“How I Met Your Mother” and Bollywood

I’ve been watching How I Met Your Mother on Netflix, which means I’m a season behind. Since I like being spoiled anyway, I’ve been reading Donna Bowman’s recaps at the AV Club, and have read every review of the series finale that I can get my hands on. And I’m surprised not by the events of the finale but that the central plot seems to come straight from Bollywood. [HIMYM spoilers ahead!]

Seriously, spoilers from here on out.

In How I Met Your Mother’s series finale, we learn that the Mother, Tracey, died in approximately 2024 (6 years before Ted tells this story to his kids in 2030). He loved her very much. But it turns out Robin is single again, and, well. . . and his kids tell him to go for it, go after Aunt Robin.

Because I haven’t watched Season 9, I can’t comment on the effectiveness of the finale, though it’s clearly divisive. In large part, the divide comes down to what you think the show is about: literally about how Ted meets the mother of his children, or more about how one grows and matures (or doesn’t). I fall in the latter camp myself, but I can understand people who prefer the former.

Is the series’ arc, then, about One True Love? Or about how one can have multiple One True Loves? That perhaps the different people in our lives serve a different function, soul mates for the different parts of our souls?

Anyway, it occurred to me that I’d heard this plot before. Indeed, this plot is very similar to the beloved 1998 Bollywood film Kuch Kuch Hota Hai. Honestly, HIMYM could function as a sort of preqeul to KKHH.

In the movie, Rahul (Shahrukh Khan) marries his love, Tina (Rani Mukerji), who promptly dies after giving birth. Tina had left a series of letters for her daughter, Anjali, to read on each birthday. The final letter is for Anjali’s eighth birthday, and tells the story of how Tina and Rahul met, and how Rahul was also good friends with a woman named Anjali, for whom little Anjali is named (played by Kajol). In the letter, Tina tells her daughter how much Rahul loved Anjali and that little Anjali should try to get them back together. Spoiler alert: little Anjali succeeds and Tina smiles down from the afterlife to see her husband marry another woman.

Throughout the movie, Rahul repeats, “We live once, we die once, we get married once and love, love also only occurs once.” At first, this is sort of an explanation for why Rahul hasn’t remarried, but then it becomes the theme of his love with Anjali: he’s always loved her! They must be together!

The story is fine enough: a little girl who wants her father to be happy and helps to make that happen is pretty cute. But this line always rubbed me the wrong way. What about poor Tina? Did Rahul never love her? Is the love negated because he also loved Anjali? Is the line meant to be ironic since Rahul clearly loves and marries twice? (The movie never seems to come across as ironic, but I could be misreading it.)

But couldn’t you picture Ted Moseby saying something like this? Moping over a beer at McLaren’s, staring wistfully at Robin, even as perhaps Stella or Victoria sat nearby. “We live once, we die once, and love once.”

Elsewhere in the movie, Rahul defines love as friendship, that he could only love a friend. Well, that defines Ted to a T!

I didn’t expect to find such a Bollywood plot to make it into a mainstream American sitcom. Sure, many stories are universal, but this one seemed a little too fixed in a certain place and time in India to work in the U.S. But then, I disagree with the premise (one marriage, one love, etc). Maybe I’d see this plot elsewhere if I looked hard enough. Hollywood is certainly fond of the trope First Girl Wins. I guess most media is just a little bit better at hiding it… or at least not outright saying it.

My point, I suppose, is that whatever the author intends, we can create our own meaning. For How I Met Your Mother, I find the meaning in having close friends, in making mistakes, in being terrified about being a grown up. I think about the Season 8 episode where Ted wishes he could have met Tracey sooner and had 45 extra days with her.

I had been angry with Kuch Kuch Hota Hai for a long time, but I think likewise we can choose to see the wrongness in the idea that we can only love once. We love multiple times and that enriches our lives.

We need more media that reminds of us how wrong we can be. Life is unpredictable. We can meet a great love and then they disappear. But we can meet again. We can meet love again.


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History. Hindi cinema. Hugging cats.

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