Monday 20 August 2007

Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge (1995)

We defy anyone to have a better ending than Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge (The Bravehearted Gets The Bride, or just DDLJ). We defy anyone to supress their juicy, cathartic, crocodile tears at the last scene of DDLJ. This is Shakespearean stuff, man, except the Bard was never this epic. This is the rousing conclusion to Dvorak's New World sympthony. This is spectacle, this is extravaganza. This is shameless, reassuring cliche. This goes where even Disney movies fear to tread. It's the type of scene that we've all seen before, or think we have, many times, and yet it's so emotionally satisfying that we could watch those last few minutes again and again.

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.


Anindya said...

Youtube video links are not working :(

Ami said...

Raj is actually, according to me, one selfish guy who comes very close to actually saying, "MY way or the highway" to his lady love in that silent, inner-voice scene on the balcony. He drinks Cognac like it's coke & even promotes hard liquor to someone who probably has never sipped beer, he sleeps around (mentions of his previous gf abound), he's irreverent (the buying-beer scene), he plays a nasty trick on the old & the young alike by appearing like a nice guy all the while planning to break the engagement he's joyously promoting to everyone. There's nothing at all to like in Raj. It's a classic case of "love is blind" in Simran's case, IMO.

And yet, why was Raj so widely accepted, so celebrated, so praised? Same answer to the question of why Ajay wins our sympathy despite being a murdering monster in Baazigar, or Rahul winning cheers from the crowd despite him being a mental case on a homicidal rampage, or us simply taking it as a matter of course that Mandira will fall in love with Rizwan Khan despite many possible personal & societal rejections.

SRK knows how to play these unique or flawed characters in ways that the audience will identify with them. That's his 'magic'.

JD said...

I so, so, so wanted to like this film. I so wanted to understand why it has become an adored classic in Indian cinema. It had been sold as the ultimate example of onscreen chemistry. Well, my spirit was willing but my heart's just not engaged.

I eagerly awaited my Netflix allotment with this film. Threw it into the DVD player and settled down on the couch to be swept off my feet like only SRK and Kajol can do. Sadly, I realized immediately that I'd seen this film years before and had totally dismissed it. It was no better this time around. The screen chemistry between SRK and Kajol was a little above room temp but not much. The story was "mehh" quality. No, I am not an NRI or even Desi-descended so it's completely possible I am missing some vital thread of culture.

The best scene for me was the "morning after" scene in Switzerland where hero must assure heroine that he's not into sleeping with drunken or unconscious women. The worst scene for me was the slapfest during the conclusion. Over the top, kinda abusive and not really effective at making whatever point it so wished to make.

I am glad to have seen it but sorry that its appeal remains elusive.