Shaadi films

I am an NRI, translated into: no-real Indian. I follow Indian cinema in my quest to find only one million original films before humanity as we know it disappears. I will use the term Indian cinema sparingly because I only have access to Hindi films, not Bengali, Tamil, Telugu, Urdu, Marathi, Kannada, Gujarati and other languages.

People around the world do not like or are suspicious of one another because they misuse the forest. I equate the world to a forest, with many trees that provide medicine for various ailments, headaches, insomnia, flu etc. There is bound to be chaos and mayhem when a particular tree declares that it is superior and gives all others derogatory names.

That is what happens to Indian and Zulu culture and marriage in particular. People outside these cultures criticise arranged marriages and the tradition of ilobolo, respectively. Traditionally, Africans in South Africa used ilobolo, a certain number of cattle to cement the bond created by a man and woman in love.

Cattle gave Africans life, the same way the buffalo in North America gave life to First Nations such as Cree, Assiniboine, Ojibwe, Sioux and Huron before they lost their land and languages to guns from Europe. Indeed, the language isiZulu is full of references to cattle. Therefore, ilobolo should be seen in that context. Films are fiction, but they might be based on real life for example, marriage.

The arranged marriage is the staple food in Hindi films, and the more films I see, the more I learn about another aspect that I didn’t know about. Indian films such as Hum Dil De Chuke Sanaam, Vivah and Paa have given me a better understanding of Hindi marriage (shaadi).

There is a scene in Hum directed by Sanjay Leela Bhansali, where Nandini (Aishwarya Rai) explains to Sameer (Salman Khan) the vows couples make as they go around the fire when they get married. In Shaad Ali Sahgal’s film Bunty aur Babli, Rani Mukherjee and Abhishek Bachchan are Bonnie and Clyde characters, on the run from the law. They marry each other by going around a malnourished fire with no friends and families to witness their union.

In Paa, Auro’s mother Bum (Arundhati Naag) explains to the little boy why the seven steps are important. The best way to explain Zulu marriage is a line from Sooraj Barjatya’s film Vivah. Poonam (Amrita Rao) and Chhoti ( Amrutha Prakash) are cousins, brought up like sisters by Chhoti’s father Krishnakant (Alok Nath), who is Poonam’s uncle. His wife Radna (Seema Biswas) never liked the beautiful little girl who came to live with them when her husband’s brother and his wife died.

Radna becomes even more jealous when Poonam becomes engaged to Prem (Shahid Kapoor), the son of a rich man Harishchandra (Anupam Kher). She tells her husband that he should have thought about the dowry when he agreed to the marriage. “I won’t let you squander all we have. Our daughter is yet to marry.” Harischandra comes in and reassures them that he doesn’t want any dowry. “Krishnakant, just give Prem a rupee and a coconut and accept him into your family. We just want Poonam.”

The film Hum Saath-Saath Hain also has a scene where an elder breaks a coconut at the door, before the engagement. I’m outside, looking into Indian culture, so I don’t know the symbolism behind the coconut, but it seems to be extremely important.

The African marriage and ilobolo is what Harischandra is talking about, the bride’s acceptance into her husband’s family. The various aspects of ilobolo cement the union of the two families, thanking the girl’s parents for raising someone who will bring them joy and bear them children. Ilobolo also serves as an e-mail to ancestors announcing a new family member. It is not buying a woman, as it is mistakenly put by educated Africans, and people outside the culture.

Christian Themba Msimang in his book Kusadliwa Ngoludala, gives a detailed account of the various cattle, their sex and even colours used to complete the full marriage circle. His book is in Zulu, but a sentence on page 265, second paragraph can be loosely translated into, “Secondly, ilobolo is a way of thanking the girl’s parents for bringing up someone who will leave her home and go and build another family.”

I find it interesting that marriage is shaadi in Hindi. It is called umshado in Zulu (it has many other terms). The process of getting married is ukushada, and someone who is married is described as ushadile. This happens after ukweshela – where the boy presents his case to the girl who caught his eye – and ukuqoma, where the girl says yes. Parents take over after that, and arrange ilobolo and other customs related to marriage.

AmaZulu used cattle as ilobolo, and every animal had a reason tied to it. The Dutch and the British came with coins and paper called money, which took ilobolo out of context and resulted in the wrong impression that it is system of buy and sell.
Marriage as a union between two families is manifested in many ways, one of the reasons why I can relate to Indian cinema and Hindi films in particular.

In the film Saathiya, Aditya (Vivek Oberoi) and Suhani (Rani Mukherjee) meet at a wedding. She is in the bride’s party which tries to outdo him and the groom’s party in song and dance, something that still happens in rural South Africa. Indeed, what I liked about Mira Nair’s film, Monsoon Wedding were the songs, which simulated the bride’s life after marriage. Such interplay is long dead in urban South Africa, but limps along in the countryside.

The scene in WAQT, where Aditya (Akshay Kumar) and Pooja (Priyanka Chopra) arrive home to announce that they married themselves is reminiscent of urban South Africa, where couples sometimes opt for that route. If they want to involve parents, they more or less decide whether they want a western wedding, traditional or both. They also determine the issue of ilobolo, to have it or not.

Nonqaba is the author of Sweetness the novel, published by Dorrance.


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