Jane Austen’s Emma/ Sonam Kapoor’s Aisha: In which I discover that happy endings can disgust me too.

On the rare weekend nights when the moon is already halfway across the sky and the Harlem skyline is still dotted with the lights of nocturnal overtime, I decided to lull myself to sleep with Jane Austen’s Emma.

To those who haven’t yet read it, don’t. It is tediously long and easily my least favorite of all of Austen’s works. As an Austen novel, I understand that there’s a special emphasis on dinners, manners, other people’s problems and gossipy village life. There’s also a focus on the marriage potential of every single lady of age in town and often it is inversely proportional to the number of young interested men in said town. I respected the book as well I could, given that these events must have been worth constructing a plot about in the late eighteenth century, when women really did not enjoy as much freedom in choice of employment.

Even with this wide margin, the book was getting tedious on several dimensions and I saw no reason why it had to be stretched out over three volumes. I was about to abandon it (and it would have been the first ever book I will have picked up and not read), when a friend recommended a different method of absorbing the story: The Bollywood movie Aisha. Based on Austen’s Emma, the lovely Sonam Kapoor proceeded to play a character that I intensely hated for the entire first half and then completely pitied for the rest.

Let me clarify. This is not a movie review or even a book review. Personally, I have nothing against Sonam Kapoor, as I rather admire her for being an expressive lady. But I am seriously displeased with several aspects that the movie highlighted and expected us to take for granted.

I could excuse Austen’s Emma for literally not having a life and therefore desperately seeking some form of amusement. But the Aisha Kapoor, the fancy rich girl who is too prone to pity anything that is mildly middle-class and views her amusement as “social service” was incredibly hard to swallow. Let me not even get into questioning her philosophy about love and life. She doesn’t have a job, lives almost completely off an extremely doting father’s money and spends the most of her days in malls and boutiques, when she could be making so much more of herself. The sort of idleness that makes my skin crawl.

There is literally a segment in the movie when she takes offense at Arjun Burman (The Mr. Knightley equivalent of the novel) calling her “shallow”. Please explain to me how she is not. Her cousin is declared pathetic because she is traditional and conservative. Dhruv Singh (Mr. Frank Churchill of the novel) is labeled boring and nerdy when he was trying to work hard, but now is declared “hot” because he opens the door for women semi-nude. She is jealous of the girl who is Mr. Knightley’s companion (Aarti Menon/Jane Fairfax) because her legs are long, she works with Arjun and she has a New York accent. She gets annoyed with everyone for not obeying her rules. She is selfish, self-centered and gets away with things that are downright objectionable.

Despite this, Mr. Knightley/Arjun Burman is miraculously in love with her.

A bold, brave, honorable and accomplished “true gentleman” in Austen’s words rendered well by Abhay Deol is constantly by her side, making sure she is always extricated out of trouble. All he gets for his friendship are her snarky comments at his female friends. All he gets for his love is the perpetual bickering that is not even cute enough for children, let alone full-grown adults.He has a life, hobbies, talents, manners and a job. It is boggling my mind to understand why a guy like him would settle for someone like Aisha.

There is another part of the movie when Aisha is stinging from some well-meant (and well-deserved) criticism from Arjun and she snorts into her pillow saying, “He’s just a Wharton graduate who makes money. What does he know about love and life?” Because this movie shows that obviously, Wharton alumni clearly have no idea what making good decisions are about. In the spirit of a world-class management education, explain to me why, after having an education that is so expansive and coming across people who are no doubt equally accomplished in an international environment, why would you settle for a spoilt child like Aisha?

Dude, seriously. get out of the screen and explain this to me. I study at an Ivy League university, I know what I’m talking about. What makes you think that all of the experiences that I’ve had here about growing up as a person will be nullified once I graduate?

The answer as the movie elaborately throws into my face is that they are childhood friends. They have known each other since forever, and she has been the one to “teach him how to laugh at life”. Now, I’m not denying that relationships do blossom out of well-maintained childhood friendships. I would have tried to be less caustic about the movie if they had just started dating. But no. THEY MARRIED. He literally made the best management decision of his life and decided to spend the rest of his life pandering to the amusement of the Aisha.

This is not something casual because of a physical attraction or whatever. Do you really think that marriage will make her more mature? Less self-centered? Less obsessed with the pathetic, shallow and materialistic things about life? Do you, Mr. Knightley, feel that your well-meant advice will be heard and do you really want to take on the additional responsibility of such a fragile temperament when life gets tough?  Also, how do you determine whom you marry as a child? The reason such instances are statistically rare is because people grow up and grow into wiser adults. Arjun/Mr. Knightley just lost all my respect by choosing her among the milieu.

The movie and the book talk a lot about class. About how to find people in your own tier. The Harriet Smith/Shefali Thakur character is made an example of. A simple-minded “lower-class” girl is taught how to live the rich life and forced to believe that she will find someone who is the son of a millionaire to marry her. Now, I don’t take much stock in these social stratifications. Because my “class distinctions” are based more on what comes out of your mouth and what you have to say and think than what you wear or the paycheck of your parents. The intellectual wavelengths of Arjun and Aisha are too disparate to be reconciled with love. I, for one, would hate to be trapped into marriage with someone who is incapable of deciding what to do with her life beside spending her father’s money.What of the class distinctions here? Why not marry the accomplished New York expatriate instead of this bumbling shopaholic?

I will finish up this rant with another about happy endings. To be honest, one of the reasons why I enjoy Austen is because I’m certain that there’s a happy ending. This has to be the first Austen book where I have despised the protagonist so much that I wished Mr. Knightley didn’t step in and “save her” from being single. On the other hand, maybe Mr. Knightley did us all a favor and stopped her from setting up other people’s marriages and not giving a fig for their feelings because she knows what’s best, don’t you know? Basically, this happy ending says that if you’re doing nothing with your life, try to get snarky, jealous and childish around your now-rich childhood friend and they shall marry you because of your astounding earth-shattering beauty and your supposed good-will fueled out of pity and not the genuine wish to see others do better.

Ugh. It’s too late for me now to deal with this. Emma/Aisha has ruined my night. I might as well sleep it off. Goodnight.

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