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This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at VCU chapter.

It’s usually easy to spot the “red flags” in male movie characters. “Red flags” are qualities or actions that are problematic or indicative of future issues in a relationship. One of my favorite comfort movies while growing up was The DUFF, in which high school student Bianca finds out that her peers at school have labeled her the “designated ugly, fat friend” of her friend group. Included in the people that call her the DUFF is her lifelong friend and neighbor, Wesley. He openly tells her she is the DUFF of her group but that with his help, she can be “fixed” and become pretty. Despite the constant insults she receives from him, they start dating and at the end of the movie, the audience finds themselves rooting for them to be together. I’m all for a cute romantic comedy, but as I’ve grown older I have realized just how many red flags Wesley has that are completely normalized and marketed to young girls as an ideal standard in men. It’s been a long time since I’ve watched a popular movie where the man exemplifies green flags, teaching young women qualities to look for in a relationship. Thankfully, this year, Bollywood gave us a male lead that does just that: Rocky from Bollywood’s Rocky Aur Rani Ki Prem Kahani (2023)

Rocky Aur Rani Ki Prem Kahani is a Bollywood movie that revolves around the love story between Rocky Randhawa, a Punjabi businessman from a traditional family, and Rani Chatterjee, a Bengali news reporter who comes from an educated, socially progressive household. Rocky is one of the most secure male characters I’ve seen in the media in years. Rocky is introduced as a flamboyant man who takes pride in his fashion sense, passion for working out, and being close to the women in his family. Throughout the movie, he has no issue, and in fact goes out of his way to tell Rani how smart she is and how much he looks up to her career aspirations and passions. While he is aware that he does not have the same educational background as Rani, he lifts her up without doubting himself and his abilities. Rocky is secure in himself – he understands that education and his ability to speak English have nothing to do with how great of a person he is. He is not worried about getting Rani’s family to like him because he sees himself as a likable and adaptable person. 

Rocky’s self-confidence also allows him to be secure in Rani being close family friends with an ex-boyfriend who continuously, and very openly, hopes to marry Rani one day. It’s rare to see such a trusting relationship on screen, and shows that a calmer and more rational reaction to instances of jealousy are possible and should be expected. This is in contrast to the usual, often unnecessarily physical, response we are used to seeing on screen. For instance, in the popular early 2000s show Gilmore Girls, main character Rory is in a relationship with her boyfriend Dean when Tristan, a classmate at school, makes multiple romantic advances at Rory. For the most part, Rory blocks these advances stating that she is uninterested in him and has a boyfriend. At one school event, however, Dean and Tristan get into an argument about Rory that quickly turns physically violent. Dean’s first course of action being a physical fight stands in contrast to Rocky’s ability to trust his girlfriend and refrain from violent solutions to relationship issues. 

One reason why Rocky is able to handle things in an emotionally mature way, rather than physically or emotionally abusive, is that he is very in tune with his emotions and is not afraid to admit to them. In most cultures, men are expected to hide romantic desire and love. In American teenage culture, men are called “simps” if they’re caught telling a girl the truth about how much they like them, or if they perform elaborate romantic gestures for their girlfriend. In that definition of the term, Rocky would most definitely be considered a “simp,” but he does not seem to care about how he is perceived by society. He is completely open with Rani about his emotions: he tells her when he is hurt by her actions, he drives to her in a car blasting romantic songs and holding flowers to take her out with him, and always initiates a wholesome hug with Rani.

Rocky’s final green flag is his willingness to learn about anything he is not already knowledgeable about, reserving judgment along the way. He is introduced to completely new traditions that he has never been exposed to in Rani’s family. Rather than ridiculing their traditions and values, he makes obvious and successful attempts throughout the movie to learn about Bengali culture even when he starts out blissfully ignorant. Rocky is seen breaking down not only cultural barriers, but also significant gender norms in India, when he learns Kathak dance from Rani’s father and performs with him at Rani’s traditional puja, or prayer ceremony. In Indian culture, and in most Bollywood movies, women are expected to assimilate into the man’s family culture. Seeing a man take such personal interest in his girlfriend’s values and culture, and be willing to sometimes make a fool of himself to improve in the end, is extremely refreshing to see on screen. Since Rani also improves her knowledge of Punjabi culture and Rocky’s family’s values, their relationship is a beautiful example of how adopting a partner’s culture can definitely be a two-way street. 

Don’t get me wrong, I love the usual romantic comedies, in American cinema and Bollywood. Sometimes even movies with problematic tropes end up being comfort movies because of the happy endings, romance, and humor. However, it’s exciting to see a movie made with the intent of romance and comedy that also showcases a healthy male lead – they should not be mutually exclusive ideas. It’s time we show young women more characters like Rocky: full of green flags and the blueprint, hopefully, for more healthy male characters in future movies. 

Sanya Surya is a third-year pre-medical student in the Guaranteed Admission Program for Medicine at VCU Honors College. She is majoring in Bioinformatics and minoring in Chemistry. She hopes to become a pediatric and adolescent gynecologist and work in public health. Sanya's career interests revolve around social justice, education, advocacy, mental health, and women's health. She has volunteered in the past as a peer sex educator for Planned Parenthood's Teen Council program, teaching over 400 students in the Portland and Beaverton, OR metro area comprehensive sex education. She also works in mental health, with experience on two crisis hotlines supporting people in need. She is also an active performing artist, trained in 7 styles of dance, Indian and Western vocal music, instrumental music, and a former thespian.