Celebrating Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge

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ASIDE — The Beginning —

So I am starting this feature a little bit differently. When I initially suggested this feature to our wonderful Editor earlier this year I was full of hope; sort of like a graduate fresh out of a university. Then a couple of weeks later – in between juggling my professional life and domestic life, fear kicked in. It went something along the lines of ‘oh crap — what have I gone and done!?!’ I had not only managed to suggest a feature on one of the only 2 Hindi films listed in ‘The 1001 films you must see before you die’, but I had gone and nominated myself for the deed.

Somewhere between doing the research and then sitting myself down in front of the PC to begin writing this feature it dawned on me what I was going to write about. Dilwale Dulhanyia Le Jayengaye. A film that had acquired a cult status, which, has helped it run for 14 years!

So here is my offering — to the DDLJ Team, all the Bollywood Fanatics and most importantly to the fans who have kept this film going in the cinema. I hope this write up can do justice to this Bollywood classic.

The Middle Bit —

Directed by – Aditya Chopra
Produced by – Yash Chopra
Written by – Aditya Chopra, Javed Siddique
Starring – Shah Rukh Khan, Kajol
Music by – Jatin, Lalit
Cinematography – Manmohan Singh
Editing by – Keshav Naidu
Distributed by – Yash Raj Films
Release date(s) – 20th October 1995
Running time – 189 min.
Country – India
Language – Hindi
Budget – INR 4 crores

Released 20 October 1995 with a star — studded cast Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge was 23 year old debutant director Aditya Chopra’s offering to the cinema going audience. But in all honesty, I don’t think even he knew back then as the film scooped 10 Filmfare Awards and a National Award that the film was going to go on to be a phenomenon that defied explanation, allowing it to develop it’s cult status. Earning over Rs 580 million in India and Rs 175 million overseas, the film became the biggest hit of the year as well as one of the biggest Bollywood hits of all time.

So what is it that has kept this film running for so long?

The plot? Well that is your predictable Hindi film storyline — girl and boy meet, they fall in love, they part due to unforeseen circumstances, they get back together and live happily ever after. Almost pedestrian don’t you think? I mean you can hardly call it ground breaking cinema. Yet for some reason I can count myself as a fully paid up member of the DDLJ junta. For some reason unknown to even myself, every time I watch this film I have found myself to be completely absorbed in the story. What was the reason behind this? Well, it has to be Aditya Chopra’s treatment of the film. DDLJ has mass appeal. How? Okay let’s break it down; starting with the storyline.

The older generation loved the idea of mixing the modern and the traditional values. Raj and Simran became every parents dream. Well educated polite children who mixed well into the ‘foreign’ society but were ultimately children who were Indian at the core.

DDLJ made an attempt at depicting Indian family life in England and Punjab. The Punjab angle allowed the film to appeal to the domestic market whilst the NRI angle allowed the film to appeal to all Indians living abroad. This allowed the film to break all overseas records. The reason behind this; “It touched a chord in Indians all over the world. It prompted them to go back to their country, traditions and roots” (Yash Chopra).

Why did the younger generation love it? Simple. The philosophy of having an arranged marriage where the spouse is chosen exclusively by the parents is questioned. Why did everyone love it? Well, it was two NRI kids who fell in love but decided not to rebel against their parents. They tried to win them over. Agreed these things have a tendency not to occur too frequently in the real world, but the storyline of DDLJ doesn’t feel forced. It doesn’t feels as though I (an average cinema going person) was manipulated into believing something. The honesty and emotion with which the story was told and enacted on screen is what connects with the audience even today.

Next up is the cast. Casting a romantic film well is crucial to its success, and being Yash Chopra’s son has its advantages. It helps you get the best you can possibly get. Now be honest with me — can you see anyone else enacting those roles? Nope? Neither can I. The casting of every role in this film is perfect. Every expression in every scene is so natural and true to character that I don’t feel that anyone has actually acted as such in the film. And this was something that Chopra went to great lengths to achieve. Example, the scene where Raj drops Simran at the end of ‘Rukh Jaa’ — Kajol didn’t know that she was going to be dropped. This allowed Aditya Chopra to capture a genuine expression of astonishment.

The chemistry between the lead pair in this film was something that would find them being cast again and again opposite each other. Not a single SRK and Kajol film has failed at the box office making them one of the most bankable jodi’s of recent cinema. However, at the time, the two film old jodi (Baazigar and Karan Arjun) did not have very high expectations to meet from the audience.

DDLJ’s Raj gave SRK the platform he needed to bring his talent to the fore. He went from struggling actor to being a one man show with the success of the film. I bet he is glad now that friend Karan Johar convinced him to change his mind when he originally said no to the proposal given to him by Aditya Chopra.

Film critic Anupama Chopra believes that “DDLJ gave him [SRK] a prototype of the next superstar, just like Zanjeer gave a prototype to Amitabh Bachchan.” SRK holds your attention with the films emotional scenes, each one better than the other; so much so that it is difficult to decide which one is the best. All this helped him redefine the lover of the 1990’s.

DDLJ also helped to launch Kajol’s career into the stratosphere. With unconventional looks, Kajol gave life to Simran. To this day I don’t know where the characterisation of Simran ends and Kajol begins, she has acted that effortlessly. The intensity and subtleness she bought was the perfect foil to SRK’s loud, comic character. Kajol brought a warmth and naivety to the initially reluctant, prim and proper Simran, even though at times she looked to be a completely unreasonable person, Simran was so very real.

Looking at everyone from Amrish Puri to Anupam Kher to Mandira Bedi to Satish Kaushik was cast perfectly. The orthodox opinions required to be portrayed by Simran’s father and the gentleness by the mother could not have been better cast than Amrish Puri and Farida Jalal. The father–son friendship could not have been better carried by anyone other than Anupam Kher. And the family in Punjab, well every single one of them reminded me of my own trip to Punjab many years ago – full of colour and life.

The Music. An essential aspect to every Hindi film and DDLJ is no exception. Pre-DDLJ, Indian cinema was considered to be facing a historical low in terms of music; bawdy double-meaning lyrics and widespread melody lifting were common practice. Jatin Lalit gave their fourth hit soundtrack after Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikander, Khiladi, and Kabhi Haan Kabhi Naa. Packed with 7 catchy tunes and hummable melodies, lyrics by Anand Bakshi and songs vocalised by the likes of Lata Mangeshkar, Asha Bhosle, Kumar Sanu, Abhijeet, and Udit Narayan, the duo were successfully able to maintain a Punjabi undercurrent to the music. This is why the music is popular even today. No wedding I have been to is complete until there is a rendition of ‘Mendhi Lagake Rakhna’; and ‘Tujhe Dekha’ still gets is fair share of airplay on the radios even today. Classic tunes? I think so.

Finally, a look at the director and his team. As a first-time director, Aditya Chopra did prove himself. Besides doing justice to his chosen subject, he also met the expectations that the cinema going people had from him; even though the film was believed to be ghost-directed by Yash Chopra himself prior to its release. The dialogues in this film were some of the best I have heard. I have most of the dialogues memorised of by heart now and I annoy the life out of my brother when I sit and watch the film with him and say the dialogues for everyone in any scene, but there are a couple of dialogues that are now known as trademark DDLJ. The one that has caught the imagination of many is spoken by SRK – “Koi baat nahi Senorita, bade bade deshon mein, aisi chhoti chhoti baatein hoti rehti hai.” The lord alone knows how many times that line was repeated across the globe. I guess you can begin to understand why the film won 10 Filmfare Awards. Not to mention the simple fact that it sparked a wave of films with similar storylines – not that any experienced the level of success that DDLJ did.

The End —

So why did DDLJ work? The film is made by an intelligent director and was made with the intention that the film was going to be a blockbuster. It’s a modern film with a different look, with an entirely feasible storyline. Its characters are modern and loveable and most importantly it has mass appeal.

DDLJ strikes a balance between commercial cinema and intelligent cinema; and is one of the few films that I have seen that does not age. It is as relevant today as it was when it first released 14 years ago and will be as relevant tomorrow as it is today. We all have our favourite bits. Ones that we can watch again and again and not tire of seeing, but in all those viewings we notice little touches in scenes, gestures, dialogues, clothes, expressions, that we might have missed the first 100 times we saw the film.

Its basic message is also quite simple — being modern while respecting traditional foundations of Indian society is entirely possible. It also passed on another very clear message which at the time of its release was a twist on convention; that not everyone raised abroad is a drunken, cruel, promiscuous, and dishonest person. Being a Londoner I am pretty sure I can say that some of us are pretty nice people, and it was nice to be represented as the good guy rather than the bad guy for once and finally get shot of the Purab Aur Paschim complex that has hung around for a bit too long.

Finally – it was a colleague of mine that summed up the success of DDLJ perfectly when I asked her what she took away from the film or what she remembered most of the film. What she said was a very simple line that has floated around in my head ever since I started writing this feature and I leave you with that very thought.

DDLJ ran because it was SRK and Kajol. If it was someone else, I don’t think it would still be running.

[Thanks for the line Shaakela — I owe you a coffee]

And I guess it is the same reason that everyone is eagerly anticipating the release of Karan Johar’s My Name Is Khan — because of SRK and Kajol……

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