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How The Romance Narrative in Kal Ho Naa Ho Reduces Naina's Character to a Damsel in Distress

The movie "Kal Ho Naa Ho," despite its immense popularity and acclaim, presents a Romance Narrative that is problematic in its portrayal of gender dynamics. Gender roles follow a stereotypical plot line - the film presents an empathetic mother, a pain-in-the-neck grandmother, a female lead who is independent but needs “saving”, a fat friend who is constantly body-shamed - the list goes on. The film, set against the vibrant backdrop of New York City, tells the story of Naina, a young, independent woman, and Aman, the charismatic male lead who enters her life and becomes her Prince Charming. On the surface, Kal Ho Naa Ho appears to celebrate Naina's strength and independence. However, a deeper analysis reveals a troubling undercurrent in the way her growth is depicted.

Naina, initially portrayed as a strong and independent character, is shown to be grappling with various challenges in her life. She deals with constant bickering between her mother and grandmother at home, works and is enrolled in an advanced level MBA course class. She acts as a pillar of support to her siblings and ensures her household does not fall apart after the death of her father. While this portrayal is empowering, the narrative gradually undermines her independence by positioning Aman as the key to resolving her struggles. Aman, with his larger-than-life persona, not only invades Naina's space but also assumes the role of her protector and guide. He takes charge of changing her outlook on life, implying that her strength is insufficient without his intervention. Naina’s characteristics paint a false sense of independence which disintegrates as soon as Aman is introduced. The audience often seems to overlook this pseudo-power and mistakes Naina for having substance.

This dynamic becomes problematic as it perpetuates the stereotype that a woman, regardless of her own strength, ultimately needs a man to 'fix' her life. The film, under the guise of romance, subtly enforces the idea that a woman's independence is incomplete without male validation and support. Aman's role in Naina's transformation overshadows her own agency, reducing her to a character who is strong, but not strong enough to handle her life without a man's guidance.


Moreover, the narrative romanticizes Aman's overbearing involvement in Naina's life, blurring the lines between caring and controlling behavior. His actions are portrayed as romantic and selfless, overshadowing the importance of Naina's consent and choice. Aman’s character can be read alternatively - he is a mansplaining, misogynistic guy who justifies his actions via his illness. This aspect of their relationship, often overlooked by the audience, raises concerns about the message it sends regarding gender roles and relationships.



In conclusion, while "Kal Ho Naa Ho" is celebrated for its heartwarming story and memorable music, its Romance Narrative is problematic. It undermines the female lead's independence by depicting her as ultimately dependent on the male lead for her happiness and fulfilment. This portrayal reinforces outdated gender stereotypes and overlooks the importance of a woman's autonomy in a romantic relationship.


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Favorite movie since childhood, but never reflected and thought about all these things before. A good read! I never reflected and thought about the problems in the movie "Kal Ho Naa Ho." I really like how you have portrayed how Naina, the main female character, starts as a strong and independent person but ends up needing Aman, the male lead, to solve her problems. This makes it seem like she can't manage on her own. The story suggests that a woman's strength isn't enough without a man's help, which is an old-fashioned idea. I think it's not right that the movie downplays Naina's independence and makes it seem like she needs a man to be happy. In the Pakistani context,it…

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Annum Shehryar
Annum Shehryar
Dec 01, 2023

This film was a childhood favorite of mine due to the song/performance delivery and comedic nature of multiple characters, especially Aman. I used to view Aman as a charming, charismatic guy who moves into the neighborhood to spread joy and foster community, however, there were times I did find his behavior irritating and questionable when he would pop out of nowhere and pry into Naina's life. After reading your perspective I thought about how Naina could have had so much potential in her growth if it wasn’t for Aman's saviorism. It is quite interesting how you were able to pick up these red flags that would often go overlooked

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Mahnoor Zafar
Mahnoor Zafar
Dec 01, 2023
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I share the same perspective! Watching this movie as a young girl, I liked Aman's character a lot. It is only now that I have rewatched the movie as an adult where I have been able to pick up the flags in his characters. I think one reason for that is the lack in diverse perspectives in films. Watching Aman, I thought this is how men are supposed to act, and was not able to question other male characters who shared similar overwhelming characteristics. Media products also tend to enforce entrenched stereotypes which makes the spotting of red flags ever more difficult.

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Having watched this movie for about 10 times now, its really surprising how I never looked at it from this point of view. I think one of the main reasons is that Bollywood movies have repeatedly reiterated the idea that a man comes in and all the problems of the woman disappears. This narrative have existed for so long that it has become hard to identity it as a problematic representation of women. Naina’s character had so much potential and the fact that it got reduced to the impact Aman’s character has on her life is disappointing.

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Mahnoor Zafar
Mahnoor Zafar
Dec 01, 2023
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Exactly! I have watched this movie so many times but never actually realised the impact of Aman's character. Watching it again from a more critical lence made me realise how Naina was simply a passion project for Aman to fulfil his desire to be "bubbly and helpful". The narrative of the movie unfolds in a way that it puts a lot of emphasis on Naina - it is supposedly her story about her struggles and is narrated by her. However, on a closer look, the real focus on the story is how Aman helps everyone to appease himself and "justify" his existence. I do applaud the film makers for the way they give so much importance to Naina through-out (thus…


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Growing up watching this movie, I never looked at it through this lens. Your analysis made me feel more aware of the subtle messages conveyed in popular films and the importance of critically evaluating media content. It also evoked a sense of hope that such discussions might lead to a greater awareness and demand for more balanced and realistic portrayals of women in cinema. What resonated with me the most is the exploration of the subtle ways in which popular films can influence societal perceptions of gender roles. Your blog effectively highlights the discrepancy between the portrayal of female strength and the underlying message that a woman still needs a man to 'complete' her life. This narrative, as you rightly…

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Mahnoor Zafar
Mahnoor Zafar
Dec 01, 2023
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You are so right in pointing out how such media products really do disservice to the understanding of female autonomy. Bollywood has produced films like Bachna Ae Haseeno, Dabangg, Kalank, Dear Zindagi - and so many more - in the recsent past where the female characters have initially been shown as independent individuals, in charge of their own lives but who eventually meet the male lead and realise how their lives were "lacking" and needed saving. The worst part is, how we as the audience, have internalised this under the table misogyny and think it is normal to see such narratives.

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This was a really interesting piece. I appreciate and agree with your analysis of how the romance narrative portrayed in Kal Ho Na Ho is deeply problematic. This idea of a man falling in love with an independent woman, but then later subverting any control resting with the woman and instead shifting the power dynamics in his own favor, is also something that we just discussed in our class on how there is a need to "slash the romance narrative" (mentioned by Ann Kustritiz). It's also interesting how most TV shows/dramas/movies almost always show the women as being 'weak' when in love with a man, while men are showed as 'strong and assertive' when in love with a woman. In…

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Mahnoor Zafar
Mahnoor Zafar
Nov 27, 2023
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I believe in order to analyse the reasons behind this binary, we need to look deeper into the wider context in which media products in South Asia are perceived. This binary is a recurrent idea which can be seen in other Bollywood films as well. For instance, Geet in Jab We Met loses her sense of self-fulfilment as she falls in love with Anshuman first, and then Aditya. Another example would be how Anjali loses her sense of self and completely transforms herself as she falls in love with Rahul in Kuch Kuch Hota Hai. This binary has existed for a very long time and can be one of the reasons why they are still so prevalent in media products…

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