It was 1995. I was ten or eleven years old, and was in the early stages of the pre-teenage rebellion. Most of my opinions were considered non-opinions and usually were in the process of getting tossed out of the window. Not sure how the rest of the family approved of this idea of watching Shah Rukh Khan's film in a theatre, considering the fact that the same year he had three back-to-back duds in Zamana Deewana, Guddu and Oh Darling, Yeh Hai India. Anyway, we all landed up at the Stutee Theatre in Bhubaneswar. In the days of single-screen cinema halls, Sriya-Swati-Stutee were our 'Le Paradis Absolu'! Ask any old-timer in Bhubaneswar. As expected, all shows were house full. The film had been declared a monster hit. That day, the ethics-driven and regulation-loving honourable family trait took a back seat and we all agreed to buy the eighteen rupees' ticket at the princely price of twenty-five rupees. Clutching the ticket stubs, scampering into the already darkened theatre, we took our seats. After three hours and nine minutes, something miraculous had happened. I had become a Shah Rukh Khan fan. That was 1995. Today, I still am.
Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge is the story of Raj and Simran. It's also the story of immigrants who despite being settled in the cosy suburbs of a foreign country, desperately seek the solace of their homeland. It's also the story of two fathers as different as chalk and cheese but connected by their love for their children. It's the story of a rebellious Raj who travels across the seas to meet the girl, who innocuously leaves the cowbell at her door, desperately hoping he see this as her consent. It's the story of a lonely Simran, who re-discovers life with a boy who messes up her Euro-trip plan. More than ever, it's the story of all of us, who wanted to be Raj and Simran.
DDLJ, as it became later known, wasn't a great film by the standards of film making or breaking grounds. It was a plain and simple story of a boy meeting girl and eventually following her to India to marry her. In today's world of the woke junta treating everything with contempt, DDLJ probably would be seen in a whole different light. However, back in the day, when things were simpler, when Sachin was in vogue and Arnab Goswami was just starting his career, DDLJ brought in a fresh perspective on love. It exemplified the fact that opposites do attract. Simran, an ideal daughter and a closeted poet dreams of a man who would sweep her off her feet. Raj, a rich and good-for-nothing son of a rich father, lives his life on his own terms. The fact that these two worlds collide and go on falling for each other represented the randomness of love.
DDLJ had everything. Young and puppy love, a callback to the NRIs, wonderful songs and an ending that became the benchmark of all endings – the train sequence. From the show business perspective, DDLJ did something that became a rage later on. Today, almost every film has a 'Making Of' video. Back in the day, it was unheard of. The makers shot behind-the-scenes footage and showed it on Doordarshan, a week before the film's release. The film coincided with the 25th year of Yash Raj Productions. Call it a marketing gimmick but the tone was set for a landmark film.
But what made DDLJ so epic? Was it the chemistry between a charming Shah Rukh Khan and an ethereal Kajol? Was it the sugary and syrupy family drama? Was it the music? What was the reason that made this film a darling of the masses? Perhaps it was everything combined, plus a story that resonated with the audience. The music by Jatin-Lalit played a huge role. The film had seven songs, each of them chartbusters and still heard in multiple radio channels, even today. Each song represented a deeper meaning. 'Ghar Aaja Pardesi' reminded every NRI out there about his/her country. 'Tujhe Dekha' became the love anthem of the nation. 'Mehndi Laga Ke Rakhna' was the song of all sangeets. Each song was a keepsake.
But the main reason the film worked with the audience was because of the moments of the film that stayed on with the viewer. For NRIs, it reminded them about the home they had left a long time ago. The core theme of the film was traditional values versus modern times. The conflict between Raj and Simran's father came to a head in the end because of the way Raj had been perceived by Bauji. In fact, most of Raj's antics explained his goodness rather than his outer persona of a carefree lout. Raj saves Simran from getting arrested by the police by pulling an antic by saying – 'Al Pacino, Al Kamino, Al Kutto, Al Saalo!' And then he goes on a retort – 'Ae! Isko leke jao re!!' Raj plays a prank on Simran about having sex the previous night and when things really get really out of hand, he holds her face close and, in peak SRK mode, i.e., with quivering lips and doe eyes, explains what a 'Hindustani' girl's izzat means to him and that despite her thinking him a 'ghatiya kisam ka awara ladka', he cannot take advantage of her. This is the moment when Simran and the audience are bowled over by Raj. For a brief period of time, he even wins over Simran's father, played by the late Amrish Puri, by pulling tricks out of his hat. Remember aao and phurrr? Simran, despite being the miss goody-two-shoes, falls for this guy who irritates her on the whole trip yet reminds her of the person of her dreams, her poems. Her trust in the guy grows fourfold when he follows her to India and proclaims his love for her – 'Pyar karti ho mujhse? Bharosa hai mujhpe?' Her reply? 'Khud se zyaada!' If even now you're not brimming with romance, I pity you!
But why only Raj and Simran? Every character in this film has become memorable. Anupam Kher, before he turned all 'Jai Ho', was the father everyone wanted to have. Farida Jalal was the mommy of everyone's dreams. If Anupam Kher's character reminded everyone to live the life to its full extent then Farida Jalal's character cautioned all – 'Sapne dekho par unke poore hone ki shart mat rakho'. Amrish Puri's character Bauji, who deeply misses his homeland and hates everything about the London that includes people like Raj, finally gives the thumbs-up to his daughter to be with the guy who loves her so much – the deep-voiced 'Ja Simran, ja' made it to the lingo of every family. Even the minor characters such as Mandira Bedi as the demure and smitten-with-Raj Preeti, the evil, funny men Ajit Singh and Kuljit Singh played by Satish Shah and Parmeet Sethi, and the spinster Kammo Bua played by Himani Shivpuri – they all have become memorable over the years. The movie began Indians' love affair with the Swiss Alps, Euro trip, Mandolin and, yes, Stroh's beer – everybody cheers!
A film that ran at Maratha Mandir theatre for more than 1200 weeks, its enigma can only be felt and savoured. Nothing can come close to it. With so much pragmatism and cynicism in the air, it's difficult to explain to a millennial what DDLJ means to the nineties kid. For that matter, it's equally difficult to explain to the naysayers the impact of the film. To those ever-sniggering detractors, I say –
Come, fall in love… again, in another 25 years.
"Aur haan… kahaani humesha Raj aur Simran ki hi hoti hai…"