Thursday, October 23, 2008

Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge, or, This Old Chestnut Still Roasts

Ah, 1995. The year I graduated from high school. The year that Bollywood gave us international treasures like this one:
And this:

(Wow, Kajol was freaking everywhere that year, wasn't she?) And not to forget, this:
What? Why are you looking at me like that? Did I forget something important? Oooohhh, right! Yeah, there was also this little film:

That's right. Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge (The Brave-Hearted Will Take the Bride), still popularly known as DDLJ, still playing, as far as I know, in Indian movie theaters, and, 18 years after its release, still a sweet, fun cinematic ride, released in 1995. And, of course, even though it wasn't their first movie together, it was the film that made Shah Rukh Khan and Kajol's jodi one of the most raved-about ever.

Anybody who's been watching Hindi movies for longer than a day knows about DDLJ, even if they haven't seen it, but I'll go ahead and summarize it anyway because if I don't my OCD will kick in and I'll be up at three in the morning reformatting this post.

Chaudhry Baldev Singh (Amrish Puri), an NRI living in London, feeds the pigeons every morning (and everyone who's ever tried to eat an outdoor meal in London now mutters, "damn him") while dreaming of his native Punjab. I imagine that this would've been a bit of an eyebrow-lifter to the average Hindi film viewer at the time, given that Amrish Puri usually played the villain, not the homesick ex-pat wandering through gray Londontown while colorful Punjabi dancers swirl around him in a flurry of dream-dupattas. (But maybe I'm wrong about that? Someone tell me, please!)

He's lived away from home for twenty years, and he can't wait to go back. Till then, he runs his own convenience store and returns home each night to his loving wife (Farida Jalal! Yay!) and two daughters: Simran (Kajol) and Rajeshwari (Pooja Ruparel), both of whom have been raised according to his strict traditional standards. Simran's eighteen, but there's no talk of her going to college. No, she's dreaming of her one true love--she doesn't know who he is, but she knows he's out there.

He's out there, all right--way out there. Raj Malhotra (SRK) is the only child of a lavishly indulgent father (Anupam Kher). After he makes his father proud by failing university (yeah, I really did just say that), he applies to "Pops" for permission to go on a Euro-rail month-long trip with a couple of his friends. His father gives in after a while, telling Raj to go live his youth for both of them. With advice like that, is it any wonder that Raj is really immature and thoughtless?

Simran, meanwhile, has just received news that sounds the death knell to her hopes for love: the marriage to her father's best friend's son that was arranged for her from her cradle is going to take place shortly. Before she must leave everything familiar behind and go to India to become a good Hindustani wife, she begs her father to allow her to go with some of her girlfriends on a month-long train trip. He reluctantly accedes, and off she goes for one last taste of freedom.

Naturally, Raj and Simran meet immediately after departing. He does a little perfunctory flirting, more out of habit it seems than out of any real interest in Simran. Simran does her best to ignore him. But then, through a series of unfortunate circumstances, the two miss their train together and have to figure out a way to re-connect with their respective friends. Thrown together by chance, Raj and Simran are about to discover that they're each other's destiny. Of course!

SRK and Kajol, of course, are magic together. Anytime these two share the screen it's impossible for me to look away.

I've read a lot of complaints about Raj's boyish behavior in DDLJ, but here's the deal: he changes himself. Simran's love doesn't change him, love for Simran changes him, and I really, really like that theme. By the time the film ended, I was left with no doubts about whether or not he'd be a worthy husband to Simran. However, I do have a problem with his whole philosophy on "parents know best" about whom to marry. Well, sometimes, I suppose. I think in the film it's supposed to be a sign of his maturation into "ek Hindustani" in truth as well as name, but it raised my hackles.

As for Simran... well, she's very traditional. Options don't occur to her until they're presented to her by others, and she tends to obey the men in her life without many questions. But that's the way she was raised! I've seen enough to know that it's more difficult than many (especially we independence-lovin' Americans, I suspect) believe to break out of parental expectations and do what you want. I don't look down on Simran for going along with her father's wishes.

But talking about these things leaves out the fun stuff: the rapid-fire exchanges between Raj and Simran, the clever way Simran softens her father up to ask her favor, the cute interaction between her parents, as well as the sweet relationship between Raj and his Pops... not to mention SRK's perfect timing and Kajol's clear delight in her co-star.

I almost forgot to mention the great soundtrack in DDLJ. It does sound a little dated to my jaundiced ears (wow, what a mental image) but it's still totally fun, especially the opening song and the rollicking fun "Zara Sa Jhoom Loon Main," as well as the more traditional but beautifully picturized "Mehndi Laga Ke Rakhna." I love listening to it over and over again. The only one I don't care for, "Ruk Ja O Dil Deewaane," is early in the film and easily forgotten thereafter.

DDLJ has that most important of movie qualities, to me: true re-watch value. I've watched it many times and I happily anticipate watching it many more. It's worth every penny and then some.


  1. What? Why are you looking at me like that? Did I forget something important? Oooohhh, right!

    Why, you missed Rangeela! :P

    DDLJ was great. I really liked the bits with Amrish Puri and Shah Rukh, especially the scene at the beginning at the gas station (very easy to relate to). The sequences leading to 'Ruk Ja O Dil Deewaane' and Kajol in that blue dress were great too. In fact, it was all so very good, one of its lead actors *still* suffers from a DDLJ hangover! Do forgive, I couldn't resist ;)


  2. If there was a movie i haven't forwarded then it's this one! I love ddlj i even went to that Mumbai cinema where they played since forever! Its damn brilliant and cliche and fun! It made me want a Raj like Mahi from Bachna Ae Haseeno! Simran was soo good and sensible but who couldn't become all unsensible when falling for SRK! Senorita has become part of the Rum dictionary of annoyance! And the beat-up scene at the end gave me a BARSAAT CRY soo much, and when Amrish let her go! I felt like running too, I love being in love with this movie!

  3. I like DDLJ.

    However, a lot of Hmong people don't. They prefer KKHH.

    I like cheesy movies too.

  4. Adaab, Bollywood Fan! I didn't know Rangeela came out in 1995. Am lame excuse for Bollywood blogger, as I've said on many occasions. ;-) In fact, the only way I found out about it was because my curiosity was raised by the charades game in KKHH. LOL Anyway, I agree about the initial scene between Amrish Puri and SRK; it totally reminded me of the boys I used to know at that age. Also I forgot to mention all the interactions between Simran's fiance and Raj; too funny, at least until the end.

    Rum: I always ff past the second song but other than that it's a watch straight thru every time. It's so charming! The beat-up scene at the end made me want to cry from laughter, it was so badly done, but I do like the part when his dad gets hurt and Raj is inhabited by the Mystic Power of Elder Love and Respect that allows him to kick all comers' butts.

    Nicki: as far as I'm concerned KKHH should come with a Velveeta lable, but I like them both. Mucho. :-D

  5. Long story short: my favorite Bollywood film!

    And while I am, for the most part, a very independent woman, I think a lot of people--ESPECIALLY Americans--DO forget how important your parents' approval is in some cultures. There are some things my parents want me to do that I refuse to do (like vote for McCain or marry before the age of 30 and pop out 10 children), but there are other things I would never do (travel to a foreign country) without their approval. Pleasing your parents is a HUGE part of German culture, and I am all for it. Drives my friends nuts, and...well, I could go on and on and explain this, but it's awfully boring. =P

    Also, that parts that got your hackles up are generally linked back to the concept of dharma. It's only just started to filter out of SOME Hindi films, bit by bit, kind of like the taboo about kissing on the mouth.

  6. This movie seems to cut across every divide and everybody loves it. Makes me feel so left out in my absolute dislike for it! I saw it in the theatre when it came out and inspite of the great songs and beautiful locales I couldnt stand it (didnt fall for SRK and was so exasperated with his character who cared more about her father's approval than for her happiness). And then because every friend of mine loved SRK+Kajol I had to watch it umpteen number of times! :-( In the years since this came out I have learned to like Kajol and SRK (he does give the best interviews ever) but cant imagine ever appreciating it!

  7. I find this to be one those amazing movies, which has every cliche in the book, but still manages to excel- its astoundingly brilliant! I remember NOT watching it until 2 yrs after it actually came out- and then sitting entranced for 3 hrs watching it spellbound :)

  8. Nae--My dad is German, my mom half German half Scots, so about a quarter of me is always picking fights with the other three-quarters, making me late against my will and other things. ;-) Anyway, I hear you on the parental respect thing, and I hadn't considered the dharma aspect. Thanks for pointing it out.

    Bollyviewer--I agree with you that it seemed like Raj cared more about her father than her happiness... But then I started thinking, she was obviously very close to all her family, as she had said to him when they were walking in Switzerland. If she eloped a hard-liner like her dad would undoubtedly have prevented her mom and sister from seeing her again, let alone admitting her into the family home. Maybe Raj didn't want her to have to give up her family to be with him. In any case, I've read enough criticism of the movie at BollyWHAT to comfortably assert that you're *not* alone in your dislike. :-D

    Shweta: that is so true about the cliche-ridden yet delightful DDLJ! It really does take all those conventions and make them wonderfully fresh.

  9. DDLJ is one of the best films I've ever seen. I love Shah Rukh and this review made my day!

  10. Hi Bollywood Lover! Thanks for stopping by and commenting. I'm glad you like the review; I really, really like the movie myself. :-)

  11. "I've read a lot of complaints about Raj's boyish behavior in DDLJ, but here's the deal: he changes himself. Simran's love doesn't change him, love for Simran changes him, and I really, really like that theme."

    Wow, you just made me want to rewatch this! Thats totally the redeeming quality for Shahrukh's character--and part of what makes the romance so special!

    There's something about the music of this film--even though I wasn't around for this decade in Bollywood--that makes you feel like its more than just songs--its an era. Just like with "Hum Aapke Hain Kaun", it has a comforting, older vibe to me that I just love.

  12. The music is total comfort food for me too, Nida, especially the "Mehndi" song. Kajol's expressions, when she's afraid of giving too much away but too in love to completely hide her feelings, make me *swoon*. LOL

  13. One of my all-time favourite movies. <333 I am making it a life goal of mine to watch DDLJ in that itty bitty theatre, so it better still be showing for like... ever!

    On a side note, I also think Raj's change is highly believable, and the way you described it was spot-on.

  14. I have to see it in a theatre at least once too, so it'd better just stay there. LOL And thank you for the compliment!


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