In a scene from Zee5’s Saas Bahu Achaar Pvt. Ltd,, Shuklaji, played by Anandeshwar Dwivedi, tells his friend about a book he once tried to sell for months in vain. “Then I thought to myself, I must read this book to see why no one wanted to buy it,” he says to Suman (Amruta Subhash), his soon-to-be business partner. It’s a scene that echoes the character’s ethos through the most literary of subtexts. Out of curiosity, he chooses to read a book that does not sell, rather than the many that usually do or would have. Shuklaji is an anomaly, a rarest of rare meteor sighting in the night sky of Indian culture and cinema. He is a 42-year-old man who lives in Purani Dilli and represents the elusiveness of life’s many franchises—money, class and quite possibly, caste. But he also embodies the rare breed of disenfranchisement that Hindi cinema has, over decades, invisibilised through the youthfulness of pursuing love, and the wisdom of sustaining families. He, in fact, represents the disenchanted middle—people to whom life, as cinema has often exhibited—simply doesn’t happen.
True to India’s cinematic tradition, our protagonist can only exist in two states—in pursuit of love or falling out of it. Which relegates the middle-aged—the 40s and 50s—to the kind of decorative erasure that really only sparkles with life in the context of an affair or a scandal. Men and women in their 40s and 50s are possibly considered literary paperweights, there to convey the sanctity of the room—read family—by appearing as an imposing form of social furniture. Even in Sooraj Barjatya’s cinema, where marriage and family collide as one big cosmic event of ecstasy and hallucination, the middle ages are conveniently either absent or make up the backstage to a more youthful story. Sure, Hindi cinema has matured enough, thanks largely to the films of Gulzar that question the many antecedents of the happily-ever-after narrative, but there has always been the invocation of a variety of sacredness to that line of questioning. As in, love and marriage are inevitable but necessary dramas, until they are also interpreted as tragedies.