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Why some relationships capture the public imagination?

The grand passions of the last generation of stars seem to be a thing of the past

brunch Updated: Mar 10, 2018 23:30 IST
Seema Goswami
As far as grand passions go, for this generation there’s really not much to get too excited about
As far as grand passions go, for this generation there’s really not much to get too excited about(Getty Images )

So, Jennifer Aniston is single again – a few weeks ago she and her husband Justin Theroux put out a joint statement to say that they have decided to separate. Cue, a hundred thousand violins screeching sadly across the globe, to provide a musical counterpoint to our collective cry of ‘Poor old Jen’.

Yes, again. Poor old Jen! The phrase that first reverberated through the world when Brad Pitt left her for Angelina Jolie; the words that were used to describe her as she went from one doomed love affair to the other; they were pulled out yet again as another Aniston marriage came to an untimely end.

And close on the heels of the ‘Poor old Jen’ pity fest came the ‘Jen and Brad forever’ narrative. After all, the argument went, both Aniston and Pitt were single now. He had been dumped by the femme fatale he left his wife for. So, what better ending for their love story than that they reunite – this time for good.

It mattered little to media outlets and fans on Twitter that Jen and Brad have long since moved on from their starter marriage. It’s been more than 12 years since they were last together and in that time period they have (between them) notched up two spouses, six children and three – or is it five? – boyfriends.

But who cares about that? As far as the world at large is concerned, the Jen-Brad love story is one for the ages. And it seems blatantly unfair that it should end as it did. (Of course, there are as many people who feel the same way about the ‘Brangelina’ story and are waiting with bated breath for a reconciliation. But that, as the saying goes, is another story.)

What is it about some relationships that they capture the public imagination so vividly? Or, in other words, why do we get so invested in some love stories, though the principals are strangers to us and likely to remain so? Why do some lovers inspire us so that we cannot let them go, even long after they have left one another?

The only love story that has come close to capturing the public imagination in recent years is one between Anushka Sharma and Virat Kohli

I first remember asking myself these questions when that great screen and stage actor, Richard Burton, passed away in 1984. When he died, he was married to his third and last wife, Sally, and it had been eight years since he broke up with Elizabeth Taylor, his former wife (twice-over; they married, divorced, remarried, and divorced yet again). But if you had gone by the media coverage alone, you would have thought that it was Liz Taylor, not Sally, who was the grieving widow.

Much the same thing happened when Taylor herself died in 2011. She had been married eight times to seven men, and had acquired and lost two husbands after she divorced Burton the second and last time. But her obituaries concentrated not so much on the many husbands or her four children, but on the great love of her life, Richard Burton, who wrote her those amazing love letters, bought her the most spectacular jewellery, and loved her to his last, dying breath.

Closer home, you can see the same phenomenon at work. Catch any film awards show and you will find that as surely as night follows day, the camera will pan to Amitabh Bachchan in the audience when Rekha is on stage (and vice versa) to get a ‘reaction shot’. Sometimes it will pan a little further to focus on Jaya Bachchan, as she sits poker-faced, knowing full well that the slightest grimace or frown will launch a thousand gossip items.

Watching these shows, it seems hard to believe that the Amitabh-Jaya-Rekha love triangle ended about two decades ago (at least) given the iron grip it still has on our fevered imagination.

It says something about how fleeting and ephemeral the relationships of today’s stars seem by comparison that we really don’t feel too strongly about any pairing. Does anyone really care that Deepika Padukone had moved on from Ranbir Kapoor and is now dating Ranveer Singh? Does anyone even remember that Katrina Kaif and Salman Khan were once an item? And despite the media’s best efforts to whip up some hysteria about ‘Saifeena’, the Kareena and Saif Ali Khan coupling didn’t exactly set the world on fire.

The only love story that has come close to capturing the public imagination in recent years is the one between Anushka Sharma and Virat Kohli. And that may well be because between the two of them, they covered the two great passions of Indians: movies and cricket. So, their star power expanded exponentially when they came together, and set the world aflame.

But that’s as far as grand passions go for this generation.

Other than that there’s really not much to get too excited about, with the same names hooking up and unhooking from one another in an endless round of romantic musical chairs.

So, what explains the difference? Is it that the celebrities of today no longer have the same oversized love stories like their predecessors did, so they fail to light up our collective cerebral cortex? Or have the stars themselves lost their lustre in a world that moves on far too quickly to the next glittery thing?

I really don’t know what it is. But I do know it is something I will be thinking about – especially once the award season gets going, with its hardy perennial of the ‘Amitabh-Rekha-Jaya watch’.

From HT Brunch, March 11, 2018

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