Collage by Vatsala Manan.

Affection can sometimes be difficult to “show and tell,” especially when you are trying to figure out if the person you are crushing on is into you or not, or even when you are trying to let your crush know that you are interested in them. And once you overcome this difficult step, what comes after that? Dating? Going steady? A relationship? Each relationship is as different and unique as each person. No formulas or set patterns work, as pop culture often leads us to believe. I grew up in the ’90s, surrounded by romantic Bollywood movies in which the sure shot way to win a girl’s heart was through chasing her, stalking her, and eventually blackmailing and forcing her “no” to a “yes.” I was left feeling quite averse to the idea of romance. However, as I grew up and was exposed to more Bollywood and Indian cinema, I realized that there were more interesting and radical ideas of romance and dating that the cinema of my country had to offer, Bollywood included. Here is a list of movies from Indian cinema that restore my faith in romance and love.

Hum Dono (Both of Us)
This is a cute, honest love story with a doppelgänger and a war thrown in. Carefree Anand loves rich yet down to earth Meeta, but in order to marry her, he has to first impress her father by being independent and responsible enough, which is a common trope in Hindi romantic films. Anand decides to join the army, where he meets an officer, Verma, who looks just like him. When Verma gets mortally injured, Anand vows to take care of Verma’s wife and mother. However, when he returns from war, Anand is mistaken as Verma and is forced to take on his identity, putting his own life and love at risk. What I really like about this film is that it portrays a very progressive idea of a couple in Anand and Meeta, which I feel is quite radical for its time.

Baton Baton Mein
A slice of life film that is hilarious at times, this movie is so real in its portrayal of urban life of Bombay in the 1970s. It provides an honest depiction of finding love and companionship while dealing with heartbreak and misplaced expectations. Nancy has been betrayed in love once, and has decided that marriage is not for her. Her mom is always on the lookout for eligible bachelors for her daughter and ever eager to invite them over for dinner. Nancy travels to work with her uncle, and on one such day, meets Tony on the local train. Though skeptical of him at first, after talking to him she starts preferring his company and throughout the film we see them taking long walks by the sea, engaged in conversations about everything and nothing. The songs are lovey-dovey, and they play as a background score as we watch Tony and Nancy spend time in cafes drinking Limca and Coca-Cola, seeing their friendship grow. However, though Tony has marriage on his mind, Nancy is pacing it out and trying to learn as much as she can about him before jumping to any conclusion, despite pressure from her mother, Tony, and the society in general. My favorite thing about the movie is Nancy’s wardrobe and her eccentric, violin-obsessed brother.

High on emotions and through-and-through Bollywood, Rangeela is soulfully romantic and emotionally dramatic. Set in Mumbai in the Bollywood industry, this movie is the story of the effervescent, self-assured Mili and the honest, street smart Munna. Mili aspires to be an actress and soon is all set to star in a mega blockbuster film alongside a popular movie star, Raj. Munna and Raj both fall for Mili, and there ensues an unequal love triangle, where Mili is totally unaware of either of the men’s affection for her. The most beautiful aspect of the film is the soulful, melodramatic soundtrack, composed by A. R. Rahman.

This one is not exactly a love story, but this movie always pops in my mind when I think of depictions of love and dating in Indian cinema. The narrative revolves around Siddhartha, as he roams around Calcutta in search of a job. He is trying to come to terms with the sudden changes in his life due to the death of his father. He no longer recognizes his sister, who is too busy with her work and social life, nor his college friends, who are preoccupied with politics or prostitutes. In the midst of it all, he comes across Kiya, who is also facing problems with her family. They find solace and respite in each other’s company, however limited it is, as Siddhartha gets a job and has to move out of Calcutta. I love the sequences where they travel by bus and go to a cafe to have cold coffee, Keya dressed in a beautiful sari. The tenderness with which it shows the peace and assurance that one finds in reciprocated affection comes through in my favorite scene, when Kiya and Siddhartha go to the terrace of one of the tallest buildings in Calcutta, and on their way down the elevator, they exchange small yet meaningful promises, like writing letters to each other.

Neel Kamal
This one is for those who like a bit of horror and a spooky twist in a romance in the style of Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Sita has a habit of sleepwalking, which grows more intense as she grows older, and turns dangerous when she gets married to Ram. In her past life, she was a princess whose lover, Chitrasen, was a muralist. Chitrasen was sentenced to death for this transgression by the King, and now his soul haunts Sita, drawing her to his grave every night to reunite with him after waiting for her for so many centuries. This movie has been a favorite of mine since I was a kid, mainly because of the extravagant set design and costumes, and the lamenting song of longing sung by Chitrasen throughout the film. ♦