WILL YOU BE MY FRANKENSTEIN?
By Dr Rachana Patni
February – being the month dedicated to love – is often something I look forward to, especially as my husband’s name is Valentine. However, in the last few years, something about the way in which it has been celebrated, and how it is represented in society, has been troubling me. The festival seems to isolate people who are not in relationships which is something that I have been particularly committed to challenging. In fact, I have been working on getting together a podcast series for February, that is dedicated to self-love, and highlights the diversity of love beyond couplehood. So, serendipitously, when I heard about the documentary The 14th February & Beyond (2020), I was intrigued to find out more.
This film has been produced with attention to technical sophistication and is dedicated to demonstrating the various ways in which Valentine’s Day in India (and elsewhere) is about everything but the celebration of love. It highlights the commercialisation of love, especially regarding what I think of as the ‘navratrification’ of Valentine’s Day by adding a whole week in advance of 14 February to buy a different thing each day including roses, teddies, and chocolate. It also highlights the crimes against women that are catalysed around Valentine’s day and the unparalleled access it gives boys and men to eve tease and harass women in public.
I learnt more from the Director Dr. Utpal Kalal, who had just witnessed a heartening reception of his film at the screening at the 51st International Film Festival of India. The lingering and loud applause gave him a sense that the message had really moved the audience. In our conversation, I found out that he had made good use of his med school years – to not just get his MBBS but also to study films – and had gone so far as to create his own curriculum built entirely on the free digital resources available to him. I have written before about the importance of films in creating empathy and Kalal was amazed to discover the genre of documentary film making, which he saw as an empathy-generator, and realised that this genre was his calling.
Kalal said, ‘I was brought up in a small village, and they used to publish romantic shaayari from guys who wanted to woo girls in the village. It used to be a big embarrassment for the girls as everyone was known by their first names. It would getting worse every year. Even when I went to study for my medical entrance exams in Kota, I noticed that in the coaching institutes, security personnel were deployed to prevent eve-teasing and molestation. Despite being an introvert, I also felt a strange feeling in February when I would notice my other friends had girlfriends.’
Instead of making the right-wing argument about Valentine’s Day being an anathema purely because of it being a western and liberal celebration, this film highlights the ways in which Valentine’s Day is more likely to bring experiences of violence and violation in the private lives of women. It was also interesting to see the global trends in women’s mental health and wellbeing being challenged, with victims of domestic violence feeling the urge to couple up with their abusers again, with jilted lovers resorting to acid attacks in India and shoot-outs in the United States, and with suicide lines noting a remarkable increase in the support needed by women around Valentine’s day.
Kalal’s documentary brings together the historical, psychological, sociological, political, and personal aspects that make Valentine’s Day about everything except about love. All of this left me feeling even more committed to doing something loving on Valentine’s Day. It would be great if we could dedicate Valentine’s Day to learning more about self-love, respect, and mutuality in affectionate relationships.
With Valentine’s Day around the corner, it would be important to take stock of how much we subscribe to the happy couple metaphor in making sense of a fulfilled life. More people than before are choosing to stay single or to engage in different forms of relationships that challenge ownership, heterosexuality, fidelity, and even proximity. What is this thing called love? It’s what you make of it!