How Hindi Films Have Used DDLJ As A Reference Point, Film Companion
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Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge (DDLJ) needs no introduction, but a piece on its 25th anniversary may warrant one. Released on October 20, it has played at Mumbai’s Maratha Mandir for nearly as long, until the Covid 19 pandemic shut down cinemas all over the world. 25 years. Nothing much has been left to be said about the film, except maybe that certain things don’t come off so well in 2020. (Or wait, was that already said in 2015, when it completed 20 years?) It has transcended from merely a hugely popular film to something of a mythological stature. Certain dialogue, images, music have entered our consciousness forever. The characters have become archetypes.

Naturally, DDLJ has become a point of reference for films that have come after it. A generation of directors, writers and actors who grew up watching the film were in the business of making films now. Filmmakers have used it as a template, to tell an old story in a new way, or to say something, make a statement. Some were simply paying homage.

Here are 10 such films. 

Jab We Met (2007)

How Hindi Films Have Used DDLJ As A Reference Point, Film Companion

Jab We Met is like a spiritual successor of DDLJ. Aditya (Shahid Kapoor) and Geet (Kareena Kapoor Khan) are multiplex-era incarnations of Raj and Simran, but their arcs are more… existential. She is about to get married, when she meets him, on her way to her home in Punjab. Imtiaz Ali takes the train journey, that is so central to DDLJ, and integrates it into character psychology—Train chhoot rahi hai becomes a metaphor for Geet’s fears. He starts having fun with the tropes. The Dumb Fiancé, Anshuman, becomes a constant source of amusement, and ganne di khet a joke. 

It was also proof that Hindi romantic films needn’t necessarily shoot in foreign locations in order to be successful. Instead of Raj and Simran’s unplanned adventures in Swiss country (after they miss the train), the protagonists of Jab We Met are lost in the lanes of a little known town in Madhya Pradesh, which begins their Great Indian Road Trip. Ali took the DDLJ template and made it his own thing.

Dev D (2009)

How Hindi Films Have Used DDLJ As A Reference Point, Film Companion

Dev D was not only Anurag Kashyap’s reimagining of Sarat Chandra’s classic text, it was also everything a certain kind of Bollywood film isn’t supposed to be, the kind of film that DDLJ is emblematic of. The conflict that keeps Dev (Abhay Deol) and Paro (Mahie Gill) apart are internal, rather than external. Unlike Amrish Puri’s character, who disapproves of Raj and Simran’s union in DDLJ, Dev’s father—rich and upper caste—tells his son, regretfully, how he wished his son had married Paro. And unlike the virginal purity that Raj is so respectful of, sex is everywhere in Dev D: from the horny video calls even before they’ve met as grown-ups to the stolen make-out sessions amid a family gathering to the sugarcane fields, where Paro famously brings a mattress.

The marketing was in keeping with this anti-establishment spirit. ‘Come fall in lust’, announced the poster (alluding to the tagline of DDLJ): Dev D is coming to cinemas to blow the conservative values of Old Bollywood to smithereens.

Love, Sex aur Dhokha (2010)

How Hindi Films Have Used DDLJ As A Reference Point, Film Companion

The first segment of LSD is a cautionary tale of what happens when naive, impressionable couples follow DDLJ as their guidebook. It gives every tenet of the film a reality check by setting the story in one of the most brutal parts of North India, where the aspiring director, Rahul (Anshuman Jha), is making a diploma film called Mehendi Laga Ke Rakhna. He makes the mistake of falling in love with the heroine of his film, Shruti (Nusrat Bharucha), the daughter of a marble merchant. 

The found footage honour-killing film unfolds like a video diary that opens with the words ‘Dear Adi Sir’—a reference to DDLJ director Aditya Chopra, who the film’s director Dibakar Banerjee will go on to work with a few years later—and ends with the lovers leaving a ‘Thank You’ note on camera, after they have been butchered by her father’s men. The film’s attack on the DDLJ kind of movie is also an aesthetic one, with the Swiss Alps replaced by the tacky decor of Shruti’s father’s gaudily decked up mansion, the substituting of the traditional sangeet number with a deliberately distasteful item song, composed by Sneha Khanwalkar, and the onslaught of Digital Cinema on the age-old film.

Luv Shuv Tey Chicken Khurana (2012)

How Hindi Films Have Used DDLJ As A Reference Point, Film Companion

If Yash Raj and the (now defunct) Phantom Films had a lovechild, it might have been something like Luv Shuv Tey Chicken Khurana. The director Sameer Sharma worked in a number of films as an assistant director before he made this film, and his first as an A.D. was DDLJ. The result is a film that presents a romantic, if earthier, vision of Punjab but also with certain dark truths about its broken NRI dreams. Omi (Kunal Kapoor) returns to his village not because of some sweet yearning for his homeland but because he owes money to Sikh gangsters in London–people who had themselves left the pind many years ago to make it big, but fell on the wrong side of things. 

Omi’s romance with Harman (Huma Qureshi), a childhood crush, is rekindled, and there’s a frame that echoes the Karva Chauth scene—only she is nursing his bruised, bandaged nose. He whistles to the tune of “Tujhe Dekha Toh Yeh Jaana Sanam”, after he sees her. The film revolves around a certain mythical chicken khurana, a signature dish of the family owned dhaba. The secret ingredient has been lost after daar ji, the patriarch of the family, is rendered immobile. When that secret ingredient is revealed, you are not sure if it’s something that Yash Chopra would have approved of.

Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani (2013)

Trip with friends. On a train. To snowcapped mountains. Like Simran, Naina (Deepika Padukone) is the last minute entry in the group. Her parents need more convincing. The trip will liberate her in some way. Of course she will meet Him (Ranbir Kapoor) during the trip, the Casanova who will flirt with others and make her low-key jealous. There’ll be a tinge of sadness after they part when the trip is over. But what’s keeping them apart? (The answer is the same as with any Ranbir Kapoor film: he has to go on a soul-searching journey).

Also named after an old Hindi film song, like DDLJ, it has an hand-extended-from-moving-train scene, and an exchange between Bunny and Naina on why watching the movie in Maratha Mandir is cooler than watching “Phantom of the Opera” at a Broadway. Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani was produced by Karan Johar, who was one of the friends in DDLJ. And partially by Make My Trip, which is to this film what Eurail was to that.

Chennai Express (2013)

Rohit Shetty might seem far away from the Yash Raj sensibilities of the 90s, but he successfully incorporates the DDLJ story into his own brand of filmmaking. Reluctant hero Rahul (Shah Rukh Khan) gets on board the Chennai Express, gets involved in Minamma’s (Deepika Padukone) escape from her father, a dreaded crime boss in Tamil Nadu, and goes to opponent turf to win over him by defeating Thangaballi, the guy the father wants her to get married.

The extended hand from moving train moment is played out to the max, Shetty style, and it might be the most creative of all the tributes paid to the scene: It happens four times, back to back, as if it’s Rahul’s natural instinct passed on from past life—he even says it, ‘I’ve done this before’. Chennai Express is filled with Bollywood tributes, but none more so than Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge, which are the exact concluding words of the film, voiced by Khan.

Humpty Sharma Ki Dulhania (2014)

A reworking of DDLJ, with more agency for the female lead, and like Jab We Met, more rooted. Unlike Simran’s one-last-trip-before-marriage to Europe, Kaavya (Alia Bhatt) goes to Delhi from her home in Punjab, to buy her wedding lehenga. Shashank Khaitan’s debut film keeps playing games with the audience’s memory of DDLJ. Rakesh (Varun Dhawan)—who is shown watching a rerun of the film with his friends—tries to pull a DDLJ-inspired prank on Kaavya on the morning after a night of drinking. She punches him and says ‘Get over your DDLJ hangover’. Just when you see a tribute, the next moment it undercuts it a little.

Ashutosh Rana plays the stern father who has fixed his daughter’s marriage to his friend’s son, but the film gives him a reason for why he does what he does. Instead of Kuljeet—a ‘bad guy’—we get the spotless Mr Perfect, Angad (Siddharth Shukla), Kaavya’s fiancé. Rakesh and Kaavya do get on a train, but then get off, with the big showdown at the railway station happening after it, and it’s not even the climax.

Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga (2019)

Film references abound in Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga, the first mainstream Hindi film on a lesbian love story. In the clever subversion of the title that alludes to the RD Burman song from 1942: A Love Story; in the meta casting of Anil Kapoor and Sonam Kapoor as father and daughter; in the password of Beeji (Sonam’s grandmother)—it’s Dev Anand (it used to be Joy Mukherji).

The one reference it doesn’t spell out is that it is loosely structured like DDLJ: a girl in Punjab in love with someone who his father wouldn’t approve of. There’s a guy (Rajkummar Rao) who’s in love with her, too, and who arrives at their place unannounced, a double bluff. Add to that, the last scene at the railway station, no hands extended, just her seeing off a friend, who’s going back to where he came from.

Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan (2020)

How Hindi Films Have Used DDLJ As A Reference Point, Film Companion

Like DDLJ, the hand stretched out from the train sequence comes once in the beginning, and once in the end. Kartik (Ayushmann Khurana) is going to Aman’s (Jitendra Kumar) family home, in Allahabad, where he will have to win over his father (Gajraj Rao). Debutante Hitesh Kewalya’s queer romantic comedy uses familiarity to take the Hindi film audience to unfamiliar, and sometimes uncomfortable, places. Big revelations are made in the train and railway station, and contrary to expectations early into the film. The climactic voiceover asks the audience to reimagine legendary love stories: Laila and Juliet, Majnu and Romeo, Simran and Anjali, Viru and Jai, playing to the visuals of, what else, but Kartik and Aman running to get on the train.

Dil Bechara (2020)

How Hindi Films Have Used DDLJ As A Reference Point, Film Companion

I had a friend in school who had bought a mandolin just so that he could play “Tujhe Dekha Toh Hai Yeh Jaana Sanam”—it’s the only tune I’ve ever heard him play. That’s how closely associated the instrument is with the sound of DDLJ. AR Rahman uses the mandolin in a style that’s reminiscent of DDLJ, in “Maskhari” from Dil Bechara. It’s the song that plays when we see Kizzy (Sanjana Sanghi) and Manny (Sushant Singh Rajput) act in that spoofy film, which looks like a pastiche of all Hindi film cliches: the hero saving the heroine from the villain, where she is tied up like Basanti from Sholay. The film-within-a-film becomes the only place where their doomed love story—one of them will die of cancer—can find a Happy Ending. Inevitably it ends with a long shot of them reenacting the train scene. It’s Rajput’s last, final frame.

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