The film that I watched was not about the caste system, but an example of class in India. I watched Alaipayuthey. A love story as well as a commentary about class in Indian society, focused on Karthik and Shakti as they fell in love and married. The movie’s surprisingly realistic portrayal of married life, displaying the struggles, petty fights, and arguments all couples go through, is made all the more poignant by the building suspense of the other part of the narrative, two years in the future, when Karthik can’t find his wife anywhere.
I thought the way this movie was laid out was masterful. In previous Bollywood movies, the timelines of the story have been very confusing and ill conceived, sometimes it is impossible to know when the storyline has regressed to an earlier time period. In this movie, however, it is much clearer when the story goes back in time, and the storyline is laid out in such a way that it is understandable and, at the same time, interesting to watch. By the end of the movie, the two storylines merge and the audience finally realizes what has happened to Shakti.
The main storyline beings two years before the opening scene of Karthik waiting for his wife at the train station. It shows the pair meeting at a local wedding, a common motif throughout the film, and shows the progression of love for the two main characters. Shakti and Karthik see each other every day at the train station (also a common element throughout the movie) and eventually Karthik decides that he is in love with her.
Most of the commentary about class in Indian society came into play when the film was dealing with marriage. Shakti, an aspiring doctor, comes from a middle class family working in a sales booth of some kind, struggling to pay off medical school bills and send their daughter to school. It is clear from the beginning that Shakti is not as privileged as Karthik whose house and clothes are more modern and nicer. Karthik’s family is upper class, clear from his father’s distinction as a lawyer, his big house, modern clothes, and behavior. Their class, and their parents’ class, is initially the thing that keeps them apart. Karthik’s decision that he wants to marry Shakti, once discovered by their parents, is discussed over a meeting (something which I assume is common in Indian culture based on the scenes in this movie). When the two parents meet, there is obviously tension in the room between the two older men.
The meeting takes place in Shakti’s house, a place clearly in a worse neighborhood than Karthik’s family’s estate. His father starts the conversation by saying that they “thought [they] have come to the wrong house – in quarters all houses look the same.” The other man, Shakti’s father responds that they live like “the standard of the middle class family.” This is where the classes come up. Karthik’s father acknowledges that he has no control over his son wanting to marry Shakti, and even implies that Skakti has somehow tricked Karthik into loving her so she can have the benefits of marrying rich.
Shakti’s father takes great offense and asks, “Are you pointing out that you are rich and we are beggars?!” and goes father to say that they have “come to our hose and he is saying that our girl and a girl on the street are the same.” Obviously, the talk went badly. Shakti later says “it was like a talk between India and Pakistan.” This is where the class difference between the two characters is outright mentioned. Before this scene it was obvious that Karthik was wealthy, he wore sunglasses and nice western clothes constantly, his house was large and expensive looking, and he went to school to become a computer engineer. This, however, is the first confirmation that Shakti and Karthik are from two different worlds.
Throughout the movie, there is an obvious difference between the two characters, Shakti representing the middle class and Karthik, the upper class. I also noticed that in Aliapayuthey, upper class people wear westernized clothes (a lot like the observation the reviewer made about upper castes in Aakrosh). Karthik seems to have a lot more freedom in his actions, who he is friends with, and what he does. Even the female friends of Karthik are different than the lower class Shakti and her friends. They wear western clothes and work with men. Because they are American educated, modernized, and upper class, they have the freedom and the liberty to wear whatever they want, do whatever they want, and be friends with whomever they want. Shakti and her sister, Poorni, however, are from a lower class with obviously less money, and therefore less freedom to do whatever they want. Their family is more traditional, wearing traditional clothing, and setting up their daughters in arranged marriages.
Rasa theory was also displayed in this movie. The 2nd or 3rd song that the characters sing is highly dependent on colors, and even the transitions sometimes show a still scene washed out with color in order to change to the next scene. The movie, although mostly about love, also features more violent emotions – anger, annoyance, sadness, and even despair. The variance of color in the song that they sing and the outfits throughout the movie seem to show this range of emotion that the movie displays. Desire (green), anger (red), happiness (yellow), sadness (blue) are all expressed in the song that also states that “in love we have many colors,” a concept that points directly to rasa theory.
In the second part of the movie, the focus is less on class, and more on the difficulty of marriage. I think that the director portrayed the petty arguments and fighting very realistically. The concentration on marriage doesn’t make class any less of an issue here. Obviously, a big part of marriage in Indian culture is the fact that usually, they are arranged, not everyone has the ability (or even wants the ability) of falling in love and picking their husband/wife. Class restricts the ability to marry whomever you want, and even sometimes makes it harder when people of different classes do marry.
Shakti and Karthik’s married life is under constant pressure because of the nature of their marriage. Their parents have disowned and stopped talking to them because of their marriage, and that is a constant source of resentment and fighting. In addition, they are from two different classes, and sometimes their expectations differ. After they move in together, the director spends most of his time focused on their petty fights, their long lasting arguments and conflicts that grow to a point where they stop talking to each other. This struck me as genuine and realistic. Eventually, the audience finally realizes what happens to Shakti when they see her hit by a car – ironically the same car crash that Karthik encounters within the first five minutes of the film. The two different storylines merge, and the audience returns to the present, where Karthik panics over the Shakti’s absence. When Karthik finally finds Shakti in the hospital, the tragedy reunites her family, broken up by this disagreement over class.
At the very end, when Karthik sees a man forgive his wife even though she almost kills someone, he realizes the depth of love and forgiveness married people are supposed to have for each other, and finally he realizes how much he loves Shakti and how their arguments are completely trivial.
I think this is a good portrayal of modern Indian class. Caste itself wasn’t mentioned once, but class clearly is still an issue (just like in similar western stories about someone from a poor family falling in love with someone else from a rich one). It is not as loaded of an issue as the caste system, but it still has the potential to break families apart and cause conflict within relationships. I think it is also worth noting that this movie is fairly modern, what with the existence of computer engineers, portable music players, and motorcycles, and that this movie is a good representation of how class is just as much a part of modern Indian culture as caste is.