There was a time when friendships ruled. We celebrated the notions of ‘jigri dost’, ‘jodidaar’, even the not so hygienic ‘langotiya yaar’.
Friendships were given a status higher than relatives. Friends were often dearer than siblings. Friends often lived together. They took responsibilities of their partners, shared the burdens, cried more in the grief and danced harder in joy. Those were the times of Dosti, Jai-Veeru and ‘yeh dosti hum nahi todenge’, Anand and Namak Haram, Ram Balram, Dostana, Yarana.
Even artistes worked in pairs. Raj Kapoor-Rajendra Kumar, Shammi Kapoor-Rajendra Nath, Amitabh-Dharmendra, Amitabh-Vinod Khanna, Amitabh-Rajesh Khanna. Why, even musicians were jodis — Lakshmikant-Pyarelal, Shanakar-Jaikishan. Even in the individualistic arena of writing in our film industry, the most celebrated contribution came from Salim-Javed.
In post independence India, that was friendship 1.0 that reigned through the 60s, 70sand 80s. But in the late 80s and early 90s, society started to open up.
Economic reforms set it. Foreign influences became pronounced. Growth was on everyone’s agenda as an implosion of an extended past of scarcity. With a billion-plus population running towards the newly opened-up opportunities, winning became the sole aim, and competition its means. That’s when cracks started to appear in this fabled friendship. Friends became rivals. Selfishness set in. Self became more important. Ambition swallowed all else. The race to win meant running alone.
The 90s and perhaps a large part of the new century’s first decade saw the reign of insularity. People lived to work. Becoming a CEO by 30 was the intent. As the stereotype of that era characterised in the 2011 Bollywood hit movie Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara: slog and earn enough till 35, and then retire to enjoy it!
While the phenomenon lasted almost two decades, at the turn of the century, there were signs of change. Driven by growth frenzy in a 24x7 work culture marked by migrant societies and anxiety to achieve, there was an increasing evidence of isolation all around. The online space attempted to become a refuge for people to find friends. And the pent up needs for connecting saw the proliferation of networking sites.
People fought to manage their schizophrenic online existences on various networking interfaces, and social networking sites dislodged porn as the unchallenged numero uno of the online world. Facebook became a world parallel to online itself. Why, the last party we went to saw the first half hour spent in clicking pictures solely for the purpose of uploads.
However, as friends lists grew from 100s to 1,000s, and people went from searching for old friends, showing off possessions and vacations, to posting banal inanities, the elasticity of the online socialisation became suspect.
People, given the funnily strange dichotomy of lonely lives in a crowding world, had started to ache to connect back with people, in the real way. And that barometer of the socio cultural swings, the world of cinema, began to reflect it too. From Dil Chahta Hai to Rock On to Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara, and Rang De Basanti, 3 Idiots, and even Hangover in between, the message is clear — people had begun to want to bond in the real world, with real people, through real issues and interests.
The Diwali TV ad commercial of the culture brand Coke this year talked about adding two more lights to celebrate different fun places in a collegiate friendships. A fair number of Diwali messages themselves were about how lights grow upon sharing. The omnipresent fb in its new avatar has friends list modified into different types of friends — close friends, office friends, acquaintances, college friends, school friends. And the TV ad from Airtel has already got the nation musically appreciating “har ek friend zaroori hota hai’.
Social networking sites could surely take a cue and look at moving from a linear approach to segmented, finely targeted interest groups. Does this new social-cultural phenomenon have something to do with the saturation of the coaster’s angst? Perhaps those who drifted alone for long were eager to find ways to anchor themselves, acquiring self-fashioned friends through work, hobbies, sporting affiliations, getting involved in charities, even spirituality. They will continue to seek opportunities that nurse togetherness and companionship.
Looks like in the future, people will neither be about having it all nor getting there first. What will truly define the next generation is its ache to belong — in someplace, to something, for someone.