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Breaking Up With The RomCom

I have been a fan of romcoms since it became possible for me to choose what to watch. I rejoiced when the Romedy Now channel showed up on my set. A 24 x 7 channel dedicated to funny, hopeful stories, YAY! But of course. The romcom is the fairytale of our times. And it is with a heavy heart that I concede that this so-called ‘modern’ fairytale is just as oppressive and problematic as the Snow White/Rapunzel/Dainty Princess-Prince Charming narrative I was fed as a child.

I find myself wincing during rewatches of films that I loved the first time I saw them. How could I not have spotted that stalker-masquerading-as-hero character? How did I think this entitled mansplainer was an ideal man? What on earth did I find funny about that misogynist tirade?

220px-Hitch_poster

Topping the list is HITCH, a film that I loved for this sassy dialogue and the utterly droolworthy Will Smith. Not to mention its nonchalant diversity (both lead characters being people of colour without the film making a BIG deal out of it). In hindsight though, isn’t it a story of a pick-up artist actually helping other males prey on women using every manipulative technique he can think of? Oh of course, it’s charming Will who ‘actually likes women’. And yes of course, it’s because his heart was broken when he was younger. Notice how that is ALWAYS used to excuse away men’s misogyny on screen? Right down to our desi misogyny frontrunner — PYAR KA PUNCHNAMA.

There’s WHEN HARRY MET SALLY checking off all the boxes on toxic masculinity and utterly horrible relationship models. “A man and a woman cannot be friends because the sex always gets in the way”?

That was being challenged by Bollywood in the 1980s and by (of all people) Salman Khan. Who lost. Not to mention being copied scene-for-scene in the noughties. Down to excusing the male Im-a-screwup-so-love-me storyline. Boo.

Shall we think about female characters? After all, romcoms did follow the chicklit trend of the 90s/00s with women as protagonists. A hot topic was to address ‘her real problems’. Let’s look at how that turned out. We have 27 DRESSES and BRIDGET JONES DIARY to thank for telling us that being single means we are antiseptic martyr/prudes or alcoholic hot messes. Just until the right man comes our way, of course. And even if he’s a stodgy, dull, boring ‘Good Boy’, he kisses like a dream. Ugh, thanks for setting us back on all the sexual empowerment Sex And The City did (the TV show, not the movies but more on that later).

Oh and thanks, MY BEST FRIEND’S WEDDING for showing women can be ruthless bitches when it comes to not getting what they want. Feminism definitely is about letting us get off the pedestal of being picture perfect. I just wish Julia Roberts’ character hadn’t ended up being shown as the villain. Reverse the genders and the story of a guy who will do anything at all to land the person of his dreams (including lying, seducing an already attached person, gaslighting their significant other)— does that sound like a villain? No, it sounds like Shah Rukh Khan.

Then there’s HOW TO LOSE A GUY IN 10 DAYS, an absolutely appalling story even at its time, about two nasty people setting traps for each other. A side character neatly sums up the story in her line, “Sounds needlessly vicious.” A man making a play for a woman to get her to fall for him, so that he can land a client account. A woman torturing a guy with ridiculous behaviour (Apparently this is what women do wrong. Uh no, this is what someone who never learnt how to be a human being does.) so she can write a magazine article about it. What is either funny or romantic about this story? And let’s put that through the gender filter. The story assumes that they’ve each done equal bad to the other. Is that so? Does seducing a person under false pretences compare with interrupting their boys’ night out? Can I get a Hell, #MeToo here?

I won’t bother talking about the Sex And The City movies because I’ve already done so when they each came out. And now here’s a rather disappointing analysis of why romcoms may not be that popular anymore. It’s time for new fairytales. Hey Classic RomCom, you and I are done.

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Chick Lit

My new literary obsession is Chick Lit. Helen Fielding, Sophie Kinsella and Marian Keyes keep me in chocolate-box mood while Meera Syal and Advaita Kala add the desi tadka. Why, even fellow-blogger/’I-know-this-girl-friend-acquaintance’ Compulsive Confessor flashes her characteristic grin at me from my bedside bookstack.

I found this rather interesting piece on the internet, describing Chick Lit:

“Chick lit” is a term used to denote genre fiction written for and marketed to young women, especially single, working women in their twenties and thirties.

Now, I know I’m doing an about-face, especially after such rabid commmentary. I’m coming to this acceptance with much prior reluctance. I still have trouble accepting the term ‘chick’ to describe me or any woman I know. It’s degrading. However, I’m willing to lay down my shackles and admit that I’ve been reading (and enjoying) the genre called Chick Lit.

Chick Lit is the new Romance Novel. And it isn’t. As a genre it certainly is finding as much favour and spawning as many writers (and books) as the ubiquitous M&Bs. On the other hand, one may argue that romantic fiction was a genre built on common women’s fantasies while Chick Lit inter-twines what we consider our ideal life along with the proverbial gang-cribbing that each of us indulges in with our galpals over men, weight loss problems, career concerns and PMS.

Chick Lit, as most of the definitions state, is usually about twenty-something women, career-minded or not, married or not, successful or not. One thing they all are, is discontent with their lot. The careerwoman struggles with loneliness and jerky boyfriends, the beauty queen is slapped around and paraded as a sex toy/trophy partner and the housewife is wistful about missed opportunities. The Chick Lit heroine is Superwoman who survives on a steady dose of galpal advice, gay friends, alcohol-and-career swings and roller-coaster relationships. Friends are family, chocolate is the manna for all evils and the root of all evils can be summed up into one word – MEN.

Bosses, colleagues, friends, lovers, ex-boyfriends, flings, husbands of friends, partner’s buddies, friends’ partners, gardeners, milkmen, grumpy old men, uncles, teachers, fathers, cheery grocers, lecherous neighbors….men in every possible shape, size and relationship are examined back and forth. It is the Chick Lit’ter’s favorite hobby – Men.

If the Indian versions are different, it is only in that they’re usually set in Mumbai/Delhi instead of London/New York. The protagonists gorge on chicken tikkas and grab their capuccinos from Barista instead of M&S or Starbucks. Their mothers want to see them ‘well-settled’ instead of ‘settled down’. The men are just as committment-phobic, the careers just as unsatisfying, their bosses are just as demanding, their married neighbors consider them just as flighty and sluttish and their credit card bills are equally long.

Why do I like the genre so much? Simple. Because it is about me. That’s my life, my friends, my mistakes and my victories that are getting written about. Every page brings a, “Don’t I know it!”, an “Aha! You got ‘im there, girl!” and a “Bullshit, I heard the same thing from my second boyfriend when he was cheating on me.” It’s almost like having a new set of friends with every book.

You might even say it’s the modern, literary woman’s Soap Opera in a book format. If the women of yore wanted fantasy to keep them entertained, at least this I can say for my generation – we’re thriving on reality…or some warped version of it. Who needs a perfect fairytale when our own messed-up, vodka-spiked, overstressed lives are so much more interesting?

Chick Lit is empowering in a very strange way. It tells me that other women are having a hell of it too. That having a zero social life at twenty, in favour of slogging away at work was not a mistake. That getting married at twenty-three would not have spelt ‘happily ever after’ either. That my smug married, whiz-in-the-kitchen housewife friend acts superior to me but also thinks I’m living the glamourous, carefree life she only reads about in magazines.

It tells me that it’s okay to not feel diva-like at all times, to nurse worries over weight gain and cellulite. That it’s even okay to worry more about these than a missed deadline. That bad temper, unreasonableness and pukey-head-feeling are permissible once a month.

Chick Lit tells me life isn’t perfect (yes, I know someone said that long ago but catch me listening?). I mean look at the titles – The Undomestic Goddess, Life isn’t all Hahaheehee, Shopaholic, Almost Single. It also tells me that each of us is figuring out a new way of perfect. And who knows? Maybe Perfect will be the way I do it – My perfect!

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