23 July 2017 13:43:42 IST

There’s something about Radha

Of all the characters, how has Krishna’s lover come to acquire a cult status in Bollywood?

Imtiaz Ali’s next film, Jab Harry Met Sejal , releases next month. And it features a Sunidhi Chauhan song called Radha .

This Radha (played by Anushka Sharma) is dancing barefoot on the streets. She’s wearing a leather jacket and a little red dress. She’s singing loudly and joyously to a man, saying that she is in love.

That she’ll love him more than any of the other girls did. Suffer at his hands more than the other girls could. And she appears ecstatic about it. The man tells her he’s trouble. He asks her to stay away. She responds by romancing him louder.

Typically Radha — impractical and stubborn. Unfazed by how unlikely her love for Krishna can be. Or the fact that she’s married to another.

Hindi cinema has a rich history of Radhas. Radha alone, of all the characters our mythologies lend us, has acquired a cult status in Bollywood, on par with Heer-Ranjha and Romeo-Juliet.

This is not surprising. Radha, pre-Bollywood, was the face of the Bhakti movement. A movement that embraced all castes and religions, and celebrated pure devotion. The Bhakti movement has since waned, but Hindi cinema fills both shoes now. Uniting disparate communities and telling the stories of unlikely loves. And every now and then, Radha is remembered and her story retold.

Radha’s jealousy in Radha Kaise Na Jale (Gracy Singh in Lagaan ). Radha who likes to party in Radha Teri Chunari (Alia Bhatt in Student of the Year ). Radha who likes to dance in Radha Nachegi (Sonakshi Sinha in Tevar ).

Flirty Radha in Kahe Chhede Mohe (Madhuri Dixit in Devdas ). Teasing Radha in Mayya Yashoda (Karisma Kapoor in Hum Saath Saath Hain ). Annoyed Radha in Bol Radha Bol (Vyjayanthimala in Sangam ).

Sexy Radha in Bhor Bhaye Panghat Pe (Zeenat Aman in Satyam Shivam Sundaram). Devoted Radha in Mohe Panghat Pe (Madhubala in Mughal-e-Azam ).

Besides, Radha, neither righteous nor pure, hanging somewhere between heaven and earth — without divine powers, but not a mere mortal — doesn’t have to play by their rules.

Since she doesn’t claim to be perfect, or an ideal, she can make mistakes.

This is a luxury few women in Indian mythology have. Sita, stridently moral, would never love outside the construct of marriage, as Radha does. Nor could Draupadi waste away years singing love songs to Arjun — she had wifely duties to perform to him and four others, thank you very much. Likewise, Parvati believed no duty greater than serving husband.

Radha alone can love the implausible man, without judging herself for it. She can still celebrate her love in song and dance. And this singular fact — that she is as fallible as the rest of us — and at peace with it — is what makes her more accessible and real.

And so, Anushka Sharma headbanging into the wind, in a leather jacket and short red dress is Radha. Alia Bhatt in a Manish Malhotra lehenga wooing two men at once is Radha. Sonakshi Sinha singing ‘ Music bajega loud toh Radha nachegi’ (If the music is loud, Radha will dance) is also Radha.

Because Radha is imperfect, she is inclusive. She can carry on her shoulders the story of any woman in love. However daft. However broken. However foolish. However unapologetic.

There’s also the added practical benefit.

Where Ram Gopal Varma caused outrage for tweeting about Ganesha’s paunch, MF Hussain for painting Bharat Mata nude, Fortune magazine by portraying Jeff Bezos as a modern-day Vishnu, Katy Perry by instagramming an image of Kali (Caption: “current mood”), an Australian fashion designer who “strained Indo-Australian diplomatic relations” by featuring Lakshmi on a swimsuit, a Swachh Bharat ad that portrayed Kangana Ranaut as the goddess of wealth and prosperity riding pillion on a scooter, the forces that be leave Radha well alone. She can wear a little red dress without raising as much as an eyebrow.

Remember, Radha and Krishna were appropriated by the Beatles and their fellow hippies decades ago, and there’s nothing to be done about it now.

And, anyhow, Radha doesn’t fully abide by the limited modern idea of a Hindu woman in love. She, therefore, does not matter.

By the laws of nature, things that are rigid, break easily. And those that are flexible, adapt and survive. So it follows that while the fates of our other gods may be endangered by the politicking hands of those who constrict them and perfect them without understanding them, Radha’s is not. Radha’s is ours.

A little girl imitating Karisma Kapoor in the mirror can be Radha. Your friend on the night of her wedding to someone she doesn’t know can be Radha. You, while listening to the radio and thinking wistfully of the One That Got Away, are Radha.

With no agencies constricting her legacy, Radha will feed off the stories she carries. The stories of our times. Our loves — right, wrong and plain old pointless.

And with every new story her legacy will grow richer.

Braver. Bigger. Louder. With more dancing.

(Sneha Vakharia is a Bengaluru-based freelance writer. The article first appeared in The Hindu BusinessLine.)