'DDLJ': 20 Years Later
I remember, when I first got my hands on the audiotape (yes it was that long ago – good old fashioned tape decks – bless) of Aditya Chopra’s now much revered and cherished blockbuster Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge. Inside its plastic cover was an inlay with Shah Rukh Khan’s now trademark smirk, juxtaposed with Kajol’s luminous, innocent face against a white background. There was something striking about it. A freshness that was.. well.. different for its time. Even the film's title: 'Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge' had a grand, old world charm about it, and that cleverly designed logo with Raj's feathered cap and Simran's flying dupatta spoke volumes about what to expect when the film hit the marquee come October 1995.
Khan was reeling under a hat-trick of disasters in the form of Zamaana Deewana, Guddu and Oh Darling! Yeh Hai India!, and Kajol too, wasn’t having much luck at the box office, and even though she never took the rat race as seriously, this film altered not just the course of their careers, but potentially the way in which Hindi films were perceived entirely.
You see, DDLJ landed and smashed records at the box office at a time when essentially, non-stop violence, banal revenge dramas and inexplicable and double entendre stupidity worked at ticket windows. The foreign market was as yet, disinterested in what Bollywood producers had to offer, purely because their puerile attempts at film-making didn’t really appeal to the more elitist among the NRIs (that's Non-Resident Indians to the uninformed).
But. Chopra’s feel good romance drama changed all that – it made producers aware of the profits they could reap abroad by playing on expat audiences' sympathies, simply by reminding ‘em of good ol’ fashioned desi values – which in itself was ironic, given how modern India was becoming as a nation even then.
The film started somewhat of a cult of cut and paste, similarly themed foreign romance flicks, but none of them really achieved the kind of memorability that DDLJ did. The film, though now alarmingly dated in its outlook, is still running in Mumbai’s Maratha Mandir, twenty years later. That’s the kind of mass hysteria and impact its made with audiences not just in India but across the world.
In retrospect, the idea of a shameless, cocky Brit travelling all the way to Punjab for his uptight ‘dulhania’ seems a bit idealistic in today’s world – I mean, why fork out for the ticket when you can get a booty call by simply swiping right on your smartphone?
But for the time, Chopra having identified something of a niche in the market, smartly developed a script which carefully juggled both old fashioned values and the need to be an independent, kindred spirit by finding a balance between both outlooks. That he was ably aided by uniformly endearing performances, sprightly music courtesy Jatin-Lalit, vivid and hitherto unseen foreign locations and Lata Mangeshkar’s magical voice in the literally unforgettable ‘Tujhe Dekha To Yeh Jaana Sanam’ definitely added to the film's appeal and helped it in achieving the kind of recognition it enjoys today.
Put the film under the scanner though, and you’ll notice that a major chunk of it, although undeniably entertaining, was mostly recycled, fluff repackaged for a different audience, and no matter how smart it was, a lot of it had been done before, but perhaps not as successfully, by Sooraj Barjatya in Maine Pyaar Kiya and to a lesser extent, Hum Aapke Hai Koun...!
In the film’s entire first half for example, we’re so busy ogling at the eye-popping scenery, we overlook the fact that the plot doesn’t really go anywhere until at least half way through the film, when Simran returns home and drops the bombshell of her god forsaken love story with some random she met on the Eurorail.
That and the almost unforgivable characterisations meted out to newcomers Parmeet Sethi and Mandira Bedi, so that the film can justify its somewhat manipulative protagonists running around fields and essentially, deceive their loved ones and you have a film that perhaps, may not warm the cockles of your heart as it did back in the day.
Flaws aside though, DDLJ still finds a place in every Bollywood lovers’ must-watch shelf for a number of reasons. The prime ones being the fact that history books can be written on the delectable on-screen camaraderie that SRK-Kajol share – she the perfect, uptight foil to his often brattish yet playful Raj, or the plethora of unforgettable scenes, from Simran bidding Raj an apprehensive farewell at the film’s mid-point, or her sprint towards the train door in the climax in what is potentially the film’s most iconic scene. It's those elements that remain etched in our memories even twenty years later.
That aside, not enough can be said about Amrish Puri’s magnificently nuanced act as the stern patriarch, Pooja Ruparel's cutesy sibling act as Rajeshwari, or Farida Jalal’s angelic mother, or for that matter, Kajol’s come hither, child-woman rain dance in 'Mere Khwabon Mein Jo Aaye' in that itsy bitsy skirt, which Chopra skilfully ensured looked playfully innocent rather than making Simran look like a modern day floozy.
Whether the film has held up well over the years is open to debate, a couple of niggles which I’ve raised here already. But two decades on, one thing’s for certain. Cringe as you might at some of the now convoluted dialogue, or roll your eyes at the simpering mess that the old fashioned Simran becomes as the film progresses, there’s one thing you can’t deny this film has bucket loads of. Charm. That’s what keeps it going. Despite its dated theme, there’s a freshness about Raj and Simran’s unlikely, reckless love story… Something of an innocence that you yearn for in today’s jaded and cynical times, which sees the film through.
In so far as love stories go, despite all it’s discrepancies, there most definitely won’t be another romance that enjoys the kind of historic status that DDLJ does.
So join us in wishing Raj and his Señorita a happy 20th anniversary – here's a film that undeniably touched a million hearts, was a trendsetter of sorts and without which Hindi cinema would surely not have had the worldwide reach it has today.
What are your thoughts, favourite scenes and memories of DDLJ? And more importantly, do you think the film has held up well over the years? Let us know below!