The last episode of the sitcom Friends aired in the US on 6 May 2004, and America has since moved on to other small-screen delights—The Wire, Entourage, Mad Men, True Blood.
In India, however, Friends never went away.
Re-re-re-runs of Friends episodes continue to play on Star World, WB and Zee Café. But the sitcom’s true impact can be felt in the newly minted romcom genre that has emerged in Hindi cinema.
If the trivial pursuits of characters from such films as Jaane Tu… Ya Jaane Na, Wake Up Sid, Aisha, I Hate Luv Storys, Anjaana Anjaani and Jhootha hi Sahi seem familiar, it’s because they seem to be following in the footsteps of the six beloved personages from Friends. Most Hindi romcoms work best as a series of episodes about beautiful people in love with the idea of being in love. The clothes are pretty and expensive, the sets are anywhere between Mumbai and Manhattan, the language is casual, Englishinflected Hindi. The characters seem to have day jobs, but their real struggles play out in coffee shops and malls. When all else fails, they line up in a pub and get drunk on tequila shots.
Iconic: Numerous romcoms have taken inspiration from the famous American sitcom, Friends.
The romcom is a quintessentially American film genre. It is typically populated by young and unattached adults who have to navigate the treacherous waters of dating and mating in a competitive big city. Until some years ago, it didn’t seem as though romcoms could work in our country, where scores of young men and women share living space with their parents well into their adulthood, and whose chief worries on turning 25 are securing a well-paying job and getting married. However, several young adults in cities such as Mumbai, Delhi and Bangalore lead much more independent lives than before, and they have more time, money and freedom to pursue their desires. Hollywood romcoms have a small but dedicated viewership in India, and the popularity of the genre has been complemented by the number of sitcoms on satellite television.
Indian viewers are now well-trained in the rules and regulations of the dating game, and few TV series are as edifying in this respect than Friends.
But the romcom is hardly the genre to address the massive shifts taking place in attitudes towards love and relationships among young Indians. The romcom has its own pleasures, of course. Criticizing a romcom for being superficial is like accusing a martial film of being violent.
Most romantic comedies, American or Indian, rarely open out to comment on class and gender differences (she likes weepie movies and he likes to get trashed with the boys doesn’t count). Life-altering choices are addressed with maddening quickness and brevity.
Hindi romcoms still have some way to go if they are to be completely onvincing for our audiences. The hermetically sealed universe within which the romcom functions is perfect for television, but romance that is drawn from television is ultimately self-limiting.
When you consider the whining over trifles by some of our recent onscreen heart-throbs, the battles of Hindi film lovers of the past seem epic in comparison.
Nandini Ramnath is a film critic with Time Out Mumbai (www.timeoutmumbai.net).
Write to Nandini at firstname.lastname@example.org