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A rishta beyond the guardian uncles of culture

In the year of pandemic and distress, audiences have found a happier place in Regency era London. The historical romance Bridgerton has become Netflix’s biggest ever global success, grabbing the top spot in India too. Romance has long been disparaged as a frivolous women’s only genre, with a shallow plot and conventional arc that suggests redemption lies with a man more powerful than the heroine. But this is a reductive reading. Romance speaks to the fantasies of the woman reader in complex ways and it is the one genre where her satisfaction is central.

In recent years, romance novels and rom-coms have become more diverse, and inclusive of a whole range of desires. Bridgerton, based on Julia Quinn’s novels, made an even bolder leap into wish-fulfilment with its ‘colour blind’ casting, and its steamy sex scenes. It is not the only border-crossing bodice-ripper that has made it big and there have been other big romance successes on OTT platforms. Witty Korean dramas have also found a new global audience.

Meanwhile in India, the news is rather loveless. An FIR was lodged for A Suitable Boy because a kissing scene in a temple hurt religious feelings. Other shows also have been in the court’s crosshairs despite apologies and deletions. Of course our stories and legends and epics, our cultural legacies do not shy away from love’s many splendours. Just because self-styled guardians have cramped imaginations, why should we have to content ourselves with happier situations in distant times and places?

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This piece appeared as an editorial opinion in the print edition of The Times of India.



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