What’s your favourite movie or TV show? Favourite song? Author? If there’s one thing you had to choose to eat forever, what would that be? These are only some of the questions you’ve probably asked—or have been asked— on first dates, at college, or in an icebreaker at a new job. Some responses might have been instant vetoes. Others probably made you wonder, “Wait, are we the same person?”
This behaviour is at large, according to the desi dating app, QuackQuack. In a survey of over 12,000 participants aged 18 to 32, nostalgia was identified as a powerful determiner of matchmaking among GenZ and millennials, suggesting how people find first interactions easier when there is common ground to bond over.
And what is more common in India than the fandom surrounding Shah Rukh Khan? For Shivani, a 23-year-old activewear designer, bonding over the superstar helped iron out the awkwardness of a first date with her now-partner. “We danced to Bollywood songs in a club after a date where we mostly talked about how we were big fans of Shah Rukh. That conversation gave me the chance to be vulnerable right at the get-go.”
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While the actor has had a big year at the box office, so has the bestselling book by Shrayana Bhattacharya, Desperately Seeking Shah Rukh. Molina Singh and Paridhi Puri, founders of ‘Delhi Reads,’ a New-Delhi based book club that meets monthly, tell me how the recent session where members discussed the book with the author in attendance sparked new connections: “Although reading is a very solitary exercise, every session has a moment when a book, quote, author, or actor is mentioned, and those who have embraced that similar piece of culture finally feel seen. That is incredibly precious to witness.”
What explains this instant bonding? In a study published by American Psychological Association’s Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, individuals possess a “deep inner core or essence” that shapes them and when they find people with a common, matching interest, they “reason that person will share their broader worldview.” The authors argue that “we often fill in the blanks of others’ minds with our own sense of self.”
Nowhere is this tendency to fill in the gaps for the other person more common than in romantic love.
Viraj Kapoor, 25-year-old digital marketer and writer from Kolkata and a die-hard Bollywood aficionado, tells me how the most romantic meet-cute of his life was predicated on months of bonding on Twitter over Hindi films. “Veer Zara is my favourite movie and she walked in a white suit with a blue dupatta, looking exactly like Zara.” He tells me how their bond, owing to their shared love for cinema, would not have existed had they not been equally passionate about inserting subtle Bollywood references in texts. “It feels like we’re living the same life, just in different bodies, across different cities.”
For others, like Tina, a 30-year-old former consultant from Gurugram, it’s more about filling the void of missing childhood in her adulthood. “Usually when I meet someone new and we get to talking about our childhood, if games like car-to-car or gallery come up, or if they had the same obsession with Fun Flips or Bytes, I instantly know we’ll hit it off. It’s like, through this new person, I can relive my childhood, which really helps because I don’t have any childhood friends to reminisce over those times with anymore.”
However, the argument then emerges: are we doomed to only ever love people just like us? Could we be depriving ourselves of different flavours of life by sticking to a palate we know we enjoy?
Maybe—but the opposite can be true, too. The opening up of the Indian markets in the '90s, the trickling in of international television, and the development of a ‘global culture’ has created cross-cultural reference points that allow for transatlantic bonds, as has been the case for Prakhar Khanna, 26, a freelance tech journalist from Noida. “My Mexican friend and I bonded over Friends, the TV show, in 2017 and have been ‘friends’ since. Our shared love for Joey’s character and for the show in general helped tide over our cultural and time zone differences. To this day, we’re always rooting for each other.”
Just as much as these canonical cultural checkpoints can smooth over differences, their popularity can also become exclusionary for disbelievers like Nimisha Ghorpade, a 32-year-old ESG consultant from Mumbai, who was left unimpressed by the cult-classic show. “It’s such a talking point that you feel a lot of judgement coming your way for not liking it,” she says.
For this reason, she has been wary of letting preferences in film or television impact her relationships, until the pandemic in 2020, when the Hallyu wave — the penetration of Korean drama, cuisine, and culture in India—provided her with her own in-group. “I put on my Instagram story that I was watching K-dramas and started exchanging notes about the shows with a group of 10-15 people. Because this happened in the loneliness of the pandemic, all because of K-dramas, I now had friends who lived right across the road after all my friends in the city had moved out.”
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If these cultural reference points are so fundamental to helping form and sustain new relationships, is it possible, then, that they also help improve familial communication, often most rife with miscommunication? In my own experience, listening to ABBA with my father and discussing classic literature or Marxist theories with my grandfather is how I bridge the age-gap in our individual experience to find a common ground.
For Gehna, a 25-year-old product marketer from Jalandhar, the love for cinema is closely tied with her love for her grandfather. “We used to have movie reruns of Shammi Kapoor’s An Evening in Paris (1967) or sometimes I watch him marvel at Sholay’s (1975) screenplay. I lost him when I was 13, but my connection with movies and music lets me take his love forward. I have a friend with whom I only talk about movies and shows. We don’t really bother talking about anything else.”
For Shivani, though, watching progressive cinema has helped improve her relationship with her parents. “Their sometimes-misogynistic mindset has changed largely because of the push to watch female oriented Hindi movies to make them understand visually what I can’t verbally explain.”
While it’s clear that films, music, TV shows, and popular food items have long united friends, lovers, families, these aren’t fool proof markers of matchmaking. The above cited study warns of the opposite effect: “We dislike those who we don’t think are like us, often because of one small thing—they like that politician, or band, or book, or TV show we loathe.”
However, since much of a relationship or friendship is about doing things you mutually enjoy, maybe it’s not the worst thing that some psychological makeup makes it so that we don’t develop a bond with those that would make us sit through eight seasons of a TV show we loathe.
Delhi-based Nona Uppal writes on love and relationships. She is on Instagram @nonauppal