Love, drama and jalebis: How Iss Pyar Ko Kya Naam Doon? added a dash of romance to a TV serial
The enduring popularity of Iss Pyar Ko Kya Naam Doon? lies in how this very textbook romance in effect became the first “full blown love story” to appear on the small screen.
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A 14-year-old awkward teenager reading her mother’s old and dusty Mills & Boon novels from end to end, her imagination running wild, dreaming up all kinds of romantic scenarios: it was in this phase of my adolescence that I encountered the popular 2011 Star Plus serial, Iss Pyaar Ko Kya Naam Doon?, a romance that continues to enjoy a significant cult following a decade since it first aired.
Much has been written about Indian TV serials already, legitimising their inevitable pull that brings together entire families to begrudgingly binge on, and discuss those domestic dramas that most of us end up watching at dinnertime.
So, when Iss Pyaar Ko Kya Naam Doon? released in June 2011, it would have been quite normal for me to sporadically catch an episode or two whenever someone at home switched to Star Plus from our staple channel during an ad break. What was interesting however was how I would end up watching this Hindi TV serial every evening – even though it had no other audience in our household – how till date, I would enjoy the love story, and how effectively it would hold me in its thrall.
My first brush with the romantic comedy was the episode in which the protagonist, Khushi Kumari Gupta (Sanaya Irani), stands in the parking lot of her office at night, shivering in heavy rains. Soon enough, she spots approaching headlights, and realises that she is about to be hit by a car but at that precise moment, is cinematically swept away from the road, and pulled into the arms of her boss, one Arnav Singh Raizada (Barun Sobti).
I remember rolling my eyes at this obvious trope, and as the two stared into each other’s eyes for an interminably long period with that familiar ‘Rabba Ve’ soundtrack playing in the background, I was certain that this ‘rescue mission’ would lead to love. But I was pleasantly mistaken because what followed this romantic interlude was nothing short of a nasty argument. More predictably, the good-looking, silent, and broody Arnav, with his piercing gaze and the sizzling chemistry he shared with Khushi, transported me into a universe identical to those worn Mills & Boon novels.
I was hooked.
Iss Pyaar Ko Kya Naam Doon? is loosely a contemporary version of Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice designed for desi audiences, and tells the story of two star-crossed lovers from Delhi, who go from being sworn enemies to being in an unhappy marriage to eventually falling in love.
This budding romance unfolds in the most dramatic and sensual manner possible so that rather clumsily, Khushi and Arnav fall on top of each other or fall down together from stools and beds clutching each other, at an alarming frequency. These suitably timed intimate and electric moments occurring in a house full of people become a delicious secret, both for the two protagonists who have sworn to hate each other and, for the hopelessly romantic viewer.
In fact, in a recent interview that marked 10 years of Iss Pyaar Ko Kya Naam Doon?, Irani noted that perhaps the reason for its enduring popularity lies in how this very textbook romance in effect became the first “full blown love story” to appear on the small screen.
And therein lies the allure of the show for me as well, because it stood out at a time when most soaps were focused on saas-bahu relationships or the evil plotting of a ‘vamp,’ who had it in for the sensible and docile daughter-in-law of a privileged household.
Instead, in Khushi, I found neither a timid nor a fragile heroine but a girl with spunk and vivacity, charm and warmth, and the odd habit of cooking and eating jalebis whenever she is overcome with anxiety.
Like most characters in the show, she is petrified of Arnav, and his anger but is nonetheless brave enough to call out his mistreatment of her, and of those family members who people their story. For his part, Arnav is a grim and rich business tycoon, who believes in money as the means to every end. For the longest time, he is unkind towards the middle-class Khushi, who ends up working in his house, and thinks of her as a grubby gold digger but at every turn, she proves him wrong, winning over the hearts of everyone she meets.
But the more I watched this classic case of opposites attract, the more I realised that peel off the layers, and there emerge two very similar characters at the core. The writers of the show do a singular job of unravelling how both Khushi and Arnav have known grief and trauma having lost their parents to terrible tragedies, and how these experiences tend to make them protective of their loved ones.
And this sentimental plot is brought forth so organically that it all remains quite proportionately melodramatic, never once becoming unbearably cringy. As well, instances of comedy and banter that are embedded within most episodes with the help of multiple supporting characters, and their idiosyncrasies nicely balance out the passion and tension between the two lovers.
Even Khushi and Arnav’s escapades oscillate between intense, fiery love, and humour so there is always a fair bit of lightheartedness to the show that keeps the overall narrative from becoming too cloying. Among their many juvenile tricks, a few stand out for me like the moment when Arnav lets Khushi fall down from his office a couple of storeys high onto a bunch of boxes or believing that Arnav is performing black magic on her, Khushi slips a powder in his juice that makes him lose his voice.
And all the different narratives unfolding against the backdrop of their story – like the love blossoming between Khushi’s sister Payal (Devaki Pansare) and Arnav’s brother Akash (Akshay Dogra), the manipulations of the villainous Shyam (Abhaas Mehta), and the collapse of his marriage to Arnav’s sister Anjali (Dalljiet Kaur) – come together to produce the desired and satisfying effect of watching a regular TV serial.
Ten years later, the show seems to have garnered quite the OG TV romance status, especially amidst an onslaught of overdone love stories and their identical plotlines. Perhaps the appeal of Iss Pyaar Ko Kya Naam Doon? is maintained by its ability to slowly and deliberately narrate why the two principal characters fall in love, how in one another, they meet their match. And all this without ever once breaking from its identity as a television soap.
Such has been its fame that despite its short and succinct ending in November 2012 – seventeen months into its inception – Iss Pyaar Ko Kya Naam Doon? kept returning to the small screen multiple times. In 2020, during the first coronavirus-induced lockdown, when fresh episodes of ongoing daily soaps came to a halt, it was one among the many older serials aired by Star Plus.
And even though the show is available on Disney+ Hotstar all year round – and I catch an episode every now and then – last year, I immersed myself once again in the nostalgia of watching Khushi and Arnav’s TV romance on TV, ad breaks and all.
Aishwarya Sahasrabuddhe writes about art, culture, books, and entertainment. Currently, she has returned to school to study the intersections between gender, culture, and development.
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