Throwback Thursday: Kya Kehna’s Take On Pre-Marital Sex And Out Of Wedlock Pregnancy Is Relevant Even Today
When I was a kid my family was thoroughly careless about what I was watching on TV. I have watched movies that were meant for 13+ and 18+ audiences when I clearly not that old. Although I feel none of it really affected me because let’s face it – kids do watch horror movies that are meant for adults. But there are subjects that a child will probably not understand and as a society that gets uncomfortable with a lot of things, adults won’t either. So I watched Kya Kehna when I was nine and it dealt with pre-marital sex and teen pregnancy. I loved it even back then, although I had no understanding of what they did to make that baby. But I knew our society says babies are supposed to be made after marriage so more or less, I got it right.
Kya Kehna was supposed to be Preity Zinta’s debut film but it took Kundan Shah four years to make it. He has also made Kabhi Haan Kabhi Naa, which is another film that was ahead of its time and has an unconventional and satisfying end. It wasn’t one of those misogynistic films we see so often in Indian cinema where a guy stalks a woman and lies, cheats and that is all okay because he is in love. It is not about vengeance, bruised ego, and encouraging male entitlement. Yes, Kya Kehna too has men who handle rejection well and that is one of the aspects that is so refreshing.
The film traces the journey of a vivacious young girl, Priya (Preity Zinta), and how she navigates through the unexpected obstacles in her life. She returns home from hostel life and pursues her graduate studies in her home town. She is loved and pampered by her family in their humble but beautiful home where love and joy never cease to exist. Ajay (Chandrachur Singh) is her childhood friend also referred to as Phoolchand for his special talent of appearing anywhere, anytime with a bouquet of flowers. He is a decent guy and secretly loves Priya. But as most of us women regret, we always fall for the charms of the bad guy and so does Priya. She falls for Rahul (Saif Ali Khan), unaware of his shady reputation and as relationships go, indulges in physical intimacy with him.
Depiction of physical intimacy
Well, things begin to fall apart as we know that Rahul isn’t the kind to offer commitment and responsibility but she doesn’t. so while she is getting excited that stud boy Rahul is falling for her, she doesn’t know that he sees her as one of the many girls he goes around doing. Unaware of his intentions, she catches the feelings and then is okay to have sex with him and that seems just right. Her mind isn’t clouded by what the society thinks about the chastity of a woman and how being touched by her lover will make her “impure” in the eyes of the world. For her, she was making love and the world didn’t matter. Bollywood isn’t really good at showing physical intimacy but in this movie, Shah did step it up a notch, considering the progressive nature of the entire film. No, there were two flowers mating or kisses under a dupatta. They did it in a public place, over the hills, behind a tree as the camera pans across to show us their clothes lying on the ground and their fingers intertwining. Eventually, you can see them cuddling post-coitus, naked but not exposed. I bet, audiences in the theatre went like woah, what just happened? And these are the same people who are married and have had like three children and now acting coy at the mere implication of sex.
Pre-marital sex and pregnancy
Kundan Shah handled this so brilliantly. He isn’t promoting teen pregnancy but through the movie, he disses people’s mindset of calling pre-marital sex a sin. When her family finds out she is pregnant, they feel worried and end up begging Rahul to marry her. They fail to see that throwing her into the arms of a man like that will only make her life worse. When she refuses to abort the child and chooses to continue with the pregnancy, she is shunned by her family. But soon after they realise and bring her back home after singing “apna koi jaisa bhi ho apna hai who dujaa nahi”. I am sorry but what do you mean “jaise bhi ho”? Like basically you’re saying she is fucked up but we love her so we will support her. If it was another family’s daughter, they would be shaming her like others were. We are all part of the same toxic culture. But still, they supported her and that too is a big step because we live in a country where people are killed just for choosing her own husband.
Society’s impact on mental health
Today when I watched the movie again, 20 years later I still cannot help but cry during Priya’s monologue on why she chose to not abort her baby. This is right after her college mates did a skit on a woman named Priya who gets pregnant out of wedlock and commits suicide. Like how insensitive can you be? Anyhoo, Priya chooses to take a stand against this systematic attack on her mental health wherein a group of people is implying that pre-marital sex and pregnancy are so shameful that the woman has no choice but to end her life. Throughout the sad second half of the film, Priya is a pregnant woman who is constantly under stress and depression, not because she has guilt. But because society wants her to feel ashamed of herself and her unborn child. During her monologue, she says if she had a marriage certificate the same people who are shunning her would have been taking care of her. Does she not deserve that care and respect because the father doesn’t want the child? She also points out that nobody will ever shame the father because he isn’t the one with a pregnant belly. The audience realises that they have been a dick to her. And with that, we realise that any of us can be assholes to another person’s mental health. These aren’t monsters; they are just people whose views are clouded by the traditional concepts that engulf our society.
The abortion debate
In her monologue, Priya says she thought over the choice given to her by Rahul and her parents. Everyone wanted her to abort the child because yes, being a single mother is tough. But she was a strong woman and she had faith she could do it. However, in the movie, she said that it would have been a sin to abort the child. This leaves room for debate but it also makes abortion a personal choice. It emphasizes that a woman is the sole owner of her body and only she has the right to make decisions concerning herself. Whether she is pro or anti-abortion, it’s her body, her rules.
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It empowers women with choice
Priya’s monologue was like a crash course on self-awareness for fuckboi, Rahul. He realises what a gem Priya is and what an ass he is. A man has the right to choose how involved he wants to be with the pregnancy as much as the woman has the right to choose whether she wants it or not. However, Rahul had clearly taken advantage of Priya’s naivety and been absolutely insensitive towards her, even after finding out she is pregnant. Ajay on the other hand has been there for her throughout. In the end, when she is met with a choice between Rahul and Ajay, she chooses Ajay. She says that she doesn’t want to spend her life with someone she doesn’t respect, even if he is the biological father of the child. Women don’t have to settle for a man like that out of helplessness. Women are strong enough to choose to raise the child single-handedly until someone worth her time comes along. Kya Kehna’s Priya is a strong woman who inspires us to fight for what we have faith in!