I spent nearly a decade and a half in love with a pathological sexist liar named Raj Malhotra. He was handsome and carefree and completely the kind of man I envisioned riding off into the sunset with. I mean what girl doesn’t want to settle down with a passive aggressive guy who jokes about having slept with her while she was unconscious, right? Oh and he also happened to look exactly like a young Shahrukh Khan and he was entirely fictional.
I fell in love with both patriarchy and trains when I watched Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge (known iconically as DDLJ) with my mother when I was 8 years old. My obsession with the film was unparalleled. Having watched it multiple times in a year for 15 years, I know every dialogue, laugh, smirk, and musical cue. For years, I would embark on train journeys hoping for Raj (I wasn’t delusional enough to believe that SRK would somehow be sitting next to me in the 2nd class compartment of the Howrah Express).
My intense love for the film and Raj was only matched by my illogical hatred for Simran. I didn’t understand what Raj saw in the glorified doormat that was Kajol’s Simran. It didn’t help that I was nothing like her. For every time she toed the line, I grew up rebelling against every established status quo. I refused to honor grandmother’s rule that asked the women in the household to keep away from the kitchen while on their period. I relished getting into physical fights with boys in my class and took strange pride in the injuries I received as a result of it. I was (and still am) brash, loud, opinionated and openly questioned authority. I once ran away from my house (I got till the gate in our building) because my dad wouldn’t let me drink Frooti in front of our TV set. I was never going to be Simran. I was never going to be the aadarsh bharatiya naari and, I hated Simran for ever existing because how will Raj love a heathen like me when the perfect girl was apparently Simran? Why did she have to be boring?
But it wasn’t Simran’s fault.
It wasn’t until my 20s, a time when I came to fully embrace the values of feminism, that I started viewing both Simran and Raj in a different light. It hit me during one of my regular viewings of the movie – Simran is just a product of her oppressive environment. Raj on the other hand, is the actual douchebag.
The more I thought about it, the angrier I got at Raj. Why is a so-called liberal man living in London stuck with such ridiculously archaic views on a woman’s honor and virginity? In one of the seminal scenes in the film (a scene that used to leave me blushing a few years ago), Raj pretends to have had sex with Simran. She balks at the idea of it because she had passed out from having drunk alcohol. She panics when she realises Raj may have raped her and at this point, Raj diffuses the situation with talk about how he knows that she is a “true” Indian woman and hence knows that value of a “true” Indian woman’s honor (because of course, an Indian woman’s honor is stuck in her vagina). She hugs him because she is so grateful he didn’t sleep with her when she was in no position to give consent. In essence, she is literally thanking this asshole for not having raped her.
Raj the douchebag only proceeds to become more villainous as time goes on. Even after he finds out that the woman he loves is for some inexplicable reason in love with him too, he doesn’t respect her views on anything. The moment they reunite in Punjab, she begs him to run away with her. He tells her no. He wouldn’t budge without permission from her father.
Now, the Karan Johars of the world would argue that this shows that Raj cares about Simran’s family. Except that he doesn’t. He only cares about the opinions of her father. After all, when her mother catches the young lovers in the midst of a late night rendezvous, she gives them permission to run away. Raj turns her down. He wouldn’t “take” his bride without the permission of her father. Why doesn’t he assign any value to Simran’s mother, a woman who not only gave birth to her but had also raised her for two decades? Isn’t she an equal parent?
There is a point in your life when you start to see just how destructive patriarchy can be and how much it has disenfranchised you. For me, it began the day I stopped hating Simran and started questioning the motives of Raj. Oh, it’s not just Raj – it’s every single man in the film who automatically grabs authority for himself. For example Simran’s father – played by Amrish Puri – is a stern yet loving Indian father but in actuality, he is an emotionally abusive manipulator who thinks he gets to decide what’s best for the women in his life. He has the audacity to assume magnanimity when he gives his grown daughter one month from her own life to lead it the way she chooses. In fact, even at the very end of the film, when Simran makes the decision to run towards Raj of her own volition, he grabs her hand and stops her. She begs him to let her go. And in one of Indian cinema’s most memorable scenes, he releases her to go after her true love. Even at a moment when his permission is not sought, he gives it anyway and makes the decision for his daughter!
The more I abandoned the lessons that patriarchy taught me, the sicker I felt grappling with the cultural impact DDLJ continues to hold over our society. For all the progress we claim to have made, we still live in a world where women are constantly told to live by the rules set by men. Any woman who accepts the status quo is immediately celebrated as the pantheon of Indian womanly goodness. Any woman who dares to defy immediately loses value and gets labelled the slut, the whore, the witch and the bitch.
But here’s the thing. I don’t want Raj Malhotra anymore. In fact I am repulsed by the very idea of him (I still harbor a crush on Shahrukh Khan but would like the reader to give me a break because I am doing my best here). I reject Raj. I choose my freedom and my own agency. I choose to assign my own value to terms like integrity and honor. I choose me.
Raj Malhotra can fuck off.
About the Author:
Aishhwariya Subramanian believes her name is screwed up but it’s a long story. She would rather focus on fighting patriarchy (far more screwed up, in her opinion) and discussing the effects the new season of Game of Thrones would have on the book series. She also loves pandas and unicorns and is looking forward to the day when Arsenal will win the league. In the meantime, she is off daydreaming about fictional characters.