretensions to modernity, a large part of the country is still in the feudal age, and the rest suffers from nostalgia about the good old days of the real India. That’s why even in 2013, there are Khap Panchayats, and groups of people (mostly men) who believe that inter-caste marriages should not be allowed, and inter-religious marriages are cause for riots.
That’s perhaps why, on the one hand, indie films are breaking new ground, on the other romantic melodramas like Rockstar, Barfi, Ishaqzaade, Aashiqui 2, Ranjhaana, Lootera continue to win over the Indian viewer. Everyone, at some point of the other, must have fallen in love with someone the parents/family/community disapproved of, and regret having caved in to the pressure. They can identify with tragic or failed love stories and enjoy the cathartic weeping at the end of these films.
In the midst of 100-crore action films and comedies, people will still go to watch love stories that touch their hearts. Even the West—the UK in particular—continues to be inspired by Shakespeare, but it’s more the period drama and classical language that they go for; their society has moved away from the tradition of families dictating choice of spouse.
There is a fair amount of violence in Romeo and Juliet, and promos of Issaq indicate a full blast of mofussil aggression and the emphasis on outdated notions of honour and tribal codes still adhered too. At the core of all the bombast are two teenagers discovering love. Which is something that will, hopefully, never go out of style.