About a year ago, I remember watching an old Tamil classic film on Video with Shivaji Ganesan in the lead with a group of teenagers. It was a heavy emotional drama but every time the hero would be at his finest in the portrayal of some deep sadness or affection or love, the youngsters would go into peals of laughter and comment on the excessive dramatisation of quotidien emotions. I remember seeing the same film when I was about their age and it all seemed so appropriate at that time. We believed nobody else could express emotions as naturally as this actor. And then I also remembered that I have actually seen people in real life who displayed emotions openly and without restraint - they shouted in anger, they laughed loudly, they wept hysterically - in short they were not ashamed to display their emotions publicly at least within their inner circle. We`were not excessively polite and did not believe in using a voice that did not betray deep emotions.

I suppose this younger generation is not used to such unfettered theatrical display of emotions in their day to day interactions. Conversations at all levels are more polite and restrained, crying publicly is a sign of weakness, raising your voice is rude - there is a general dilution of drama in life. Even occasions with scope for high emotional drama are resolved across the table like diplomatic negotiations between foreign secretaries.

Love triangles are resolved by the loser understanding that the other two are right for each other and actually blessing them. Emotions like possessiveness, jealousy are becoming outmoded. In fact one of my friends was slightly concerned about the recent trend when people divorce amicably and remain friends. She says that it is a matter of concern that people do not seem to be fighting hard to save their marriage, they give up easily and a little possessiveness might actually help save the marriage. Interesting thought!

It is a matter of perspective whether the lessening of drama through softening of passions is good or bad. It might be a cultural trait and with increasing westernisation, the educated younger generation might have acquired the traits of another culture. It might also be that as reason takes over in relationships, there may be less room and need for such emotions. This came up when I mentioned this to a group of friends when one of them said that "it is a sign of evolution."

As human beings evolve, do they become less emotional and more rational? By the same logic, would highly evolved beings be somewhat like the character so brilliantly portrayed by Dustin Hoffman in the film Rainman or the character Christopher in the novel The curious incident of the dog in the night-time?
would they be personifications of kindness as in this poem by Naomi Shihab Nye?
19 Responses
  1. Hip Grandma Says:

    Lack of emotions is a disappointing trend that one is forced to confront these days.POliteness and civil behaviour does not mean that people don't have anything against one another.It is only covered up.It may come out elsewhere in some other form and this may not be goodvfor society.

  2. is it the ego play? no one wants teh other to know how much things (marriage) means to him/ her..

  3. GuNs Says:

    Rather than a sign of the times, its a sign of the place. I mean, in the villages, people are still the same and as much capable of showing emotion as they were 20 years ago. How do you explain the extreme popularity of Mithun's films in the rural areas?

    Just my thought.

  4. Anonymous Says:

    Its not always about lacking in such feelings,evolution of being better? or worse? We as humans are gifted with such traits which probably no other being on the earth is known to posess.There might be more civility and difference in approach in such matters like divorce or emotional breakups,But then mostly its a sham,Todays generation is more equipped with the strength of bearing it deep inside instead of an outburst which was easier.They hide it,and they do so verywell.
    Ushaji,last two yrs i must have read thousands of blogs,most of them portray how lonely and bitter they feel,but when you meet them in person you see a diff person altogether, who lives life with confidence, bindaas attitude,but end of the day when he pours out his heart in form of a blog or maybe other means,he/she is the same as people were a generation back,Just that the style might differ:) Well,own exp maybe:)
    And coming to feelings like jealousy, selfishness,They exist, and at high rate than before,more vicious and more dangerous in some cases. Human evolment is not taking away the emotions from us,its giving us new means of using it,showcasing it or in somecases,hiding it.

    I am not able to comment on Non Beta blogs:( so anon comments now.


  5. Decades ago, when I saw the Tamil movie, "Nenjil Or Alayam" I was so moved by the protagonist, a doctor, who sacrificed his life to save that of his ex-lover's husband who was his cancer patient, that I vowed to become a doctor (I did not, but that's a different story). During my recent visit to my mother in Chennai, I got to see this movie again on TV. My reactions were totally different. I was both amused and repulsed by the melodrama. With what I now know about cancer and its treatment, I thought the death of the doctor due to overwork was an impossible scenario, and quite obviously hyped. My reactions to the so-called mega-serials on the small screen were identical. I may sound snobbish, but I am amazed at how people can sit and watch episodes after episodes of this trite. I don't belong to the new generation that you refer to, nor do I represent an evolutionary jump in the use of reason — on a lighter note, check this out. You may say I am "westernized", having spent nearly half my life in the US.

    American movies of the 50's and earlier, were quite melodramatic, too. Just a few examples — Casablanca, Gone With the Wind, Qué Será Será, and even Love Story as late as in the sixties. I agree that public display of certain emotions were less even in these dramas, and that may be cultural. The contrast between the cinematic portrayal of death in the American and Indian cinema is quite stark indeed. It's quite the reverse, though, when it comes to the public display of sexual feelings. Italians, of course, are quite loud and emotional even about food, at least in the movies. Generalization that "westernization" tends to result in the suppression of deeper emotions, therefore, may be erroneous.

    I conjecture that there's something else that's at play in the manner in which the younger generation approaches social conflicts - exposure to and learning from a broader and more complex range of social situations, and how they are handled in different cultures, factually or fictionally. It enables more information and knowledge to be brought to bear on anticipating the consequences of escalation and precipitation in conflict situations. Awareness of personal rights also plays a very important role. Amicable divorce or break-up does not imply immaturity and rush to end the relationship without making honest attempts to save it. I think it takes a lot of maturity and wisdom to conclude that a break-up is better for everyone concerned and move on. Obviously, I am quite impressed with today's generation in India!

  6. Anonymous Says:

    Ok, so I think that behaviour patterns are easier to hide than to change. So while in the context of socializing, most people are behaving 'appropriately', we should not conclude on that basis alone. A cultural change, for me, should be more pervasive & if in the face of tragedies & triumphs, we do not display a sense of drama then perhaps, we could begin to consider behaviour patterns & its changes more seriously. I think that the way people behave in situations beyond their immediate intellectual, or emotional, grasp is closer to their 'true' behaviour.

    In general, I think it is very difficult to gauge & standardize emotional responses at the level of a community.

    Thirdly, evolution can only be understood/legitimized in hindsight. All the different varieties are just 'mutations' until just one is 'naturally selected'. So I guess you could call this young generation mutations for now! :)


  7. Inder Says:

    i think your friend summed it up precisely - "it is a sign of evolution".

    we human are still are emotional and we will remain emotional for ever. we will always have emotions. but, as we evolve, we tend to move towards sweeter emotions, away from bitter emotions by being rational. now people are getting smart enough to understand that emotions like possessiveness, jealousy, etc will result only in bitterness. people are marching towards happiness.

    let us not call this trend as 'westernization'. the west is just ahead of us by a few decades. the west underwent the very changes, that we face today, a few decades earlier. instead of looking at it as westernization, lit us see it as a march towards a better and happier lifestyle :)

  8. Anonymous Says:

    At the outset, I feel the young band that watched the movie with you might have poked fun at the portrayal of emotions than at the emotions per se. I'm saying this after seeing the very same Gen X kids lapping up a very strong display of emotions in the movie 'Thavamai thavamirundu'--some even cried profusely & unabashedly! On that minor point, I disagree with you totally.

    Now, to the drift of your post. I guess people tend to 'learn up' and internalise these attitudes from the society at large. Be it the office or be it the broader polity, spontaneity of expression is made to crumble under the tyrannical yoke of politically correct discourse. Things have come to such a pass that palatable fiction that stifles emotions is preferred to unpalatable truth. And, with passage of time, repressed emotions lead to volcanic eruptions of temper...

  9. Usha Says:

    Hi all,

    Thanks for sharing your perspective on the issue.My post was intended to raise some questions which I keep asking when I look around and see the changes in the way people respond to one another, and reduced level of involvement in one another's matters. There seems to be an increased preference towards individualism rather than towards relationships.
    Your comments and perspectives helped clarify a lot of points. Thanks for taking the time to share the same.

  10. Mahadevan Says:

    I have seen a number of youngsters shouting in anger, boisterously expressing their joy, and also publicly displaying their feelings of dissappointments and remorse. There are hundreds of cases, where dissappointed boys have thrown acid on the faces of girls or stabbed the girls they loved. Human emotions does not recognise culture. When the feeling is intense ( positive or negative), emotional reactions emerge out. Those who are able to detach themselves from the feeling of emotion and look at it intellectually, do not overplay their emotions. This needs maturity and understanding and has no relevance to age. Politicians, underworld gangs, terrorists and religious fanatics play upon the emotions of the youth. "Emotional Intelligence" is a serious study.

  11. I completely agree with you on the less-fight-for-divorce thingy, but my alter thought is that - may be people really dont see a point in fighting.

    But I do have to say that scenes of emotion from older movies really make me too laugh, while Dad is crying at them. May be thats because I am from this generation.. :)

  12. passerby55 Says:

    HI USha,

    i guess we understand emotions when we go through them personally. i found myself an emotional fool after i grew to understand them. we grow emotional with age and maybe when we learn to feel a few things around us.


  13. starry Says:

    Hi! interesting post.I think to a certain degree people are less emotional nowadays and I personally dont think it is good. It is always good to be emotional to ones feelings and also to the feelings of others.its like the kids watching all these killings on videogames and movies I think it somehow desensitizes much so that they dont think twice about the person who is killed.I think it is OK for a man/woman to be emotional and be angry in a divorce.I am sure there is some resentment even if they appear to be friends.

  14. prachi Says:

    hi buddy,
    you cant say that couple apart; there is lack of emotions, concern oand posseviness..its just that they may be not comfortable in that relation or thinks that it may be better to stay apart as sometimes distance helps building relations...

    its not neccesary that if people are not comfortable in maintianing one realtion it will be same with other relation also....

  15. Balaji Says:

    I think it is not that people don't appreciate emotions...It may not also be the fact that they themselves might display the same type of emotion themselves when faced with such a is just that you see so many serials showing crying day in day lose interest for the same and you become apathetic to it...If you sit before the telly from 6 to 10, you would atleast have seen 10 crying scenes....i reckon you lose importance for the same seeing the same thing again and again...

  16. vibhor Says:

    today people are more matured and rational about their relation..they are ready to understand other's point of veiw and respect it...

  17. Usha Says:

    Hipgrandma: Ok, I see what you mean. Acting civil to one another does not mean that the raw passions do not exist - it is just that people seem to have more control over them.

    Itchingtowrite: Or may be the expectations from the relationship are reduced now. When they are not willing to give their all, they have no right to demand it either right? Is it that?

    Guns: You are right. the changes are happening more in the cities and among people who are exposed to different cultures rather than in closed communities. Actually "closed" is also not the right word. For example i thought the kind of dons and mafias shown in the movies of 70s and 80s actually did not exist in india until i read "shantaram".

    Alapana:This is another thing i actually meant to blog about. We do not seem to have the kind of relationships where we can open up and confide - in fact noone seesm to have the time to listen in these busy times. is that why people have to go on chat shows and reveal their personal problems? Your example of blogging their true feelings seem to suggest the same - lonely cries hoping to be heard by someone somewhere.

    The Rational fool: I guess we do not notice see the oddity in certain types of behaviour when we see it happening around us all the time. That was my point about the Shivaji movies. Once I came out of Tamilnadu and was exposed to something different , these things struck me as odd. Now I find it difficult to watch Tamil television without being stuck by these oddities.
    I felt the same about the american films too when I watched "guess who's coming to Dinner" recently. I thought poitier was a bit more dramatic in his portrayal than one normally sees on Hollywood movies today. I stand corrected on the usage of 'westernisation" - since the youth today have imbibed a lot from the literature and films that comeout of the U.S.A., I used the term rather loosely. yes, Europe is different and they are all not the same.
    Yes, the younger generation today is more willing to take decisions and stand by them. I have a lot of respect for the present day youth too. Without adding any value judgement, I am inclined to believe that they lean more towards reason than emotion in their decisions and are not too upset about hurting people in the process. They do what seems right and if it hurts the other person it is their problem which was not the case with the earlier generations.

    Souvik:I wonder if today's youth for instance has a shared sense of a fate common to the generation with respect to any issue. They seem to be worried only about the issues that affect them rather than about Youth issues in general. To that extent I do think that there is a cultural change. I did not see any kind of solidarity expressed in the case of some of the protests relating to issues that affect the generation as a whole.

    Inder:I hope so too.

    Anon: (is that you ram?) yes it was at the portrayal of the emotions and not the emotions per se. I suppose they do not believe in displaying emotions.
    So are you saying that all this politically correct and socially correct are nothing but repressing genuine feelings? Dont you think if we practised correct behaviour for sometime, we may see the correctness of it and it would be a good example for the next generation? isn't that the whole purpose of it?
    I do see your point - that if we are constantly pretending to bve something we are not out of social compulsion, it is bound to erupt more strongly some time sooner or later.

    Mahadevan: I was talking about majority behaviour - everyone does not resort to acid throwing etc thats why these get reported right? For example you would not find people marrying for revenge (like Heathcliff) Today they'd rather marry with the hope of living happily with the person.Thats why they are willing to part if they know the other person does not love them.
    But I agree it is a very complex subject, I was just thinking some of my stray thoughts aloud. And that did pay off - so many shared their observations and experience.

    SG: They make me laugh too now although believe me, there was a time when that seemed like real life.

    Passerby: Same here and we are still learning. For example, the comments here have opened my eyes to some lines of thinking!

    Starrynights: You have voiced exactly what my friend, whom I quoted in the post, said.
    And that is a scary point you have raised about kids getting desensitized to violence.

    Prachi: I agree completely - the intensity of reaction depends on how important something is to us. Ther emay be a shift in things that seemed important a few years ago and now.

    Balaji:Oh yes, I cant believe people would want to cry so much. But i thought they identified with one of the characters like the smart daughter in law or suffering mother in law. Are you saying that by seeing others go through that gives them the ability to accept their lot?

    Vibhor: Yes, I think so too.

  18. Balaji Says:


    What I trying to say the importance of display of emotions loses its value when i see the same thing over and over again and unfortunately it starts to reflect in yourself especially youngsters...That do not mean that it is difficult for them to display emotions. They will do so inadvertently in their lives when the circumstance forces them.....Till then they will be apathetic....

  19. Well written. Here's my two cents. I think the"dilution of drama in real life" is largely a consequence of evolution of society which is inturn influenced a great deal by our love of the West and all things Western. Even as we start to walk, talk, dress, behave and emote like the people of the West it is but natural that we become less and less expressive about the way we feel. I recently read an article in an Indian Newspaper about airline etiquette and the author was commenting on the behavior of Indians on international flights and noted that there was a lot of learning left to be done in the area of etiquacy. But he felt that one or two generations down the road with the so many "on-the-trot" global Indians that would not be an issue. Is it possible that the influence of the west has much to do with us becoming less emotional?