25 years is a lifetime. But the shelf life of Aditya Chopra's Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge transcends memory. Without exaggeration, DDLJ is Bollywood's Notting Hill, Pretty Woman, When Harry Met Sally and Notebook all at once. It is the coming-of-age of the Hindi-language romantic comedy in a country grappling with post-liberalization ardour. It is also the first and most famous of the director's modernity v/s tradition trilogy.
One might imagine that choosing 25 great moments is like choosing the entire film. But to be precise, DDLJ has enough material to cover a 32-year anniversary. But 2027 is far away. So here goes. I write on 25 of my favourite scenes from the 1995 blockbuster:
The newness of DDLJ officially began with its opening credits. It remains the only Hindi film to date that has a special "Title Suggested By" credit. The person credited, of course, was Anupam Kher's wife Kirron Kher, who I'd like to believe was Raj's late mother whom we never see or hear of. Imagine Dharamvir Malhotra speaking to her portrait every night – Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na style – about being a single dad and a faithful "hubby".
Raj Malhotra, the hero of the film and the 1990s in general, is introduced in Simran's dreams. While Kajol embarks upon the most famous "towel" moment in pre-Saawariya Hindi cinema, SRK dots her music as her (outdoor) knight in shining armour. In Mere Khwaabon Mein, he is seen playing every filmable sport possible: rugby, go-karting, racing against a plane (?), biking, swimming, bowling. (His basketball is particularly unconvincing). The montage isn't random. Moments later, Raj flunks his university exams – by now, we know why. This also ties into his piano-playing surprise (Ruk jaa, O dil deewane) with Simran in Europe: he's talented at all the things considered "a waste of time" by Indian parents.
When the cat's away, the mice will play – and dance. Simran and her little sister Chutki are busy jiving to the sort of music (Sidney Berlin Ragtime Band's Doop) that was invented for brats who suddenly have the house to themselves. The camera pans to reveal mother Lajjo, too, doing the same in the kitchen while cooking – carrot in mouth of course. The moment grumpy Chaudhary Baldev Singh (the British probably call him "Baldy") rings the doorbell, the family snaps back to the ruse and switches their cassette player to the forlorn KL Saigal song, Gham Diye Mustaqil Kitna Nazuk Hai Dil. So much nuance about immigrant life is revealed through so little.
Raj flunks his university exams. His jovial father half-sarcastically, half-sincerely declares: Fail hona aur padhai na karna humare khaandaan ki parampara hai. This is the first of many DDLJ scenes that start comically and end on a serious note: a way of blindsiding the audience and hitting them with a life truth when they least expect it. It's a tender father-son moment, but also an important one because it downplayed the middle-Indian obsession with education and lineage to deflate the ambivalence of post-liberalization Bollywood. Dharamvir's words meant one thing: You can have your cake, eat it and let out an impolite little burp too. Raj's life becomes his education – and he passes those exams with cinematic colours.
The train starts to leave the platform. Raj stretches his hand out for a stranger, Simran, as she makes a last-gasp dash. It's a playful prelude – musically, spiritually, dramatically – to their unlikely story, and one that has been recreated and paid "homage" to so often that you almost feel sorry for the brave souls who missed (or ignored) the DDLJ hype train. Not caring for the film effectively meant not understanding at least 60 percent of rom-com Bollywood over the next 25 years.
"Robby ki party mein" is now a go-to catchphrase to mock boys unfamiliar with the art of flirting. (Who doesn't think of SRK's voice when a smug stranger walks up to you and croons, "Lagta hai maine aapko kahin dekha hai"?). When Raj pulls Simran into the train, their time together is a masterclass of first impressions – Raj is annoyingly persuasive, Simran thinks he's a pest. But the essence of this moment only comes full circle when Simran overhears Raj use exactly the same "pickup line" with her attractive friend (who falls for it) at the opera performance. I never got why the unseen but essential party animal, Robby, wasn't nominated for Best Actor in a Supporting Role.
The second Simran goes solo, she lands in a soup. Raj, red convertible and all, rescues her from the cops with his incredible knack for theatricality and linguistic deceit – "Bon Jovi, Al Pacino, Al kutto, Al Camino" – and shuts her up. When she apologizes, the ice breaks and he responds with a line that combines instant-classic charisma with NRI pragmatism: "koi baat nahi Senorita, bade bade deshon mein aisi chotti chotti baatein hote rehti hai". But it's a tiny moment between these two more famous moments that defines the sequence: After the cops leave, a cross Raj uses nothing but a rev of his car engine to make his point. It's superbly timed. A snooty Simran's ego breaks and their journey begins.
Hi, Raj tells Jesus. His "request" then assured an entire generation of Indian children grappling with religion that praying is about truth and not method. This is also the scene that triggered my obsession with foreign cathedrals and cozy countryside churches. Every time I visit one, a clumsy "Hi" echoes in my head.
Palat. Palat. That's all it took to alter the language of romantic intuition. A mental voice tends to come off as corny in most movies, but not here: Raj wills Simran to look back at him as she enters the train, and she does. The conversation that precedes this moment, though, is just as memorable. It begins with Raj playing his mandolin, then mock-proposing to a visibly jolted Simran with the most SRK eyes possible, before joking about her impending marriage to a man she's never met. Raj can barely veil his sarcasm. He's both disappointed and challenged – a vibe that's mirrored, almost verbatim, in Dil Toh Pagal Hai at a wedding over two bowls of phirni.
DDLJ is full of contenders for the unofficial 'Declaration of Love' moment. Was it "Palat"? Or the church, that single candle and Simran's resplendent prayer-face? Or the shack where Raj embraces her after driving her to tears with his crude sex joke? But if you look (and listen) real closely, it's after all these scenes, during an awkward goodbye at the railway station – the trigger for the epiphanic Ho Gaya Hai Tujhko To Pyar Sajna. The sheltered Simran, unfamiliar with the silence of the chase, invites Raj to her wedding. Raj's four-word response went down in history as the most passive-aggressive yet passionate phrase ever: Nahi…main nahi aaunga. He's grinning, shaking his head and tch-ing, as if to say "silly girl". She's heard another phrase altogether.
At the very end of Ho Gaya Hai Tujhko, once Simran returns home after seeing (charming avatars of) Raj everywhere on her commute, Lata Mangeshkar's voice slows to a near-halt with the final "Na Jaane Mere Dil Ko Kya Ho Gaya" – every word dripping with longing and awakening. The visual translation is perfect: An imaginary Raj does a quasi-royal, quasi-lover handwave outside her door, leaving Simran spellbound. The life-cycle of their infatuation culminates in this one tiny gesture – signifying an ending as well as a beginning.
After Pops encourages Raj to chase his destiny in a scene that was recreated in Dil Chahta Hai, Raj reaches Simran's house only to discover the family has moved back to India. Khan's face falls here in a manner that suggests he might go the Anjaam way. But then he sees the Swiss cow bell: the 1995 version of an ambiguous email. "Main aa raha hu, Simran," Raj tells the bell, before unexpectedly turning to the camera, breaking the fourth wall and repeating: "main aa raha hu". Him notifying the world of his intentions is the 1995 version of a TMI tweet.
Tujhe Dekha Toh is beautifully filmed, from the mustard fields of Punjab to the lush valleys of Switzerland – reframing all the locations of their Europe journey (train, hotel, church) as happily-ever-after moments. There's no dancing either, just emotional striding. But there's one shot that visually immortalizes the Raj-Simran reunion. A sophisticated SRK – gelled hair, aristocratic gait – in a tuxedo walks up to Kajol in a black gown. They're on the "Palat" footbridge, a quaint little stream flowing under. She offers him her hand for a polite peck, he grabs her body and leads her into an impromptu waltz. The jig mirrors the film's tradition-twisting tone. For the longest time, this is precisely how I thought love looked: All dressed up with everywhere to go.
Never has eating a banana looked more family-friendly. Raj times his spontaneous judging of spinster aunt Kammo's sari trials with his banana-snacking. One bite for every sample. Himani Shivpuri is effortlessly coy in this scene with her intonations and perfectly pitched banter. The twinkle in SRK's eyes, those flashing dimples and a nod are enough to convince her Kammo that his fashion sense – and creepy chivalry – is worthy of a big fat North Indian wedding.
Raj is cleverly infiltrating the wedding household, winning over Simran's family members with his energy and generosity. In one of the funniest yet scariest scenes of the film, Raj hits a roadblock when he sees Simran's father: the same sanskaari store-owner from London he had force-bought a crate of beer from. What are the odds? Raj's cool demeanor immediately crumbles, and his boyish guilt surfaces. "B-b-b-b-beer?" he accidentally stammers, while offering the old man a glass of lassi – instantly deconstructing the K-k-k-k-kiran legacy – and praying that "buddhe ki yaadasht" fails. Thus begins the Punjabi predecessor to the Raj Aryan v/s Narayan Shankar showdown.
Satish Shah lit up the Indian-uncle character in the 1990s. But arguably his greatest addition to the throwaway-line culture was "you are not only genius, but indigenous!" – on-the-spot improvisation by the actor – when his character is defeated by Raj in a chess game. That the come-from-behind victory reflects Raj's status within the family – winning when the elders least expect it – further illustrates the "indigenous" of Shah's comic timing.
For a film that uses the Hindi film song as a shared but surreptitious language, it's fitting that a harmless game of Antakshari doubles up as a secretive couple's banter. Raj joins in, hoping to scandalize Simran with his overt leanings in public view. The tables are turned when he grasps her hand only to see that it's a bashful Preeti he's "made a move" on. A winning Simran stands behind her grandmother, enjoys Raj squirming, and croons Shamshad Begum's kahin pe nigaahe kahin pe nishaana. Her voice is both uncannily sharp and unassumingly affectionate. The faux pas closes with Raj upping the old-school-texting game with a cheeky rendition of the original Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge.
Simran sneaks back into bed after shocking Raj with a virginal peck on his cheek. To her surprise, Chutki is awake – they're facing opposite sides when Chutki admits that she dislikes Kuldeep but likes "woh chatt-waala (the man on the terrace)". Simran's eyes shoot open. She sits up. They face each other. Simran has underestimated her little sister. She's embarrassed at first, but she doesn't deny it. A burden is off her shoulders. This is not her big secret anymore; this is now their little secret. The bond strengthens. Everyone underestimates little sisters.
Karwa Chauth became as cool as Valentine's Day for 90s kids after Simran faked a fainting spell to make Raj the one who breaks her fast. Her wink is disarming, but it's their rendezvous on the terrace that night that takes the (eggless) cake. A cranky Simran taunts Raj for stuffing himself while she was starving all day. But Chutki reveals that Raj, too, has been fasting in solidarity. Never has humble pie tasted so good. Simran melts like an embarrassed parent, Raj acts all skittish: Aap…mujhse baat kar rahi hai? (You talkin to me?). They feed each other, Simran apologizes – like she once did in that red convertible – and Raj responds with the iconic line that 2020 Film Twitter might interpret as low-key jingoism. Big big countries, small small things.
There's nothing more uplifting than watching parents break character and do the most un-parent-like things. Naturally, the loosening up in DDLJ is musical too. Chaudhary Baldev Singh brings the Mehndi Laga Ke Rakhna circus to a screeching halt with his stern face. Raj feels like a clown. And then, to everyone's delight, Amrish Puri belts out Waqt's Aye Meri Zohra Jabeen to serenade his blushing wife, Lajjo. Batman has smiled. A spiritual descendent of this scene has Amitabh Bachchan's Narayan Shankar bringing the young Pairon Mein Bandhan Hai party to a halt in Mohabbatein – before Raj Aryan Malhotra, by defying the old man, does what Raj Malhotra might have done if Simran was dead.
The morning after, Raj is late to the pigeon-feeding session. He reaches to find Bauji looking mighty pleased with himself – like a bride blushing after a naughty night. Raj takes this as a sign: Maybe Chaudhary Baldev Singh has finally softened. As usual, Raj doesn't quit while he's ahead. He tries so hard here – giving him a thumbs-up, even brushing his shoulder – that within seconds, a frown is restored to bauji's hard face. Back to square one. Khan is so jittery, so coiled up, it's a marvellous display of gesture-acting. It ends with Raj feeling (and eating) like the pigeons: at the mercy of his feeder.
Again, like the first father-son scene, a fleeting glimpse of emotion highlights what is essentially a comical exchange. Pops has arrived in Punjab and, like most well-meaning but absent-minded fathers, messes things up for Raj. He can't distinguish between Preeti and Simran, and when Raj wonders aloud why he had to visit, pops punctures the tension with an adorable "I was missing you yaar". Raj briefly hugs him and goes back to hyperventilating. This moving moment later found ode in Hero No. 1, where a wealthy father (Kader Khan), disguised as a lowly chowkidar, visits his "househelp" son (Govinda) on his birthday.
Every Raj-Simran terrace moment is significant, but the last one – on the eve of her wedding – is beautifully layered. It starts off with a mental exchange: A panicky Simran wants to elope, but Raj wants to win over her father. This is the actual mood of the two before they start talking: She is desperate, he is measured. But then they start speaking. Raj admits that he does not know what he will do "tomorrow". For the first time, Raj looks lost – and at sea about his strategy. Immediately, as is the case with long-married couples, Simran morphs into the calm one. For a fleeting minute, they exchange roles. Balance is maintained. She asks: Do you love me? Do you trust me? – Raj smiles, he knows what she's doing. It ends with Simran and her outstretched arms waiting to comfort Raj, instead of the other way around.
Raj, a romantic hero, is trapped in an action movie. He is getting thrashed by Kuldeep and his goons at the railway station. Raj doesn't fight back; he thinks he deserves it. Raj's pop intervenes, but gets thrashed by Kuldeep too. The Baazigar and Darr in Raj awakens – something as common as a rifle shot becomes a warning bell, and we see him, bloody face and naked rage, aiming for Kuldeep. His head screams: Nobody touches my father. Khan's eyes become films of their own. Raj strides to Kuldeep, threatening the worst. The rifle-drop that follows feels like a mic-drop. Raj's violent defense of his father circles back to the previous scene, where Dharamvir silences a rampaging Baldev Singh with words of grand reverb: Mera beta mera guroor hai.
That's the number of the bogey Raj is in, when Amrish Puri single-handedly (literally) liberates all the shackled Indian households willing him to leave his daughter's hand. "Jaa Simran Jaa, ji le apni zindagi" is the line. But every detail of the most popular climax in Hindi cinema has been immortalized since: including Mandira Bedi's martyr-like smile, a Sikh man in a pink turban waving at the train, and of course Raj's thumbs-up – which, after the pigeon-feeding disaster, finally gets a positive reaction from the nation's bauji.