And again! Hailed by many to be the best of '90s Bollywood, the vehicle that launched Shah Rukh and Kajol to super-fame (as well as their famed onscreen chemistry), analyzed for its themes of emigration and longing for Mother India, DDLJ is superficially like many another Bollywood film. And yet it's been playing in some Bombay cinemas for over 12 years. What's the magic? you ask. Damned if we know! All we know is that there is something magnetically charming about this film. It's the ultimate plastic escape, yet it rings strangely authentic. It's the bog-standard story of star-cross'd opposites attracting, yet it all feels as fresh and exciting as the first time we fell in lurrrve. It's satisfying in a comfortable, endearing way.
The requisite wedding song extravaganza!
The film opens, improbably, with Amrish Puri standing in Trafalgar Square. Daily, this Indian emigre feeds the pidgeons amidst a grey, drizzly London and dreams of returning to his sun-drenched Punjab. Meanwhile, his daughter, Simran (Kajol), has dreams of her own: akin to Romeo's (or the West Side Story's Tony) prescience, she knows she will fall in love soon, but not yet with whom. We, of course, know it's going to be with the rich, boozing party animal, Raj (Shah Rukh Khan). Both youngsters ask their fathers if they can go on a month-long Eurail trip in continental Europe with their friends. Raj goes to celebrate his recent failure of college, while Simran is allowed to enjoy her last summer of freedom before her inevitable arranged marriage to a Dad-approved good Indian boy (who, of course, totally sucks).
As soon as the train rolls out of King's Cross station, Raj and Simran bump into each other. And continue to bump into each other all through Europe as the two groups of friends explore France and Switzerland. At one point, Raj and Simran are accidentally left behind. Left with no one but each other, they team up and make their way, first by rental car and then by foot, across Switzerland in order to find their friends. The initial awkwardness melts away and, with the help of a Cognac-filled night on the town, a bond of genuine affection forms between these two rambunctious 'opposites'.
Our favorite song.
The affection grows and, by the time they find their friends and return to London, they've both fallen into, yes, love. When Simran confesses to her mother that she's found the literal man of her dreams, her father overhears and angrily precipitates their departure for India. Raj hears that Simran's returned to the Punjab to marry her betrothed and, encouraged by his romantic, sentimentalist father, he flies off to catch her. He arrives just in time for the wedding preparations and then, since he is a traditional, elder-respecting guy despite the outward hedonism, decides that eloping is out of the question and instead works to win Dad's seal of approval.
The most famous song and main theme. This is turned into a cartoon for the DVD.
What can we say? The love story is anything but unconventional. Instead, what's interesting about DDLJ is it's treatment of the diaspora; some have argued this inspired a whole wave of 'modern Bollywood' where traditional Indian values, instead of being undermined in alien environments (London, NYC) are reinforced and treasured. And Indians abroad are anything if not truly Hindustani at heart - Raj certainly keeps reminding us of that by, well, saying it aloud many times.
The performances are uniformly energetic and charismatic; Shah Rukh and Kajol are at their bouncy best, and yes, The Chemistry is there. The cinematography is clever and enjoyable. We particularly liked the scene where the Punjabi maidens flock past a daydreaming Amrish Puri as he slo-mo feeds his pidgeons. The songs have rightfully become classics, with the above Tujhe Dekha even making a comical appearance in Shah Rukh's later film, Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna - except this time it's his son who assures Simran that he's coming. Our only criticism is for showing us this land of wonders which contrasts so painfully with our plain ol' reality.