Bollywood Made Me Question The Romance Of Romeo & Juliet

Our resident guru on all things romance, Renu, gives us a radical Romeo & Juliet interpretation. 

Recently I watched a Bollywood film titled Ishaqzaade, which – loosely translated – means ‘Love, Rebels’.

The movie told of two families of opposing cultural tribes (Hindu and Muslim), in which the black sheep defy all odds and fall in love with each other – a classic, can’t-do-wrong plot.

A plot that is identical to Romeo & Juliet. But what I thought was just another adaption of Shakespeare’s play turned out to be something far more pertinent.

The name Romeo & Juliet makes girls (and guys) sigh and scoff in equal measure. William Shakespeare’s most ‘romantic’ play portrays an infamous act of love, rebellion and lust, some finding the suicides of the besotted pair beautiful, others stupid.

My entire life I have grasped at, and adored, every version that offered itself to me. I have read the play and seen three adaptions; Baz Lurhman’s Modern-Mafia take, that old one with the Zac Efron lookalike, and even more recently the adaptation starring Douglas Booth. All the while I have longed for my Romeo, questioning whether or not I would ever die for love as Juliet for he. And the answer was a hands-down yes! Okay…sort of yes.

Throughout cinema’s history the Romeo & Juliet concept has been memorably re-imagined many times; West Side StoryGnomeo and Juliet… Even The Lion King 2 was loose interpretation.

But the re-imagining in Ishaqzaade is far less glamorous. 

Gnomeo and Juliet
Gnomeo and Juliet

Straying from the basic plot, our Romeo decides to ‘trick’ Juliette into falling in love with him, getting married under the watch of both Hindu and Muslim Gods, along with blackmailing her family into dropping out of the upcoming county elections so his father can win. Extreme and brash, his actions lead to his mother dying and the families agreeing to kill their children as punishment for their actions…before carrying on as usual.

The film has a strong, underlying message: thousands of couples in India are banished/killed/scorned by society and their families because of their interracial love. The film calls for change in society, to accept and embrace love of all sorts regardless of religion, cultural or status.

After seeing Ishaqzaade, I questioned the romance of Romeo & Juliet. I realised that the story has been over romanticised through the years, sweetened up to show love as we want to accept it; fatally, heartbreakingly passionate…

But for thousands of people in India and all over the world, Romeo & Juliet is quite literally the story of their life, without the any happy reconciliation or starstruck romance.