The very last lines of a film are the voice-over by the hero, “Someday I will convince her to… marry me”. This is supposed to be the happy-ending of Ek Main Aur Ekk Tu (2012) in which a few scenes earlier the woman had made it clear that she loves him only “as a friend”.
This grows into an ugly extension in the film Ae Dil Hai Mushkil (2016) where the man repeatedly tries to convince the woman to love him back as a lover, and then hates her every time she doesn’t, before trying to convince her once again.
Seeing the two men in these two films for what they are –men who can’t take no for an answer, is important. It is important because while the women are more progressive and sensible than those in older Hindi films as they don’t concede to a man just because he is persistent, it would require men to grow up too if men and women want to have healthy friendships with one another. Obsessive, persistent men in one-sided love with a friend represent the same toxic masculinity of men who stalk women. Just because the woman considers the man her friend doesn’t make him charming, or more tolerable –and that’s where the films get it wrong.
The women in these two films, Riana and Alizeh respectively, are mature enough to understand and appreciate different types of relationships and that each has its own place and importance in life. “Rahul, you are my friend with whom I discuss my screwed up relationships. I don’t want us to become a screwed-up relationship,” says Riana. Similarly, Alizeh says to Ayan, “I am really happy we are friends… love has passion, but friendship has peace.”
Men, on the other hand are portrayed to operate in a reductionist way on only one level –that of the sexual. “First you sit so close to me, and then you wonder why I get wrong ideas,” says Rahul.
He even manages to get Riana to accept his accusation that she misled him. “I’m so stupid, I always cross the line,” she says some time earlier while apologising for “hurting him”.
In Ae Dil Hai Mushkil, Alizeh, tired of explaining to Ayan that they can’t be lovers, asks, “Why can’t you understand this?” And he,enraged,makes the most stereotypical response ever, “I can’t understand because a boy and a girl can never be friends.”
He doesn’t really care about her or what she wants. When Alizeh asks with frustration, “Should I lie to you (about my feelings for you)?” He says, “Yes, lie to me. Anyway you are dying.”(Alizeh had stage 4 cancer and didn’t have long to live.)
Whether or not a woman likes him is a question about Ayan’s masculinity. When Alizeh says that she is not attracted to him, he says, “It hurt my ego.”
(Side note: I couldn’t find a similar film like Ae Dil Hai Mushkil or Ek Mai Aur Ekk Tu in Hindi cinema with the gender roles reversed. If any, they were all love triangles and did not focus primarily on the friendship between two people.)
Ayan fluctuates (within seconds) throughout the movie repeatedly between confessing his love to her in the hope she returns it, and hating her and even wishing her dead when she does not: “I love you, I am madly in love with you… I wish DJ Ali (her groom) dies in the wedding procession, and with that shock, you get a heart attack and die too.”
About Ayan’s feelings, writer and director Karan Johar has said“…his deep antagonism towards her is purely a reflection of what’s happened to me because this film is internal and I have felt it very strongly – anger, vehemence, pain and…hatred.”
Not surprisingly, the storyteller has Alizeh being killed off by cancer at the end of the film. It is as though Ayan (or the storyteller?) could only get closure when she died.“Main guldastay ka phool nahi, rastay ka kanta ban na chahti hoon” (I don’t want to be a flower in a bouquet, but a thorn in the flesh), she says earlier in the film. Instead, she ends up like a flower, “lifeless, wilted.” And he (or the storyteller) in a way like a thorn, “they kill, don’t get killed.”
The problem with Alizeh’s character is that she wants to save their friendship at all costs. After Ayan roughs her up, and makes it clear that he is not going to let go until she concedes to his love, she asks him to leave. She herself leaves for India (they are in London), leaving him a note saying, “Hope one day you’ll understand my love.”
When Ayan reaches the airport, he calls her up asking her to not leave. She returns and when Ayan apologises to her saying, “I swear I’ll never trouble you about this again,” she says, “In friendship, no sorry, no thank you.” If he were not a friend, it is hard to imagine that she would have tolerated Ayan’s adamant and obsessive pursuit of her.
Ayan is portrayed as a man-child to explain his immaturity. “I found a child without a pram,” says Alizeh about Ayan. Though there are positive role models of maturity in the film (for example, Saba who says, “It’s not in our control to love or not. But we can choose to go away from that love”) from whom it seemed for a while that he could learn and grow as a person, he didn’t.
Neither Alizeh nor the film condemn Ayan’s inability to take no for an answer. He is glorified as a famous singer. “You’ll only really sing when it (heart) does break,” says Alizeh to Ayan at the very beginning of the film. The whole story is told in flashback as he gives an interview, that starts with, “Five years, four big songs… all hits and all non-film!” And with that, the filmmaker has also glorified his “pain” of unrequited love, instead of condemning the way he reacted to rejection. Ae Dil Hai Mushkil and Ek Mai Aur Ekk Tu were lost opportunities for deepening the conversation on dealing with unrequited love fora friend.