25 years later Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge still a hit

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Bollywood actors Shah Rukh Khan (R) and Kajol (L) are seen on the screen during the screening of “Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge” (The Big Hearted Will Take the Bride) inside Maratha Mandir theater in Mumbai December 11, 2014. The movie, released in October 1995, has set a recordof completing 1000 weeks of continuous screening at a cinema, a feat unmatched by any other Bollywood movies. According toManoj Desai, owner of the theatre, the movie, which is still being screened, enjoys at least 50 to 60 percent occupancy on weekdays and full houseon weekends at his theatre. The movie is screened only in themorning and the ticket price ranges from 15 to 20 Indian rupees ($0.24-$0.32). Photo: Reuters, Danish Siddiqui

Tuesday 20th October 2020 marks the 25th anniversary of Bollywood’s most iconic romantic movie, Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge (DDLJ). Released in cinemas around the world in 1995 to thunderous critical and commercial appreciation, DDLJ became an instant hit.

Shah Rukh Khan and Kajol burst into the scene as young, romantic heartthrobs, added to with stellar performances by Amrish Puri, Farida Jalal, Anupam Kher, Satish Shah and Himani Shivpuri, among others. It was Aditya Chopra’s directorial debut, produced by his father Yash Chopra, and written by Javed Siddiqui with Aditya Chopra.

Thanking his fans, Khan tweeted, “25 years!!! Filled with gratitude towards you for loving Raj & Simran, with all your heart. This always feels special. #DDLJ25

Kajol, who changed her twitter username to ‘Simran’ for the day tweeted, “Raj & Simran! 2 people, 1 film, 25 years and the love doesn’t stop coming in! I am truly grateful to all the people who made it what it is today.. a phenomenon and a part of their own history. The fans! Big shoutout to all of you. #25YearsOfDDLJ @yrf @iamsrk #AdityaChopra

Dwelling on the theme of identity in the Indian diaspora, the film broke new ground. Which explains why it is being re-released across the world on its 25th anniversary. “Audiences all over the world will get a chance to watch the film once again on the big screen as we are planning the re-release in several key diaspora and non-diaspora global markets,” announced Nelson D’Souza, associate VP– International Distribution, in a press release, for starters,  across Germany, UAE, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, USA, UK, Canada, Mauritius, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, Norway, Sweden, Spain, Switzerland, Estonia and Finland.

“The main reason I have been so drawn to DDLJ, and why I have watched it so many times both with family and friends, is that it was one of the first Bollywood movies that I remember to explicitly engage the experiences of both Indian immigrants in the West and their children, says Roopa Vasudevan, an interdisciplinary artist, computer programmer, and doctoral scholar at University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg School of Communications.

“The conflict that Simran feels between embracing her life as a young woman in London and the devotion she feels to her traditional parents is something that I know is also felt by a lot of children of immigrants — you constantly feel as though you are balancing two identities, and seeing that depicted on screen is extremely validating,” Vasudevan said.

Add to that the young lovers. “The chemistry between SRK and Kajol is also so magnetic and so fun to watch every single time — I always get such a kick out of the “trip through Europe” segment of the film. Their banter and dynamic as they are falling in love is so ’90s and cheesy looking back on it, but the two of them make it so enjoyable!” Vasudevan added.

Employees prepare a hoarding of Bollywood movie “Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge” (The Big Hearted Will Take
the Bride), starring actor Shah Rukh Khan, inside Maratha Mandir theatre in Mumbai December 12, 2014. Photo: Reuters, Danish Siddiqui

To commemorate the anniversary, a bronze statue of Khan and Kajol will be unveiled at London’s Leicester Square in Spring 2021, to mark 25 years of their cult-hit romantic comedy, depicting a scene from the movie that was in the backdrop of Leicester Sq. and the first Bollywood statue in a public square anywhere in that country, according to news reports and the announcement.

Mid-Day quoted Mark Williams, destination marketing director, Heart of London Business Alliance, saying, “Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge is one of the most successful Hindi films of all time. The statue is a fitting tribute to the global popularity of Bollywood.”

The organizers are expecting to unveil the statue in presence of Shah Rukh Khan and Kajol.

There are critics of the cult film as well. New York Indian Film Festival Director, Aseem Chhabra, tweeted, “Yes, I was charmed by the romance of Raj and Simran, and still love watching them sing “Tujhe Dekha To” in the mustard fields. But I will say this: #DDLJ is a very regressive film! A piece I wrote four years ago!”

Chhabra’s article of four years ago opined, “The romance, the songs, the sights and the charisma of Khan apart, DDLJ is a fairly old-fashioned regressive film that does nothing to change the society. Despite all its modern appearances – clothes, scenes of characters getting drunk, DDLJ’s message is clear – fall in love, dream for sure, but never challenge your parents and your elders.”

Chhabra concedes in his piece that the success of DDLJ especially in the UK and the US got Bollywood to think about the diaspora market, and it did open the door to many more films catering to this crowd abroad. “But hardly anyone cared that these films represented very unreal portrayals of NRIs, almost never reflecting on what leads people to migrate and the sadness that is often associated with that,” Chhabra said.

SRK’s improv

Khan has revealed that there were several scenes in DDLJ that were made on the go, including an iconic one also featuring Amrish Puri.

The mega-star told Marie Claire, “There were several improv moments. They enhanced the script, for sure. There was this scene with Amrish Puri where he was feeding the pigeons. And we had this really funny scene where we are both awkwardly going ‘aao, aao’ to the pigeons. It is a call for pigeons I had heard in Delhi, so I added it. Even the flower that sprays water on Kajol’s face, we hadn’t told her what would happen.”

Actor Anupam Kher, who played the father of Khan’s character in the film, chipped in. “That’s one thing that is fantastic about Shah Rukh. He is a very affectionate, easy person. When we sort of clap hands and do gibberish words with each other, I invented those words on the set,” Kher told Marie Claire.

Khan added, “It was a set of friends just having fun with the material.”

Longest Running

Instantly becoming a box-office smash hit, DDLJ has since gone on to be the longest running Hindi film of all time. Featuring an impressive 1,274-week run at Mumbai’s Maratha Mandir theater right until March 2020 when COVID-19 hit the world.

Chuki, a Tibetan-Canadian political organizer and past assistant to filmmaker Deepa Mehta who came to India as a child, told Desi Talk, “I was in grade 6 and on an exchange program in Bangalore. They took us to see DDLJ in the big theater. Coming from a Tibetan boarding school in a remote hill station, this was my first big screen experience. The ticket rush and standing in line for almost an hour was so much fun. It was all a different experience. Though my Hindi was a bit limited at the time, I cried my eyes out. I still watch it once every year.”

The movie made gleaned 10 Filmfare Awards, the most for a single film at the time.

The on-screen pairing of Kajol and SRK hit the spot not only for audiences but for the two actors. Since then they have paired in a number of others including Baazigar, Karan Arjun, Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, Kabhie Khushi Kabhi Gham and My Name Is Khan.

The film’s strength also lay in taking audiences across the Swiss Alps to the Jungfraujoch mountain and the yellow mustard fields of Punjab, even becoming a tourist attraction in Switzerland where the Jungfraujoch continues to have the on-screen DDLJ couple’s poster for its Indian tourists.

Songs like “Na jaane mere”, “Tujhe dekha” and “Ruk ja” by Lata Mangeshkar, Udit Narayan and Kumar Sanu on memorable tunes by Jatin-Lalit continue to be some of the favorites to this day especially for diehard romantics.

As New York City comedian Zarna Garg, who calls herself “The Funny Brown Mom” told Desi Talk, “DDLJ worked because it was one of the first NRI centered, but all-Indian romantic-comedies.  A classic fairy tale structure with a modern day prince and the Indian girl next door.  It was uniquely aspirational and forward looking and yet quintessentially traditional – we had a girl doing karva chauth and also going backpacking in Europe; we had a boy stealing beer and also begging a dad for a girl’s hand – DDLJ is so well-loved because it is rare for one single movie to capture the hopes, dreams and fantasies of such a wide range of audience.”

(Updated Oct. 22, 2020)

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