Do tragic love stories like Romeo-Juliet influence our idea of love?

What distinguishes average love stories from the great? Two infatuated lovers, an external force that keeps them from uniting and the lovers’ perseverance to overcome it against all odds. But what propels these stories to true greatness is a tragic end– usually, the untimely death of the star-crossed lovers, either by choice or otherwise. And that’s exactly what made sagas like Heer-Ranjha, Sohni-Mahiwal, Sassi-Punnhun, and Romeo-Juliet stand the test of time, read and idealised by generations as the golden standard for true love.

But there are contentions from certain quarters of the society that such tragic romances can, in fact, warp our ideas of love. They argue that the glorification of tragedy sends out the wrong message to impressionable minds. It hints that if the world doesn’t accept their relationship, the only recourse left is death, à la Romeo and Juliet. At best, these stories could perpetuate the idea that there is some sort of virtue and glory in suffering for love and at worst, they could normalise suicides due to love failure. Here’s how you can fall in love with your long-term partner.

Dr Era Dutta, Consultant Neuropsychiatrist and Therapist Mind Wellness & Fortis Healthcare, however, has a very different take on what these stories convey. “Look at the kind of romances we are brought up on. Almost all Bollywood romances paint a very rosy picture of love and focus only on the positive aspects relationships,” she says. It’s an accusation that has been often cast against the Hindi film industry — of perpetuating an unrealistic notion of love. We rarely get to see realistic portrayals of love in Indian movies. If one were to go by Bollywood ideals, the ultimate goal of love is not self-discovery or self-improvement; it is marriage. And yet, Bollywood doesn’t have to its credit many movies which show what happens to a relationship after marriage.

“The presence of tragic romances like Romeo and Juliet alongside movies with their hyper-realistic portrayals of love gives us a good balance,” says Dr Dutta. If you want to look at the bright side, tragic romances give us the other side of the picture. “It can tell children that not all love stories have a happy ending. Some of them can end in tragedy,” adds Dr Dutta. “And in many cases, some stories like Heer-Ranja do reflect some of the social realities of our times.”At a time when honour killings and caste-based violence is rampant, it can give the youth a realistic perspective of what can transpire if families are against the relationship,” Dr Dutta adds.

But the doctor does say that glorification of suicides in the name of love can send out the wrong message. “These kids will be led to think that suicide is the only option if families oppose their match. That could turn into a social problem. That’s why the repercussions of internalising such stories could be a mixed bag,” she adds.

Image source: Shutterstock

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