Feminist Bollywood: Gori Tere Pyaar Mein

A super cool female character suffers from “not a dude, so the story isn’t about her” disease.

Gori Tere Pyaar Mein (2013) is available for rent on Instant Video.

While looking up some stats recently, I was surprised to see that not only did Gori Tere Pyaar Mein (Fair One, In Your Love) do poorly, it was a huge flop—no, a disaster. It made about $2 million on a $5 million budget. 

An Indian man in Western clothes and an Indian woman in traditional Indian clothes pose in front of a bridge.
Poster for Gori Tere Pyaar Mein. Starring Imran Khan (left) and Kareena Kapoor (right). From Wikipedia

I was surprised because I thought it had been pleasant enough. Not the most amazing movie ever, but nice. I saw it the day after I saw Ram-Leela (an intense but fantastic Bollywood version of Romeo and Juliet) and two days after Hunger Games: Catching Fire. Gori Tere… was a nice palate cleanser. (And the day before Ram-Leela, I saw Hunger Games: Catching Fire, so it was nice to end the weekend with a comedy.)

I like both stars (Imran Khan as the male lead Sriram and Kareena Kapoor as the female lead Dia) and really loved their chemistry in 2012’s Ek Main aur Ekk Tu (available on DVD and occasionally Instant on Netflix), so I was really looking forward to Gori Tere. And I enjoyed it, it was cute and funny and the music was catchy. I’ve been listening to “Tooh” for months.

But in light of the box office, I realized: it deserved to fail. It told the wrong story, the same story we see over and over.

The movie focuses on Sriram, who is a fairly typical Imran Khan character: nice guy who can be a jerk who doesn’t want to get married but then falls in love (see Ek Main aur Ekk TuI Hate Luv Storys, Mere Brother ki Dulhan…).

I was rooting for Sriram because I like the actor and because of the collective goodwill of previous characters but after the movie, I wondered: why did I care about Sriram? He was awful to Vasudha (Shraddha Kapoor), the fiance his parents arrange for him, agreeing to marry her because… she’s pretty? Never mind that she begged him to call off the marriage because she loved someone else. (It would bring too much shame for her to call it off, but would have been acceptable for him to do so.)

The movie explores, somewhat, Vasudha’s dilemma: being in love with a man from a different cultural background. It’s tempting to say “love conquers all” (which, ultimately, this movie does), but there are real consequences. In this case, Vasudha and her love are from different parts of the country. Everyone tells her how hard it would be to mesh their lifestyles. Coming from the U.S., I found these parts particularly fascinating. My own background gives me biases in this regard (who cares?! marry who you want!), so I appreciated the sincerity in the movie’s depiction of Vasudha’s decisions and consequences.

Sriram eventually does break off his engagement to Vasudha. On their wedding day. As he’s walking down the aisle. Which seems pretty awful, even if they’re both ultimately happy with the outcome.

Eventually he finds Dia (Kareena Kapoor Khan), with whom he’d been in love all along. Much of the movie had been told in flashback, Sriram relating to Vasudha how he met Dia and why their relationship didn’t work. Sriram finds that Dia has left her comfortable middle class lifestyle to help poor villagers in the state of Gujurat. He works to earn her love and respect, helping her with her goal of getting a bridge built for a tiny village.

However, in the end he doesn’t learn anything. Dia is thrilled that she was able to do some good and wants to move to the next village. But the ending felt like “Okay silly woman, we did this thing, let’s go home.” He did his one good deed and he’s ready to go back to his comfortable lifestyle. Which is fine, not everyone is cut out to work with poverty in such a hands-on way. But Dia had made it clear this is what she wants; her choice is seen as somewhat silly. Her little project is done, time to return to the comforts of the “civilized” world.

Ugh, man-children. Why is this a trope? Who does this serve? It doesn’t make anyone look good. It’s not even good for patriarchy, because it doesn’t even hold up the status quo (except for women having to take take care of or cater to men, I guess).

Anyway, the movie should have followed Dia. She’s a social worker and striving to do good in the world. She’s outspoken and principled. She works with populations others don’t care about, such as prostitutes and children with HIV/AIDS.

Sriram, however, points out that while Dia does work with the poor, she herself benefits from a middle class (upper middle class?) support system.

Dia is angry at first, but then something crazy happens: she reflects on the comments and decides to change. She heads off to Gujurat, living in a small village with few comforts and luxuries, doing her best to really help people.

Those scenes were a little startling at first, and I was disappointed that Sriram didn’t say anything else: Why is Dia this village’s savior? Why couldn’t someone local do it? (And while the reason might be lack of education or something, which Dia clearly has, it would have been nice for someone to actually say that.) “Gori” refers to Dia’s light skin; the villagers she helps have dark skin. A racial element is at play, as well. While the villagers specifically call her “Fair one” or “Fair sister,” no one mentions the skin color factor, either.

At the end, Dia wants to move on to help other people but Sriram does not. I think the audience is supposed to relate to Sriram: “Let’s get home to our TVs and night clubs!” But Dia actually changed and was able to do good. She knows she can continue to do good, and she’s okay if that means not living in luxury.

How fascinating would that be, a movie about a woman who grows, learns, and effects social change? But no, we get yet another movie about a boy who doesn’t want to grow up.

And it failed.

Give me a sequel about Dia.

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