When Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge was released, I was a kid in kindergarten growing up in Chandigarh. My dad didn’t really believe in watching movies. He was of the view that movies were a wasteful distraction. And so, thanks to the middle-class beliefs of my public-sector-banker-dad, ever since my birth, I hadn’t been introduced to cinema. (Years later, I realised that he himself had been a movie buff in his college days. He maintained a secret diary, a record of sorts, complete with details about the actors, directors, cameramen, etc., for each movie.)
We were very close to our next-door neighbours. The family of four were proud Punjabis. “It’s the best movie we have seen in a long long time. It portrays Punjab beautifully! Please go and watch it!” insisted Aunty, during the weekly tea catch-up with my mom. My mom had been craving a movie for years by then. She was a few months pregnant with my baby sister, and so she used her situation to her full advantage and managed to convince dad to get tickets for an evening show.
So off we went on our Bajaj scooter (humara Bajaj for the win!). Mom had already hyped it up for me as to what a theatre was, that people would look huge on the big screen, that I would be having the time of my life, etc.
I don’t remember much about actually watching the movie that first time. I do vividly remember bugging my dad to take me out of the overwhelmingly dark theatre, my mom consoling me and telling me to stay put a little longer and wait for my favourite song, ‘Zara sa jhoom loon main‘, dad taking me out mid-movie and pacifying me with an ice-cream. I do remember hurriedly climbing up on our scooter in the parking lot, glad that it all got over.
My DDLJ indulgence didn’t stop that day after my first tryst with the movie-theater. The DDLJ songs became as ingrained in my head as my nursery rhymes. In front of all our relatives and family friends, who were the victims of my voluntary performances, my parents would cheer at my self-choreographed ‘Ruk ja o dil deewane‘ dance moves.
And then of course there was the re-run of the movie on television over a year after its release. Mom and I watched the movie sneakily in the afternoon. Dad was away at work. By then, I was in upper KG and my head had begun to process things better. To my mum’s surprise, I managed to sit still and watch the movie through till the end. I got quite involved in the plot, not knowing that all of it was just a charade. I remember secretly crying when the fight scene at the railway station unfolded, feeling bad for all the blows that the protagonist sustained. I sincerely hated Amrish Puri. Shah Rukh became my childhood crush. I don’t know how he manages to serenade ladies of all ages! But in my case, perhaps it was because I didn’t know any other ‘hero’ at that time. SRK became one of my imaginary friends.
I have now lost count of how many times I have watched the re-runs on television (all without dad’s knowledge, of course). One summer, back in my hometown in Sambalpur, Odisha, my maternal grandpa sat changing channels on the TV. A septuagenarian at the time, the self-made man was a no-nonsense person who was feared by one and all. My grandma, mom, aunts and a string of cousins sat huddled in one room for the weekly family TV viewing ritual. The TV remote had to belong to the man of the house. Three generations waited with bated breath for him to finally tune into some show. As he switched from one channel to the next, there suddenly appeared Kajol dancing to ‘Mere khwaabon main jo aaye‘. The channel-surfing stopped. We rejoiced at his choice and enjoyed the song. The song got over. To our surprise, it wasn’t just the song but the whole movie playing on the channel. Grandpa didn’t change the channel. We exchanged silent smiles and watched the film till the end.
When I was a college going teen at Delhi University, I realised the extent to which DDLJ had touched the masses. The then US President felt the need to include the movie’s iconic dialogue in his speech. Obama won me over when he quoted Bade bade deshon mein in Delhi during his India-visit.
When I went on to pursue my MBA, I became best friends with a guy who was an SRK and DDLJ fanatic. During one of our lectures in Sociology, our professor laid bare for us the patriarchal and regressive undertones in DDLJ. I woke up to how women lacked agency in the movie and were portrayed as property (read amaanat). I woke up to the brouhaha around hindustani ladki ki izzat. It hurt to learn that the movie turned out to be more regressive than the black-and-white-era Hindi movies where female characters were more free and equal in love and other matters concerning their lives. Yet, I couldn’t shun the movie. How could I? Yes, it was flawed. I did admit to that. Yet, in my head, Raj was the guy who didn’t eat when Simran didn’t eat on her Karva Chauth. Raj was the guy who made relentless efforts to get along well with all of Simran’s folks including her khadoos Babuji. Raj was sincerely concerned about Simran’s well-being and happiness. Raj was definitely a rich, have-it-all, spoilt brat and certainly a bad example for Sociology. But I am guilty of still being biased towards him. And the blame’s blatantly on SRK.
DDLJ fed my imagination about what falling in love could feel like. Love to me became what Simran is shown to go through in the song ‘Ho gaya hai tujhko toh pyaar sajna‘. Even now, when I happen to see the song sequence portray Simran imagining Raj playing his mandolin, waltzing with him in the rain and waving to nobody in particular at her doorstep, I get this happy, mushy feeling.
In my early twenties, I happened to be working in Mumbai. I was now a lady in love with a Tamilian who hadn’t watched DDLJ ever! A twenty-rupee ticket to the 11:30 a.m. show at Maratha Mandir was the best way to induct my then boyfriend and now husband into Bollywood. The year was 2016. There were about twenty-five-odd people watching the movie in that grand old cinema hall. We occupied the balcony seats. People whistled and clapped at all the punch dialogues. My beau thoroughly enjoyed the movie and was surprised at its high engagement quotient.
DDLJ, like all of us, is not perfect. We have every right to lambast it. When I watch it now, I cringe at Raj’s obnoxious advances at Simran in the Eurorail. That’s definitely not done. If I could, I would censor it. Yes, DDLJ sucks at multiple levels. And yet, it is what it is – a celebration of sorts. We can’t take away the fact that with its memorable characters, engaging screenplay and its classic music, the movie has managed to touch millions of hearts. And no matter how stupid that last scene with Simran running towards Raj in the moving train is, it does put a smile on many faces. That fuzzy feeling in the end is what eventually counts.
Disclaimer: This article has not been written by Film Companion’s editorial team.