For 350+ episodes, Thapki Pyar Ki was your average Colors show about the love life of Thapki (Jigyasa Singh), a woman with a stammer. But everything changed on June 17 after a gorilla made a surprise appearance. Over a two-episode arc, an unnamed simian who escaped from a local zoo competed for Thapki’s affections alongside her husband Bihaan (Manish Goplani) and Dhruv (Ankit Bathla), her colleague. This tale of animal-human romance was thankfully short-lived because the gorilla became too violent for the family and had to be taken away by zoo authorities after a standoff involving a gun and a tranquiliser.
While the latest twist on Thapki Pyar Ki isn’t as bonkers as the one on Sasural Simar Ki, in which a lead character turned into a fly, it has forebears in the fictional and non-fictional realms.
Looming large over Thapki Pyar Ki is the ghost of various incarnations of King Kong, from the original 1933 classic to Peter Jackson’s 2005 remake. Thapki’s portrayal seems to be more influenced by the original, in which the romance is one-sided, than Jackson’s remake, in which the captive Ann Darrow (Naomi Watts) begins to feel affection towards her gigantic captor.
Continuing the trend of gorilla romances is the fifth episode of the second season of British science fiction show Misfits, about a group of kids who develop superpowers. One of the leading characters, Kelly Bailey (Lauren Socha), loses her virginity to a boy she believes to be a normal human being. Much to her dismay, her boyfriend is a gorilla who has taken human form.
In season one of the hit sitcom Friends, Ross (David Schwimmer) gets a capuchin monkey named Marcel as a pet. Although theirs is a purely platonic relationship, it does occasionally wander into questionable territory. Ross sometimes sings to his pet. At a New Year’s Party, Ross shows up with Marcel as his date. Some might even argue that a Friends scene in which Ross is finally forced to say goodbye to his pet is sadder and more poignant than the legendary break-up of his on-off romance with Rachel (Jennifer Aniston) in season three.
Remember the popular 1990s animated show Johnny Bravo? In a bizarre episode that would have made David Lynch proud, our favourite ladies’ man meets a woman called Carol on the internet. They like each other and are going to meet on a date. Only Carol isn’t a woman, she is an antelope. Bravo wants nothing to do with this creature, but Carol begins to weep and Bravo is moved, so he takes her on a pity date. There’s more. Carol is only doing this so she can make her boyfriend, a crab, jealous.
On the topic of animal-human romance, another popular show from the 1990s is never too far behind. Much can be said about the relationship that Ash Ketchum, the hero of the Japanese anime show Pokémon and Pikachu share. Since the show is geared toward toddlers and pre-teens, this relationship is unfortunately never directly addressed. However, a running arc on the show does comment on the peculiarities of human-pokémon relationships. After Ash captures a pokémon called Chikorita, a cross between a baby dinosaur and a plant, she subsequently falls in love with him, much to his visible discomfort.
These television shows and movies argue that animal-human relationships are abnormal. Not so on animated shows such as Family Guy and Bojack Horseman. Brian the dog from the former and multiple animal characters from the latter date human beings without comment. At one point, Brian even meets his long-lost son, a normal boy, from an old relationship with a human female.
The conceit seems to be that in a polyamorous free society, no questions are asked. Seth Macfarlane, the creator of Family Guy, uses the same idea in both the Ted movies that he directed. In the movies, Ted, the eponymous teddy bear, has numerous romantic relationships with woman.
The more sexual aspects of zoophilia have been rarely explored. An exception is Robinson Devor’s documentary Zoo (2007), which looks at the effect of a bestiality-related death on a small town in Washington in the United States of America. The film explores the life and tragic demise of Kenneth Pinyan after complications caused by having had sex with a horse. Zoo, described as being a “poetic film about a forbidden subject”, attempts to present a nuanced version of the debate by analysing all sides of the issue, including whether or not the animal in question is a consensual partner in the act. In the aftermath of the incident, a bill banning bestiality was passed in Washington state.
Mostly, zoophilia is played for laughs. One of the worst films in recent memory, Movie 43 (2013), has a skit directed by Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) director James Gunn, in which Beezel the cat takes her love for her master Anson (Josh Duhamel) to ridiculous extremes. The cat pleasures herself to a photo of Anson in a bathing suit and even successfully engineers a plan to drive away his girlfriend Amy (Elizabeth Banks).
When John Oliver, current host of HBO’s Last Week Tonight, was a correspondent for Jon Stewart’s satirical news programme The Daily Show, he filed a report in a 2009 episode about two scientists fighting over who the closest human ancestor was – the chimpanzee or the orangutan? Oliver wants to know the answer to a most-pressing question, “Can a human get an orangutan pregnant?”. Unconvinced by the scientists’s answer, Oliver goes on a date with an ape companion and after a montage of romantic scenes, is led into a hotel room with a tag on the doorknob that read “Do not disturb”.
In a 2015 episode of sketch-comedy show Inside Amy Schumer, the show’s creator plays a first-time stripper who showed up with Jenny, her colleague, to perform at a bachelor party – for dogs. Her surprise at the canine customers is rubbished by her fellow stripper who instantly begins dancing and asks Schumer’s character, “You’ve never done a dog party before?” Jenny is eventually led upstairs to the bedroom by Josh, the Labrador groom, so he can enjoy his “last night” as a free man.
Animal-human romances are a subset of interspecies relationships between humans and shape-shifting creatures. The list includes the movies Junoon, In which Rahul Roy transforms into a tiger and prowls around looking for his one true love, and Twilight (Kristen Stewart’s Bella is unable to choose between Robert Pattinson’s vampire and Taylor Lautner’s werewolf) and the shows True Blood, about the ties between humans, vampires, werewolves, were-panthers, witches and fairies, and MTV India’s Fanaah, a supernatural series inspired by True Blood, Vampire Diaries and Twilight.
Nobody can beat Doctor Who, though. The main character of the long-running British sci-fi show is a rampant omnisexual, having flirted with everyone and everything from a sentient tree to aliens and even his spaceship, who is often referred to as his wife. Let’s hope that in the never-ending bid for high ratings, more Indian television spice up their programming by taking inspiration from John Oliver or the amorous Doctor Who.