"Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge" is about being "Hindustani" but not in a jingoistic fashion. That is why, writes UMA MAHADEVAN-DASGUPTA, the film is still running to full houses after eight years.
AT Mumbai's Maratha Mandir cinema, tickets for the matinee show of "Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge" are Rs. 15 for the balcony and Rs. 13 for dress circle. The city offers few cheaper forms of entertainment, or shelter from the rain. Here, in the pride and joy of Bombay Central, Aditya Chopra's 1995 debut film is still showing, breaking the records for the longest-running film.
"DDLJ" dates back to post-"Baazigar" days when Shahrukh still had an antihero image; the Kajol-Shahrukh chemistry was still to take its hold on the imagination of Bollywood; and Karan Johar was making his appearance in the film as Shahrukh's friend and as one of the assistant directors.
A lugubrious song from the new release "Mujhse Shaadi Karoge", the main show, plays in the background as the audience fills the rows: porters, courier boys, paanwalas, ear cleaners, railway travellers just looking for a place to sit before taking their train from Bombay Central. Soon the Yashraj banner unfurls onscreen and Baldev (Amrish Puri) is feeding pigeons in Trafalgar Square under the watchful eyes of the stone lions.
What is it about the movie that makes it such a success? Continuing in the saccharin family-drama tradition of "Maine Pyaar Kiya" and "Hum Aapke Hain Kaun", "DDLJ" transports the story itself to an NRI milieu and then brings it back to the mustard fields to declare that `East or West, Punjab is Best'. As Satish Shah tells his samdhi-to-be over a chess game, `You are not only a Genius, you are also Indigenious", whatever that is. The clichés pile up, but they are somehow endearing. One of the themes that hold the film together is of being "Hindustani". Seeking to tug at the heartstrings of desis and NRIs alike, the narration begins in the voice of the upright Punjabi in a foreign land. The song takes us back to the sunny skies of Punjab, where women dance in the countryside waving colourful dupattas and then brings us back to this grey London morning. "I'm like these pigeons," muses Baldev, "I have no fixed home of my own."And with Pam Chopra's song "Ghar aaja pardesi tera desh bulaaye re", we feel the homesickness of the NRI.
The film plays on the idea of being "Hindustani", but not jingoistically. We first encounter the word when Raj is pretending he needs a Disprin, saying that it's only one Hindustani who will help out another. When he tries to pick up some beer as well, Baldev flares up: "Do you call yourself a Hindustani?" he thunders, opening those scary Amrish Puri eyes, and they part.
In Europe on that unforgettable morning after the bottle of cognac, Raj assures Simran that nothing happened, for no Hindustani would take advantage of such a situation. Being Hindustani is a state of mind, says Raj's father, asked about his western clothes. Being Hindustani is to heal a wounded bird with the soil of the homeland, says Raj.
If the movie was not about being Hindustani, it could have cut to the chase: the two could have eloped without two more hours of song and dance. But then, being Hindustani is all about winning your parents' blessings which theme, some years down the line, would become, in true K-Jo style, "all about loving your parents". When Simran falls into Raj's arms after a breathtaking run through the mustard fields, she shows unusual spirit for a mainstream heroine and begs him to take her away. But Raj, showing impeccable NRI upbringing, tells her that he wants to win her instead. Never mind that in this brave new desi landscape, the woman is still just an object to be won.
Pitted against the macho Kuljeet with his rifles and hangers-on, Raj is the charming New Age person-of-Indian-origin, a true blend of tradition and the individual talent: singing songs and playing the piano; feeding pigeons instead of shooting them; winning hearts; fighting for his girl when he has to, getting beaten up in the process; not eating until his sweetie eats on Karva Chauth; not afraid to cry on screen for copious lengths of time; and of course, driving expensive cars and being thoroughly indulged by his rich father the rest of the time.
And Simran is the evolved Chopra heroine, at least to the extent that she is equally at home in London, dancing in the rain in frilly short skirt, and in Punjab, observing Karva Chauth if not for the man she is being forced to marry, then for the man she loves.
More interesting, a decade later, are the other female characters: the bright Chutki who tells her sister that she thinks the chhathwala is much nicer than the man Simran is to marry. The grandmother who is overwhelmed when her son returns to India, but who is nevertheless troubled by the sadness that she can see in her granddaughter's eyes. And most of all, Lajwanti, whose bitter heartbreaks are hidden behind Farida Jalal's dimpled smiles: at one point, she tells her daughter bleakly that her tears will have no effect on her father; and in one of the film's more moving moments, she urges the lovers to escape.
The Maratha Mandir experience includes much whistling, cheering and stomping of feet, collective intake of breath at dramatic moments, and repeating of favourite lines along with, and in some cases ahead of the characters. With the antakshari at the grandmother's feet, "Kahin pe nigaahen, kahin pe nishaana". After "Mehndi lagake rakhna", with Amrish Puri, "Ae meri zohra-jabeen". As Anupam Kher and Hemani Shivpuri gaze into each other's eyes, "Bahaaron phool barsao, Mera mehboob aaya hai". And as Kajol runs into the mustard field looking for Shahrukh, only to find a cow grazing there, someone in the audience wisecracks: "Ajay Devgan aa gaya." All this, for Rs. 15: red ceilings, red chairs, mild body odour, and full timepass.
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