The idea of romance in Bollywood is unabashedly centered around a more materialistic meaning of the word ‘Love’. If I love something, I must pursue it and obtain it by any means necessary. More often than not, this base instinct becomes the ultimate motivation for a protagonist to fight against evil not for the righteous or noble aim of protecting society but to eliminate it from becoming an obstacle on his path to find love. But this is a very constricted way of looking at an emotion that transcends time, age and distance. If love were so materialistic, we would stop loving people as soon as they died as they would no longer be able to gratify our expectations by loving us back. Plato’s Symposium talks about this very nature of this complex feeling. According to him, ‘Love’ follows a path of gradual evolution wherein the initial animalistic desire or lust is transformed into a more sapiosexual form where one finds the worldview or perspective of a person alluring which, in turn, attains a more spiritual form which is independent of sensuality.
Looking at the whole idea from the perspective of a film-maker, the first stage may seem the most appealing and massy as it is something that everyone understands. Physical love is the easiest to portray on screen because every single emotion is acted out and expressed. There is hardly any scope for misinterpretation. You can be as cinematic as possible through – beautiful actors, song sequences at exotic locations, dramatic action scenes where the hero fights a bunch of bad guys to save his damsel in distress., basically all your usual tropes that we have come to associate Bollywood so closely with. However, as you shift your perspective to the second and third stages of Platonic love, it becomes much harder to express the idea on screen which brings us to the centre point of this article.
Shoojit Sircar’s October opens with a sequence of a 5-star hotel prepping up for the day as the impeccably dressed staff puts the chairs and tables into positions, aligns the cutlery, and folds the immaculate napkins into place. For the seasoned employees it is now second nature but for the young Hotel Management interns, it is a demanding ritual that they would need to perform diligently and perfectly every single time if they want to walk out with a diploma. They all try to keep up as best as they can except Dan Walia, who has once again been assigned the task of servicing the rooms. Dan lives with a false sense of entitlement that he should be standing at the front gates of the hotel smiling for the customers rather than doing the job of a glorified janitor. This feeling of injustice makes him irritable where he can barely concentrate on his tasks, botching them with a devil-may-care attitude much to the chagrin of his co-workers and manager.
However, an unfortunate incident on a New Year’s night would change his life forever. In a freak accident, one of his fellow interns falls from a three-story balcony and goes into a coma. Shiuli Iyer was one of interns who did her work with sincerity and was a model worker. Dan didn’t want to be with his peers that night so he had ditched the party. While recounting the mishap, someone mentions that before the incident, Shiuli had mentioned Dan. This shakes him up from the inside when he realizes that in her ‘final moments’ she had remembered him. Even though his friends tell him that it was just a casual remark, he is consumed with the purpose of finding out why she called out his name of all people. Dan finds himself visiting the hospital every single day bringing her favorite flowers by her bedside. When the doctors recommend that Shiuli be allowed to pass on, he convinces her family to stay hopeful for Shiuli – “What if she doesn’t recognize us ? We recognize her, and that should be enough.”
What is interesting is that, there were no flirtatious interactions shown between Dan and Shiuli, as a typical preamble to the story. These were two different people in their own worlds. There was no reason for Dan to feel the way that he did. It was just his inherent sensitivity that fired his drive. For him, it was just too big a deal that someone had asked for him before going into a deep sleep from which they may never wake up again. Dan’s transformation from a careless man to becoming a pillar for Shiuli’s family, became his journey of self-awareness. As he got to know Shiuli better, a form of protective and spiritual love may have found its place. In the short few months that he had come to know her unconscious self, she had become an inseparable part of him.
Plato’s disciple Aristotle propagates this epistemology of love where it is essentially an emotional construct. Emotion, being a subjective feeling, would be something that we feel privately and cannot necessarily extend to other people. We may try to explain it through our limited language or behavior but the true interpretation of it would always remain within us.
Plato’s disciple Aristotle propagates this epistemology of love where it is essentially an emotional construct. Emotion, being a subjective feeling, would be something that we feel privately and cannot necessarily extend to other people. We may try to explain it through our limited language or behavior but the true interpretation of it would always remain within us. Dan’s love for Shiuli was not sensual but it had been strong enough for him to give up everything else to see her wake up and talk to him. Even though Shiuli didn’t survive, this emotive love remained intact transferring the personification to a Shiuli plant in her garden which he took away with him.
October may remain one of Bollywood’s most misinterpreted films due to the nature of love that it chooses to address. If you asked people about the film, you would almost certainly find polarized reviews wherein one group would call it a ‘waste of time’ while the other would call it ‘deeply affecting’. These divisive viewpoints bring to fore the million dollar question – “What is love ?” and it has nothing to do with that night at Roxbury. Perhaps, we would never have a concrete answer. Having said that, it’s heartening that Bollywood is exploring one of the most over-used emotions in various shapes and forms. With the inherent challenges that come with it, you would get to see some out-of-the-box writing and unconventional characters.
Talking about characters, Dan is Varun Dhawan’s best work thus far. Despite being typecast for a chocolate boy image that began with his foray into Bollywood with Karan Johar’s Student of the Year, Dhawan has slowly albeit surely evolved into a more mature actor. Dan Walia’s excessively emotional persona might even have been a result of an autistic persona, even though it was never formally said in the film. His mannerisms throughout the story portrayed a man who had no familial attachment with any of his co-workers. He lacked a firm foundation, or a purpose if you may. But a passing remark by a person he hardly knew, changed his whole being. Maybe that’s what love is supposed to be. Maybe its not the violins you hear when you meet the one. Maybe its just a subconscious moment or memory that grows inside your mind, rewiring it until you have become someone else.