Bollywood, India’s Hindi Film Industry, is one of the highest grossing film industries in the world, and one churning out the most films on an annual basis. Due to it’s culturally boisterous nature, Bollywood films mostly portray melodramatic depictions of characters, larger than life morality tales and stunningly colourful visuals with an emphasis on musical numbers, which is how it’s mostly known on the international stage. However, one of Bollywood’s other attributes, is showcasing an element of values in relationships that are the most idealistic in nature. ‘Veer-Zaara’ is one such movie, that depicts ideals of love that may be out of touch in today’s world, or rather as the world was during it’s release over 10 years ago.
Here’s how ‘Veer-Zaara’ presented idealistic values of love in a cynical generation.
‘Veer-Zaara’, was directed by Bollywood legend, the late Yash Chopra, known for presenting perspectives of love way ahead of its time. A prime example would be ‘Lamhe’, a film about an elderly man, who becomes the object of affection for a girl whom he was the benefactor of, and indirectly raised after the death of her mother, whom he truly loved. Similarly, ‘Veer-Zaara’ represents a kind of love that transcends the spoken bond between two people, and relies on an understanding and desire that goes beyond a simple love story.
An Indian airforce pilot named Veer, played by Bollywood superstar Shahrukh Khan accidentally meets a young Pakistani girl named Zaara, played by Priety Zinta. After Veer helps the girl, who arrived in India to fulfil her loved one’s funeral rites, he takes her on a tour of his own city, spending time with his family. Upon sending her on her way back to her own country in Pakistan, Veer realizes his love for her, and eventually so does Zaara, while both still realizing the shame their potential relationship will bring to her family, given the turmoil between their two countries. However, upon finding out about their interaction with one another, Zaara’s fiancee decides to punish Veer, and has him arrested by Pakistani officials for treason under false pretenses, when he arrived to express his love for Zaara, imprisoning him for 20+ years. Veer willfully accepted imprisonment, never revealing the truth, at the risk of bringing shame to Zaara and her family at the truth of his identity.
The movie is mostly told in flashback as an ambitious lawyer hears the case of a now older Veer, in an attempt to free him of his sentence. The movie is very high handed and presents ideals and morals that may not be relatable today. The premise itself is very unlikely and unrealistic; that two people, essentially strangers, who have only spent a few days together, would be so committed to one another that they would sacrifice their own happiness and lives, is a concept that would be incomprehensible today, and even in 2004, when the film released. In typical Bollywood fashion, the dialogues, portrayals and sequences of events are very melodramatic, lofty and naive.
However, once this is realized and the film is approached from a perspective of how things should be, rather than how they are, ‘Veer-Zaara’ can be realized for the optimistic ideals of love and relationships that is a hyperbole of what-should-be, rather than what-is. The film posits that two people in love, can be so unconditionally, without the expectations of having their love fulfilled, nor reciprocated, but stay true to their feelings, despite immense adversity. Like Yash Chopra’s other films, the concept was ahead of its time.
During the time in Bollywood, love stories were becoming more urban and youth-centric. The 2002 hit ‘Saathiya’, and Shahrukh Khan’s own 2003 hit ‘Chalte Chalte’ showed married couples dealing with the turmoils of urban married life in modern society; a first for Bollywood. So for ‘Veer-Zaara’ to turn the clock back a few decades, and present a concept of love and relationships that aren’t practical, aren’t explicitly communicated, but more implied and felt through unspoken emotions, was a massive gamble by filmmaker Yash Chopra and one of Bollywood’s leading production houses, Yash Raj Films. However, the gamble paid off as the film was an unequivocal success, resonated with audiences as being a hopeful representation of relationship that ultimately, of course, comes with a happy ending.
The success of ‘Veer-Zaara’ was a comment on India’s culture, and that despite it’s modernization and cultural alignment with the rest of the world, the society still held on to, respected and admired traditional values of relationships and marriage, while being able to seamlessly blend them with the more contemporary perceptions. The film was criticized especially for not being realistic, or speaking to the current generation of film-goers, but the critique seemed baseless when compared against its commercial success.
The film also re-ignited a slate of films harkening back to older values of the way relationships are portrayed on-screen, with movies that were released after ‘Veer-Zaara’ like ‘Vivah’. The concept of love stories deemed too ‘vintage’ made a comeback, albeit briefly.