Earlier this week, actor Dhanush K. Raja and producer Aishwaryaa Rajinikanth announced that they are getting divorced after eighteen years of marriage. This is the second high-profile divorce in the South Indian cinema field in recent times. Actors Samantha Ruth Prabhu and Akkineni Naga Chaitanya also announced their parting in late 2021.

            The individuals concerned have a right to privacy, and need not explain their decisions to the public. So, respectfully setting aside all subjectivities and intricacies, here is a more general perspective: high-profile divorces help normalise the pursuit of happiness and destigmatise leaving unhappiness behind, especially in places like India where marriage is imposed on the vast majority of people as both inevitable and inescapable.

            Any marriage can fall apart, regardless of the love or the infrastructure behind it. But in a country where marriages are mostly arranged, very rarely cross lines of caste, religion or class, and are considered sacrosanct in ways that allow all manner of inequalities and violence to exist unresolved within them, divorce is threatening to the social order. It threatens a social order that demands subservience, even if suffering is involved. This is exactly why divorce can be one of the keys to a better life. It isn’t for everyone – but neither is marriage.

The act of leaving requires finding a new blueprint on how to live – and possibly live better, too. There are many divorced people in India, and most of them aren’t celebrities, but some things are more clearly understood from a remove. This is why films and literature influence us where real life stories don’t always register. As for the real lives of celebrities, we aren’t entitled to information, but we can take inspiration. If speculation became introspection instead, it could be useful. Say, for example: if an unhappy couple or an unhappy person within an unhappy couple glances at a gossipy headline and contemplates a choice they too can make, something productive comes from what would otherwise be a moment of mere intrusion.

The interesting thing about celebrity-style divorce is that it is often PR-vetted, well-worded and presented as amicable. This too offers a new way of thinking about the process. This isn’t about how it looks to others as much as it is about how those within the process can experience it as something other than a failure. Even when it is one – even when the language that feels fair and accurate to describe an ending marriage counts it as a mistake or a failure, the language for what comes after it can be hopeful.

Life doesn’t always offer second chances, and to take one despite systemic pressure not to is brave. Without glorifying separation, we can see that it can be a beautiful thing to many – bringing new beginnings, freedom, greater peace of mind, self-renewal and more. Here’s to more people opting out, and opting for contentment. Here’s to supportive conditions that will let more people make this choice with less pain. As anyone trying to make their exit, or having successfully made their exit, will tell you: there is more than enough of that in a marriage that isn’t working, after all.

An edited version appeared in The New Indian Express in January 2022. “The Venus Flytrap” appears in Chennai’s City Express supplement.