It has been deemed one of the greatest love stories of all time, and the chemistry between the film’s on-screen couple remains the stuff of legends. Its massive box office success has spawned many remakes in the years since its original 1995 release, but none could truly capture the beauty of the original film, nor the sheer size of its fan base.
The film is the Indian “Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge,” loosely translated as “Those of Heart Will Take the Bride,” the mid-1990s blockbuster which, 13 years later, is the longest-running film in Indian cinema, setting the record in April 2007 when it celebrated a whopping 600 weeks of continuous play in Mumbai theaters while continuing to provoke massive outbreaks of swooning among generations of South Asian women. In fact, rumor has it that there is still a theater in India that plays the film every week to a packed house.
It is this ground-breaking success and popularity that drove the Film and Video Center at UCI’s to screen a 35 mm version of “DDLJ” to close its fall quarter film series on Thursday, Nov. 20, as part of UC Irvine’s International Education Week.
“Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge,” or “DDLJ” for short, contains many of the elements common in the classic Bollywood film: kaleidoscopic clothing, invigorating song and dance sequences, flying saris, impossible love triangles, unrealistically skimpy costume choices in freezing mountain settings and, most importantly, thunderous slaps by an enraged elder man, a role usually occupied, as in this film, by the deliciously evil Amrish Puri, who played Mola Ram in 1984’s “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.”
Directed by then 24-year-old Aditya Chopra, “DDLJ” revolves around Simran (played by the bewitching unibrowed Kajol), an Indian girl who lives with her family in London, but has been raised with strict traditional beliefs and regulations, primarily due to her conservative, homesick father (Puri). Although she dreams of being whisked away by an unknown lover, she understands her duty to her family and, out of respect for her father, agrees to marry her father’s best friend’s son, whom she was promised to when she was born, but has never seen before.
However, before she does that, she seeks permission from her father to have one month to live life on her own terms by going on a tour of Europe with her friends, a rite of passage for the youth.
It is on this trip that the traditional Simran bumps into Raj (vivaciously played by India’s equivalent to George Clooney, Shahrukh Khan), a brash and immature fellow London-dwelling Indian who is also on a trip with his friends. Raj could not be more different from Simran, which happens to follow in the typical formula of a rapidly developing form of love. By the time the two return home, they are certain they can never live anywhere besides in each other’s arms.
When Simran’s father discovers what has happened, he immediately whisks her off to India to seal the engagement. Raj, upon hearing of this, will not give up on her so easily. He shows up in the fields of her Punjab home and assures her that he will not leave until she is his.
Here, “DDLJ” breaks from the conventional Bollywood films that preceded it, which usually has the hero and heroine elope, leading to a tragic ending. Chopra’s respect for his culture and time-honored tradition manifests itself throughout the film, but especially here, as Raj, apparently a staunch traditionalist under his playful visage, rejects the suggestion of elopement time and time again. Instead, he assures Simran he will get the approval of her family and then marry her, as the family’s blessings are crucial to a happy marriage.
By incorporating this as a major theme in the film, Chopra paints a vivid picture of the values that drive the culture, while at the same time critiquing its negative aspects by including dialogue between Simran and her mother expressing frustration at the inferiority of women in the Indian tradition. And by having the India-born, home-grown fiance of Simran play a more villainous character against the sweet, caring London-born Raj, the film strikes a chord at a specific crossroads of Indian society where foreign influence meets domestic traditionalism.
“DDLJ” then proceeds through a medley of comedic antics on the part of Raj as he weaves himself into the lives and hearts of Simran’s family, the groom’s family and even the groom himself. Three songs, two failed smaller love connections and one terribly choreographed fight scene later, Simran’s father finally accepts Raj once he realizes how much Raj loves his daughter.
Bollywood films are typically in the form of musicals, mixing cultural Indian instruments like the sitar, a string instrument, and the dhol, a type of drum, with modern beats. True to Bollywood form, “DDLJ” certainly doesn’t lack in the musical department, with songs enlisting the rich, vibrant voices of the famous singers, Lata Mangeshkar and Udit Narayan, producing a soundtrack that is moving, enticing and, like the movie, dares you to believe in the power of love.