5 Reasons Why Pyaar Kiya Toh Darna Kya is the Ultimate Love Anthem

“Why be afraid when you are in love?” is what Pyaar Kiya Toh Darna Kya literally translates to. It appears in the iconic film Mughal-e-Azam which was released in 1960 after 14 years of production. Here’s why it might just as well be termed as India’s song of defiance.

1. It defies persistent gender roles

Gender, as Judith Butler (1960) contends, is constructed through a set of repeated performances. The dance by Madhubala’s Anarkali serves the male gaze appropriately- you will find the camera focusing on her many a time during the sequence. However, Anarkali does not shy away from this gaze. She confronts it and this is a major point of departure from what would otherwise be expected out of a woman of her times in India. She liberates herself from the framework of gender that she operates in.

2. A symbol for LGBT rights movement

Pyaar Kiya Toh Darna Kya has now become a slogan for the emergent LGBT (Lesbian, Gay,Bisexual, Transgender) rights movement in India. It is an anthem about the triumph of love across social boundaries. The song surpasses time and space. It has gained significance as a form of protest voiced by more than an Anarkali. Madhubala’s Kathak is today a symbol of love against conservative forces. It is not long before this song can be an effective answer to those who are so worried about love-jihad.

A line from the song on a poster for Rainbow Walk on Delhi Road. Image Source


3. A Drag Queen of sorts?

A drag queen is a man who ostentatiously dresses up in women’s clothes. Going by queer theory, a male drag queen in stylizing normative femininity simultaneously deconstructs it too. Madhubala’s drag queen not only challenges dominant discourses of power contained within a patriarchal nation-state, but she also threatens the discourses on sexualization of the body. She is aware of her class, religion, nationality and gender, yet she chooses to digress from the destiny paved for her.

Like all women who do this, her demise in the tale is also not very surprising. The song is that struggle for the identity of the subaltern which keeps returning to the Bollywood celluloid.

4. Anarkali is a brave subaltern

She is a courtesan. She is Muslim and what’s worse is that she is a woman. In short, she embodies all that you would not like to be in a royal setup comprising men during the Mughal period in India. Salim had, in fact, just before the performance, accused her of being a bujdil laundi (cowardly slave). A play of power recurs through the song-and-dance performance but even that fails to deter the spirit of love in the status of a subaltern that Anarkali finds herself in. She is a woman with little agency dancing across an empire’s patriarch.

5. The sequence reflects India’s tryst with destiny

Anarkali’s performance for the court can be compared to Bollywood’s performance for Jawaharlal Nehru. The movie Mughal-e-Azam opens with a baritone proclaiming, “I am Hindustan”. The then Hindustan was associated with sentiments different from those it now is. The film was made during India’s period of nation-building. Despite being set in the Mughal period, the sequence vividly portrays what was despised by the nationalist elites of post-colonial India- films (they were equated with gambling). What is now called the Golden Age of Indian cinema was then not a cakewalk for the film industry because it used to be regarded more as a perversion or disruption to advancement than as a form of cultural expression. This hurdle is encountered by Anarkali as well.

The song is a breakthrough from several dominant social norms. This does not make it any less appealing to the masses. It enthralls audiences all the same despite being as revolutionary as it is. This is what makes it the ultimate love anthem.

Do share if you find any other reason why this song-and-dance should be called so.


How to Solve the Valentine’s Day Crossword

I bought our love from Archies this time, because I feel my last break-up was a consequence of that hand-made love I had gifted her. This time I shall make no more mistakes. I’ll be more calculative about this affair. Each move in this courtship will be a planned one. If I am investing my time in something, I shall make sure that I reap benefits from it. Let me check my phone. Oh, so she’s seen my message, yet has not bothered to reply. Does she doubt my sincerity? Is she faithful enough for me? Even if she’s not, I’ll have to make her my girl. I will gift her something expensive this Valentine’s Day. That should make her happy. What should I buy her- a pendant or a ring…or something else? Girls usually like ornaments. I’ll pay for the lunch tomorrow. Boys should not demean themselves by being stingy. They should spend. So will I. I think I need to make the first moves to indicate that I love her. Girls usually tend to be shy in such matters.

Love is a mortgage loan drawn on an uncertain, and
inscrutable, future.

-Zygmunt Bauman


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Photo by Sudeshna Mukherjee

Amy Winehouse, through her legendary song, not only drove home that love is a losing game, but also got across the hang of measuring love in terms of profit and loss. The classist assumption of conflating love to the amount of money spent on it leads to viewing the economically underprivileged as less capable of human emotions. Hence, the romance of having tea in bhaar (earthen tea cup) appears less romantic when compared to the romance of a dear candle-light dinner at a restaurant.This hang, astonishingly, is nothing new. The tendency of gauging love on a yardstick of the material benefits accrued from it has been there since a Ulysses shaped in the Victorian Age by Tennyson, moaned,

It little profits that an idle king,


Match’d with an aged wife

Photo by Pallavi Majumdar

While running the risk of sounding crudely economical, I would opine that besides the kind of returns we expect from love, the kind of investment we make has also undergone tremendous change from the time Ulysses was dissected by a Homer and a Dante to the so-called post-modern period. Earlier, the time spent between two people in love was the most treasured asset of the relationship. It is not unknown to us that with time, staying connected 24×7 has impacted our lives so much so that we are each an island in ourselves today, waiting to be explored by a sailor. We know a lot of faces, but do we bother to know what each one would have to say, if, perhaps given more space and time?We, under the veil of absolute transparency, hide our basic insecurities of losing. Hence, the incomparable joy of receiving a letter from one’s lover has been replaced by its more convenient and concise counterpart- text messages. Unlike in letter writing, the sender does not give away a part of themselves any more- it is a luxury that cannot be afforded through text messages. Probably that is why finding a replacement for a person is a lot easier now. Using chat as a form of romantic gratification when one’s partner is not around is nothing but finding a human substitute for them.

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Photo by Pallavi Majumdar

I do not know if the expression of love has got better with time. However, it is safe to assert that so well accustomed are we to commodities, that we have started to commoditize those we love. While a teenager from the previous century would be content with, say sharing a glass of drink with their partner, the teenager today would be preoccupied with such questions as which café to choose for their first date. Choices always come coupled with dilemma. This dilemma has trickled down from material objects of possession to, well, material subjects of love. The line between what to like and whom to love has been blurred. So eluded are we into depending on markets that we do not stop bargaining until we come across the person (profile) befitting all our parameters of requirement.

Partnerships are increasingly seen through the prism of promises and expectations, and as a kind of product for consumers: satisfaction on the spot, and if not fully satisfied, return the product to the shop or replace it with a new and improved one! You don’t, after all, stick to your car, or computer, or iPod, when better ones appear.

-Zygmunt Bauman

We need human beings manufactured according to our convenience, to derive maximum utility out of them. Sounds much like the shift of the site of production post-Industrial Revolution? The only way out of this is to accept more of others (agony aunt mode alert) as they are.

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Photo by Pallavi Majumdar

Despite the many changes that have transformed courtship and its means, one thing has persisted across the ages- heteronormativity and its resultant androcentrism around the idea of love. For the longest period in history, men have been on their knees to propose love to their mistresses, thus perpetuating almost as a norm that women are supposed to be sexually passive. Our films idealise the couples with unambiguous sexuality, the books we read immortalise the chronicles of heterosexual couples, our sitcoms ridicule homosexuals; we are, at every point in our lives, reminded that heterosexuality and monogamy are worth being relationship goals. The frame of love has no space for the spectrum that gender is. The insecurity faced by those with alternate sexualities is indeed a heavy price paid for viewing love through the cherished lens of majoritarian ideals. We need the love that can sustain, not the love that can sell.

The overbearing definition of romantic love as the only form of true love overlooks other kinds of relationships such as platonic friendship, sisterhood, parenthood et al. I love love on every day of the year, just as I love celebrating the day of love and those whom I love. I love celebrating my love for myself. Red is not the only colour of love. Love is green, orange, blue, and every other colour. This Valentine’s Day, let us paint a world where love is too precious to come with a price tag.

Photo by Pallavi Majumdar