Bollywood through a feminist lens

Review: Shaadi Ke Side Effects (2014)

“I don’t want to be your duty, I want to be your joy.”

Popular culture, traditional culture, the media, all tell us it so important to have a heterosexual romantic relationship, especially a marriage. Love, of a specific sort, will fulfill us, sustain us. For all the complexity in the world, there is but one path for most people. Yet. Yet media and culture tell us how terrible marriage is. Husbands are incompetent children, or workaholics, or unfaithful. Women are boring nags, or only focused on money. You must work so hard to build a relationship that is usually shown as miserable.

So I was hopeful when I saw the advertising for this movie, about a young couple dealing with pregnancy. The advertising was cute, and I thought it would be a funny tale about dealing with new experiences. I remained hopeful as the movie began because the couple is loving and playful.

I should add this movie is a sequel to Pyaar Ke Side Effects (2006). I wasn’t able to find a copy of that movie with English subtitles, so I don’t know how it compares or the kind of narrative it tells. Wikipedia says “The film is a romantic comedy, and portrays the intricacies of a modern relationship. The film explores the theme of ‘commitment phobia’ in a captivating manner, an interesting, witty take on men-women relationships.” Sid meets Trisha at her wedding; she runs away; they meet again; she proposes; he agrees but doesn’t actually want to get married; they break up; they finally marry.

Sid (Farhan Akhtar in Shaadi) continues to be passive, to let things happen to him. He finds himself engaged, eventually decides to get married, but then finds himself expecting a child, as the only working parent, as unhappy. Trisha (Vidya Balan) is more active, even if she actively chooses a traditional life.

If the movie focused on Trisha and her choices, it might actually be ground-breaking. She chooses to have a child, to give up her career and stay at home with her daughter. As depicted in this movie, no one seems to be pressuring her into this life (other than the usual pressures from cultural and the media, etc). Why does she choose it? How does she feel about her choices? What kind of life does she hope her daughter will choose?

Instead, the movie focuses on Sid. Of course. What’s more interesting than a man?

Early in the film, Trisha discovers she is pregnant. They argue about pregnancy, about Sid forgetting to use a condom. Trisha decides to get an abortion, which is still rarely discussed as an option in any movie. (Though they still don’t really discuss long-term birth control or anything like that.) They wrestle with their decision. As Trisha is preparing for her procedures, Sid meets a family in the waiting room. The beleaguered husband explains his wife had an abortion, then when they wanted children, they needed fertility treatment and had multiple children as a result. Sid freaks out and barges in to Trisha’s room. She had already realized she wanted to keep the baby.

It’s such a brief series of events. The pregnancy sets up the plot of the rest of the movie, but it must be gotten out of the way quickly. Sid and Trisha only touch upon issues that affect many couples: birth control, abortion, children. I was happy to at least see these issues brought to light in some form, and acknowledging their importance.

Likewise, after they decide to keep the baby, Trisha’s mother voices concerns. Trisha earns more money, and obviously a child will impact her career. What if something happens to Sid? Trisha eventually decides to stay home, but even taking a brief maternity leave and then trying to get back on track can be difficult. Men rarely have to deal with that kind of multi-month interruption.

Again, instead of exploring these issues for a couple, or focusing on Trisha — Trisha, whose life is most impacted by these events — the movie focuses on Sid.

Sid, to his credit, wants to be engaged. Wikipedia explains that in the previous movie, the audience learned Sid is afraid of being like his father, who abandoned the family. So this is likely a response to that fear, an overcorrection. He reads pregnancy books and tells Trisha the best way to be pregnant. (Did you know pregnancy could be mansplained?) He uses a balloon to mimic her pregnant belly. At first, this comes across as empathy. Then he steals her water bottle.

After the baby, Millie, is born, Trisha is focused on the child. Sid is disappointed that a woman who only very recently gave birth is not interested in sex or date nights. “That night,” the movie intones ominously, “Millie’s mother defeated Sid’s wife.”

Where is Trisha? She is more than someone’s wife or mother, but she is not even mentioned. Sid has lost access to sex, access to the witty, charming woman he married. Many couples definitely face difficulties as they adjust to parenthood, and that is worth exploring. But what about Trisha? What has she lost? Who is she now?

Sid complains they don’t talk anymore, but he doesn’t talk, either. Resentment builds. They finally fight. Right after complaining that he feels like he never does anything right, Sid takes Millie for a walk. . .and then forgets about her. Is Trisha right? Is Sid a partner? What is the movie trying to tell us about parenthood, that the Mother is always right because it subsumes her very identity?

He turns to his brother-in-law, a perfect father, for help. “Wives compel us husbands to lie,” the brother-in-law explains. He rents a hotel room every few weeks for alone time; later, of course, Sid, catches him cheating. Rather than try to bridge the gap between them, or reset their relationship, the best thing to do is lie and hide. Technically abandoning the family.

Five years pass. Sid and Trisha still don’t communicate and she remains focused on the child. Sid has a secret bachelor pad he shares with several young men. Sid is essentially regressing. Why are women supposed to spend so much energy “catching” a man to marry?

Yet Sid becomes jealous when a male neighbor steps up and helps Trisha with Millie. He isn’t there; the neighbor is. Yet it’s only when one of his bachelor roomates is hospitalized and alone that Sid realizes The Value of Family.

Sid confesses the bachelor pad to Trisha. She throws him out. Sid asks his brother-in-law for advice, who points out that even if he is not having a physical affair, being away from his family is essentially an affair. Sid rushes to apologize to Trisha, and explain he will uphold his duty to her. She tearfully explains, “I don’t want to be your duty, Sid, I want to be your joy.” Trisha then confesses that she cheated on him. He pushes her and leaves with Millie. “You don’t deserve to be a mother.”

Trisha had kicked him out. Sid uses physical violence and actually takes their child away.

But don’t worry, Trisha was tricking Sid. She wanted to make sure he’d give her the same second chance she’d give him.

If they’d had an honest conversation about four years ago, no one would need a second chance.

Another five years pass, and Sid explains to some young fathers that there’s no trick, just be truthful. Cut to Trisha alone in a hotel room, enjoying herself.

Fuck this movie.

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