Whether it is a lazy Sunday or an over-worked weekday, romantic comedies are always there to lift your moods. Being witness to constant struggle in societies around the world, to engage in a world that offers smiles, love, positivity, and hope seems like a good bargain. Unlike most other genres, romcoms aren’t here to teach you anything. These movies, their plots, act as a reliable shoulder that you can relax on.
Sure, the naysayers may point out that rom coms are cliched love stories and that there’s no point in consuming such content, but this genre has a feel-good factor to it, which is hardly offered as much by any other genre. Why spend your time understanding the depressing or horrifying plots and their complex characters, when rom coms offer familiarity and ease? Also, not all films or genre should have a teachable moment or moral.
Naysayer or not, ever wondered why movies like The Notebook, Notting Hill and Bridget Jones’s Diary in the west and Guide, Maine Pyaar Kiya, Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge and Love Aaj Kal in India (yes, these are some of our favourites), among others, are still so famous? Maybe, because it gives us hope.
Romcoms in India
The concept of rom-com is quite foreign to Indian cinema. Even though romance and comedy have been intertwined in this part of the world, the industry has been identifying the movies as either comedy or romantic. After a fair infiltration of western films in the country, fans and the industry started to understand the concept of romcoms.
As early as the 1950s and the ’60s, in India love stories, had started gaining momentum. Although most of the movies then were drama-based with social commentary, a few ventured into trying out social theme with a love story in the background - movies like Awaara (1951), Daag (1952), and Guide (1965), among others, were some of those. From then on, even though one of the sub-themes would have a love story stirring up.
The Cinematic ImagiNation: Indian Popular Films as Social History authored by Jyotika Virdi
Since romantic love kept its place in most movie plots throughout the ’70s, the sub-plot made slow and steady progress in the cinema and its fans giving way to Bobby (1973). It was a movie on teen lovers and their struggle against patriarchy. In her book, The Cinematic ImagiNation: Indian Popular Films as Social History, Jyotika Virdi explains, “Curiously, Bobby's astonishing success was not replicated for almost two decades, when the narrative elements of young love and defiance of parental authority became established genre conventions.”
1980’s further helped the genre to grow and towards the end of the decade with movies like Maine Pyaar Kiya (1988) and Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak (1988) hit the sweet spot which balanced romance, drama and comedy. These movies sketched a blueprint for future love stories which can also be termed as rom coms, now. It was the 1990’s, however, when the Indian film industry reeled in rom coms. Jyotika further explained in her book by the twentieth century, love was one of the more important things in ‘the pursuit of happiness.' Films like Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jaayenge (1995), and Kuch Kuch Hota Hain (1998) changed the romantic comedy genre for the Indian audience forever.
Recent evolution of rom coms
With the new millennium and younger audience, the love stories in Indian cinema became more lead centric. While earlier, there was always a moral, a social issue or the structure of family at play, in the 2000’s the movies explored the desires of the leading characters. For example, Hum Tum (2004) explored the possible intertwining of fate and love, where the lead characters keep bumping into each other after every few years and eventually fall in love. Other movies like Love Aaj Kal (2009) and Ajab Prem Ki Ghazab Kahani (2009) also mapped the character’s journey to love. Eventually, with movies like Tamasha (2015) and Befikre (2016), the theme of Indian rom coms further shifted to the character’s inner conflict in the backdrop of love.
More recently movies like Maska (2020) are now shifting focus to younger love stories, Indian cinema is a long way from teen rom coms that are prevalent in the west.
Western vs Indian rom coms
Since the perception of the romantic genre in India, the love stories are seen developing either in the backdrop of a more significant plot on addressing society’s social construct or parallel to the same. In the west though, the mapping of the lead character’s pursuit of love was mostly the plot. Even though Shakespeare wrote romantic comedies like Twelfth Night and A Midnight Summer’s Dream, among others, the movies that followed an original script followed various forms. The evolution of romantic comedies in the west was much better characterised. One of the first forms of rom-com was called ‘comedies of manners' in which a wealthy person would fall in love with a not-so-wealthy person like in It Happened One Night (1934). The next was screwball comedies, then came sex comedy (when genders were pitted against each other), radical romantic comedies, so on and so forth.
One of the common traits between Indian and western rom coms were that they both were influenced by society. The major difference, however, remained that while the west obsessed over the lead characters, Indian rom coms explored love in relation to other realities.
Today, however, with a huge audience the rom coms (especially western) are now intended for the target audience. Movies like To All The Boys I've Loved Before (2018), The Last Summer (2019) and Kissing Booth (2018), among others, are specifically teen romcoms.
Why do we like romcoms?
A group of neuroscientists at Princeton University have studied that when a storyteller narrates a story to the listener, both their brains mirror each other. Conclusively, if a story is well told or narrated, the viewer/listener can experience the story as a part of it, like they were in the story.
The other fact is that when a good story is narrated that you feel relates to you, the level of a hormone called oxytocin increases in the body. This ‘feel good’ hormone helps you build connections. So, a good romcom helps you experience a connection with the characters and the story, while unconsciously making you a part of something better.
Oxytocin is also one of the reasons that after a long stressful day you feel like getting into your cosy beds and watching movies like Notting Hill, Pretty Woman or The Notebook.