How dysfunctional marriage was a recurrent theme on screen in 2021, from Haseen Dillruba to Decoupled

The trend of evolving marriage stories has created a revision of the safest, most used, and most overdone formula of Hindi cinema — one that has sustained the myth of a perfect marriage.

Archita Kashyap December 27, 2021 10:03:22 IST
How dysfunctional marriage was a recurrent theme on screen in 2021, from Haseen Dillruba to Decoupled

Surveen Chawla and R Madhavan in Decoupled

Marriage is on the minds of many people, especially in our country. With the pandemic having prevented large scale, lavish or crowded weddings for over a year, interpretations of the 21st century marriage have made it to OTT platforms regularly.

Not always riding on star value but on the connection that its story makes with people, this trend of evolving marriage stories has created a revision of the safest, most used, and most overdone formula of Hindi cinema — one that has sustained the myth of a perfect marriage. 

First came Haseen Dillruba (Netflix India). Starring Taapsee Pannu, Vikrant Massey, and Harshvardhan Rane, this film retold love and passion that emerges from debris of an unhappy, impulsive arranged match. Treated like pulp fiction, the plot (written by Kanika Dhillon) counts heavily on domestic violence couched as extreme love; and plays to the gallery in its treatment. Despite caveats and criticism of its sexist take on marriage, Haseen Dillruba, a melodramatic take on the artifice of arranged marriage, worked very well with audiences. It ranks amongst the most watched films on OTT this year. 

How dysfunctional marriage was a recurrent theme on screen in 2021 from Haseen Dillruba to Decoupled

Taapsee Pannu and Vikrant Massey in Haseen Dillruba

A subtler, more effective story about the consequences of arranged marriages on a girl’s life makes for Pagglait (Netflix India). Starring Sanya Malhotra, and directed by Umesh Bist, this film underlines the sheer alienation of two people marrying because they make for a 'suitable match.' When her husband dies unexpectedly, the girl is numb and unfeeling. She did not know him well enough, let alone, fall in love with him. The discovery of her husband’s personality and individual choices, after his death, triggers a change in her approach to life. Pagglait is convincing and credible in its storytelling, especially at a time when women seek financial independence. Being married or not being married should not define a girl’s identity anymore. 

Perhaps the most powerful take on the change that marriage brings to people’s lives was in The Great Indian Kitchen (Amazon Prime Video India).

Jeo Baby’s masterpiece makes you angry, exasperated, and finally, root for the woman that leaves the punishment of a patriarchal life behind. This Malayalam language film is uncompromising in its look at the roles of a man and woman after marriage in Indian homes, irrespective of a woman’s abilities, ambitions or desires. Marriage is not a pleasant experience in this film, but that is also closer to the reality of countless Indian homes. 

How dysfunctional marriage was a recurrent theme on screen in 2021 from Haseen Dillruba to Decoupled

Still from The Great Indian Kitchen

Sanya Malhotra also stars in Meenakshi Sunderashwar (Netflix India), a drama about long-distance marriage and the role of career choices. Co-starring Abhimanyu Dassani, this Dharmatic Entertainment film focuses on how working for a career can impact a new marriage. While the film is slow-paced, and at times, veers into off-key territory, it is a relevant story for present-day Indians. One in a marriage seeks a career in the burgeoning IT industry. This means having to take up jobs in a different city, on weird terms, and sacrificing one’s personal life to keep up with professional demands. Meenakshi Sunderashwar highlights the misunderstandings and compromises that often leave no room for a marriage to flourish. As divorce rates in India touched record levels during the pandemic, the context of this film will resonate with many. 

How dysfunctional marriage was a recurrent theme on screen in 2021 from Haseen Dillruba to Decoupled

Sanya Malhotra and Abhimanyu Dassani in Meenakshi Sundareshwar

Netflix India released Decoupled recently, a rather mediocre interpretation of modern affluent divorce. Infantilising the fall out of a broken relationship might be easy storytelling but it only serves the purpose of distraction. On the other hand, Scenes from a Marriage (Disney+ Hotstar), a retelling of Ingmar Bergman’s critically acclaimed series by the same name, rings true for relationships everywhere. The beauty of this story is its universal appeal. While the woman is the primary bread winner and the man is a caregiver, it navigates points of fracture and break points in marriages that can apply to most people. Jessica Chastain and Oscar Isaac deliver outstanding performances that are riveting in their intensity. Sometimes a single impulsive act of fulfillment by one can devastate a marriage forever, causing it to unravel piece by piece. Because it handles separation, divorce, and life after divorce without compromise, Scenes from a Marriage stands out amongst dramas on this subject. 

How dysfunctional marriage was a recurrent theme on screen in 2021 from Haseen Dillruba to Decoupled

Oscar Isaac and Jessica Chastain in Scenes from a Marriage

Marriages provide fertile ground for stories to be told. That the documentary, Indian Matchmaking, gained popularity worldwide last year, and also found some attention from critics, goes on to show the curiosity and interest that Indian marriages inspire. It is no longer a glitzy, straight-laced, music-laden affair on screen. Marriage is the best means to look at a rapidly altering social fabric in a fast developing nation. With the demand for stars reducing and stories that people connect with growing, marriage will blossom in its many forms and interpretations on digital content in future too.

Archita Kashyap is an experienced journalist and writer on film, music, and pop culture. She has handled entertainment content for broadcast news and digital platforms over 15 years. 

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