The film “Twilight” has become a worldwide cultural phenomenon, with the romance film grossing over $500 million dollars in worldwide sales. In contrast, in Bollywood, the film, “Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi” (translation: Match Made in Heaven) became a blockbuster in the Hindi world, bringing in over 850 million India rupees. As of this writing, this movie is one of the highest grossing Indian Bollywood films ever.
What do women want?
Obvious differences aside, there are some remarkable similarities in certain elements of each of these romance films that may come to explain, in part, the reason for the astounding level of success of each film. Perhaps some insight can be gained into the heart of a successful romance film itself. What romance and love elements appeal to women in such numbers?
The wounded heroine
A good romance begins with character identification from the heroine of the story. In “Twilight”, Bella Swan comes from a broken home, and feels obligated to move away from her mom to spend some time with her father, where she feels lonely and isolated; emotions that are widely felt among teenage girls.
The film “Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi” opens on a beautiful, spirited young woman, Tania “Taani” Gupta, who is busy preparing for her upcoming wedding, when she meets the shy and sweet (i.e. boring) Surinder Singh, who harbors a secret crush on her from afar. Soon afterwards, disaster strikes. Her lover and his entire family are killed in transit to the wedding, and her father suffers a heart attack at the news and dies soon afterward himself. Taani is suddenly alone in a powerfully patriarchal society, with no way to take care of herself, unless Surinder agrees to marry her, as her dying father wishes. He agrees, and she agrees, and the happy wedding becomes a rushed loveless nightmare, tainted with the memories of funerals. Death and disappointment are common to all people.
The sacrifice of power
In a man’s (or monster’s) world, the women in these stories are completely vulnerable, who could very easily be taken advantage of, and the temptation to do so is constantly there for the heroes of both films.
Edward, in the film “Twilight”, falls in love with Bella. First the tempting taste treat that she is (since he’s a vampire and highly attracted to the smell of her particular flavor of blood) but later on to her as a person. The power Edward holds over her is great, but he divests himself of this power in order to get close to her, and has to keep vigilant in order to keep from hurting her.
In the film “Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi”, Surinder clearly holds the upper hand over Taani in many ways…in age, financial and societal status, not to mention the fact that he is her husband. Initially, she keeps to her room, silent and frightened that her new husband, whom she does not love, with try to find some way to take advantage of her helpless situation.
Yet Surinder does no such thing. He moves out of his bedroom to sleep in the web-covered attic, and gives her privacy. When his friends hear of his wedding and invite themselves over for a party, he makes apologies for her when she doesn’t come out to greet them, saying that she doesn’t feel well. Taani finally emerges and plays the role of the happy wife to his friends to save face, but tells Surinder afterwards that she can’t love him. He tells her he doesn’t expect love. His love remains unrequited, and we feel his pain.
The sacrifice of identity
Women have been trying to change men for centuries. In a romance story, the man changes voluntarily to win the love of a woman. In the film “Twilight”, Edward is part of a “family” of vampires who practice an unusual amount of restraint in order to protect humans. They eat only animal blood instead of human blood. Edward, in fact, goes a step further than the other vampires in his clan, by falling in love with Bella and attempting to assimilate her into his life while keeping her away from it simultaneously.
In the Indian film, “Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi”, Surinder notices how much Taani likes romantic movies and dancing. Determined to make as normal a life for her as possible, he allows her to take dance classes, going so far as to change his look to one of her romantic movie heroes in order to safely watch her dance. When a mistake is made and he becomes her dance partner while in disguise, he determines to use this opportunity to express her love for her as Raj, the loud, outgoing and glamorous playboy.
Films 50-100 years ago showed the hapless heroine tied to the train tracks, and yelling for the hero to come and rescue her, which he did at the last possible second. Film romances today have heroines who are not utterly helpless in disaster, but who are still open to the idea of a good rescue by the hero.
Edward gets his chance multiple times in the film “Twilight”. Not only does he fight to save Bella from the non-vegetarian variety of vampires, but he must also be vigilant to save Bella from his own desires for her, as well as her own bad luck. From skidding vans to thugs in a dark alley, Edward truly has his hands full in just keeping Bella alive.
The film “Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi” shows how good Surinder is at wooing Taani as Raj and making her forget her loveless marriage and her dull and provincial life. Too good, in fact. She falls in love with Raj, and thinks she’s cheating on her husband. Surinder is also conflicted, wishing that his wife could be in love with him as Surinder instead (even though Raj IS Surinder), but wants her to be happy even if it means following the romantic subterfuge all the way through to its potentially bitter end.
While these traits might not be politically correct or perhaps even raise some feminist hackles, the number of women who are drawn to such love stories is legion. As shown from the films “Twilight” and “Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi”, some romance elements cross cultures. Women seem to want a tragic but not completely helpless heroine, a powerful hero who is willing to sacrifice power for the heroine’s love, as well as a hero who will protect the heroine, even at great cost to himself.