I first watched You’ve Got Mail when I was in the fourth or fifth standard. My brother rented it from the video store near my home. The first time I watched it, I fell asleep. The second time, I fell in love. With everything: the bouquet of daisies that Tom Hanks bought Meg Ryan when she was sick; the “tall, decaf” Starbucks coffee that they both love and which gives them a “sense of identity”; New York in the fall; the Joni Mitchell song that reminds Ryan of her mother during Christmas time.
For those of you who haven’t watched it, the film is about two New Yorkers who fall in love through email. But in real life, they are enemies as Hanks’s big bad Fox book store puts Ryan’s small and cosy Shop Around the Corner out of business. Of course, when they realise each other’s identities, old enmities are put aside and romance blooms.
Since then, I’ve literally watched the film hundreds of times. When we were young, on Sundays, we were allowed to watch TV in my hostel in a large room called The Parlour from 4pm to 8pm before the bell rang for dinner. Once, when I was in the sixth or seventh standard, You’ve Got Mail played and I was so excited, I started mouthing all the dialogues verbatim. I didn’t realise I was doing it out loud until the boy in front of me cast me an evil look and asked me to shut up.
Unfortunately, my entire family knows about my obsession with the film. My father thinks I cut my hair short to look like Ryan in You’ve Got Mail. There was a phase when every time my brother saw me, he would pipe in a feminine voice: “I wanted it to be you. I wanted it to be you so badly.” Which is what Ryan says when she realises who Hanks really is. I would be terribly embarrassed and smack him with a notebook but the truth is, tears would come into my eyes every time I heard Ryan saying that.
Of course, the film ruined me for romance. I started wanting a grandiloquent love story; perfection became an aspiration. It took me a while to realise that Nora Ephron, who made the film, was creating a beautiful reflection which wasn’t mirroring something solid. It was all just a reflected paradise of make-believe.
It’s not just romance, the film stands for everything that my childhood represents—all the heartbreaks, crushes and crumpled Valentine’s Day letters. All the times I watched the downloaded film on my laptop when I felt lonely or sad, bawling my eyes out when those three words appeared on screen: You’ve Got Mail.
Recently, I saw a news item showing then-and-now photographs of 1990s actors. I saw a haggard Tom Hanks with a largely bald pate and it made me feel sad. I felt like I was losing my childhood all over again. For in my mind, Hanks and Ryan are still young and time hasn’t budged an inch. When the track ‘Remember’ plays and Ryan is removing all the Christmas trinkets from the tree in her shop, I remember all the good memories I associate with the film.