Chandni is the quintessential male fantasy in motion; except with Yash Chopra behind the camera, that fantasy translates as adoration and appreciation, instead of overt sexualisation. Every shot feels like a gentle caress, like the gaze of an admirer or a devotee.
I was barely one when Yash Chopra’s Chandni released and its album took the entire country by storm. Chandni’s music was the soundtrack of my early childhood. By the time I was four, its cassette had been played so many times in our house that the tape had worn out, and it had to be replaced twice. It was the epitome of the pre-Internet era replete with cassettes, longer attention spans, and songs whose popularity lasted beyond the next viral trend.
But of course, Chandni is more than the sum of its songs. Complete with chiffon sarees, gorgeous locales, charming heroes, and chaste romance, Chandni is Yash Chopra 101. The story revolves around a love triangle: Rohit (Rishi Kapoor) is enchanted by the beauty of his beloved Chandni (Sridevi) but when he ends up paralysed after a tragic incident, he drives her away to save her from his terrible fate. It’s then that Chandni meets Lalit (Vinod Khanna) who falls for her instantly. The film takes a turn when Rohit returns, healed, and still very much in love with Chandni.
At its heart, the movie is a celebration of feminine beauty that is effusive and unadulterated. The line between appreciation and objectification is always a thin one. But Chandni largely manages that delicate balance with panache. Chandni is the quintessential male fantasy in motion; except with Yash Chopra behind the camera, that fantasy translates as adoration and appreciation, instead of overt sexualisation. There is a sense of innocent abandon in the way the movie celebrates the splendor of Chandni that reels you in. Every shot feels like a gentle caress, like the gaze of an admirer or a devotee. Yet for all its flourishes, it’s this very gaze that robs Chandni of much of its complexity.
The film’s plot is paper thin and most of the scenes play out as an extended version of a love song. Falling in love in Chandni’s universe is as simple and as quick as looking at her. Nuances beyond that are ignored to an extent where the lead couple become estranged because they had to confront the cruelties of real life. Being in love with a paralysed individual is a kind of a story that, in a non-Chandni universe, is an opportunity to explore ideas about the definition of true love and what it takes to make it work. But in Chandni, it is simply an excuse to introduce a different variant of a hero.
As a character, Chandni, forced to choose between two men, is not a pushover and Sridevi plays her with a quiet, almost stubborn fieriness. Yet, the movie gives us no glimpse into the aspects of Chandni that are not skin-deep. Her resilience, her willingness to make even an impossible relationship work, her readiness to sacrifice her own happiness for the sake of her paralysed fiancé, her ability to bounce back from a break-up and start afresh remain passing thoughts. Even Chandni’s pain over losing her love gets no screen time, perhaps because an angsty woman does not have the same place in a male fantasy.
Through Chandni, Chopra posits beauty as both, a motivation, and the destination.
Even in her incomplete depiction, Chandni holds within her the essence of not just the male fantasy but also female aspiration. Chandni is the kind of woman who wears an anklet in the shower, writes letters next to a dimly-lit candle, dances in the rain, and even in her grief, allows herself to be framed next to a sunset. More than a woman, Chandni is an idea of perfection, the kind that an 11-year-old me wanted to replicate with my mother’s stolen dupattas in front of a mirror. Through Chandni, Chopra posits beauty as both, a motivation, and the destination. The issue isn’t that it is problematic – aspiring for beauty is a universal human condition. The flaw is that it is a reductive gaze: It remains so focused on romanticising physical beauty that the movie neglects to explore how Chandni thinks of her world and more importantly, of herself.
Three decades later, Chandni then, remains a persuasive evidence of the problems with men only treating women as their ultimate fantasy. While it manages to steer away from blatant sexualisation, it boasts of the same derivative patterns that most art, like paintings, literature, and poetry, made by men to service the idea of their female muses, have long exhibited.
This brand of male fantasy art scrubs its women clean of all the mess that accompanies their humanity. It only focuses on the attractive parts, the parts that are pleasing and palatable, the parts that imagine women as these larger-than-life creatures who remain prim, proper, unflustered, and most importantly beautiful despite adversities. They don’t see women, they see the woman they want her to be. They cherry-pick, because it spares them, makes them feel safe, and keeps them insulated from the truth about their women’s humanity. Essentially, Chandni is a poem that happens to be a full-length movie. It’s Chandni’s biggest compliment and its biggest criticism. That in a nutshell is the film’s legacy.
About the writer: Runjhun Noopur is the author of the wacky happiness book, Nirvana in a Corporate Suit. She writes, talks, eats, and inserts oxford comma, mostly in that order. She also likes to believe that she can teach people all about happiness.
Showcasing the identity of the South African Indian as we remember the story of the arrival of Indian-indenture 160 years ago to the shores of South Africa. The SA Indian community of South Africa are uniquely African and so are their stories. Submit your piece of history to us for a feature click here
The global lockdown has everyone’s mental health in a spin! Have you checked out our Mental Health resources by Indian Spice click here
The South African Depression And Anxiety Group (SADAG) is Africa’s largest mental health support and advocacy group open 7 days a week from 8 am – 8 pm. If you need a referral to a psychologist, psychiatrist or support group call SADAG on 011 234 4837 or 0800 20 50 26 and speak to a trained counsellor who can assist. Substance abuse hotline: 0800 12 13 14 is available 24hrs or alternatively email Zane on email@example.com
Mental health India Helplines: Aasra: 022 2754 6669; Sneha India Foundation: +914424640050 and Sanjivini: 011-24311918
Stay at home if you feel unwell. If you have a fever, cough and difficulty breathing, seek medical attention and call in advance. Connect with the Coronavirus Whatsapp services below
Connect with the Coronavirus Whatsapp services below
- Coronavirus India Whatsapp tap here
- Coronavirus South Africa Whatsapp tap here
- SA Hotline Number: 0800 029 999
For more related coronavirus (COVID-19) latest news and stories click here