Or How I Learned to Stop Liking and Hate The Film DDLJ
Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jaayenge, better known by the acronym DDLJ, was back in the news again. The almost 20 year old film (God that makes me feel old) recently completed 1000 weeks at Maratha Mandir, the cinema hall near
Bombay Mumbai Central Railway Station that is known across India (or maybe the world) only because it has refused to stop showing DDLJ for close to 20 years now.
So why was this film, that is old enough to have voted for Modi in the elections if it was a person, still playing in a theatre? Publicity stunt by the producers/theatre owners? Hell nah! Because it is a cultural milestone! Because it is the definitive romantic story for the post-liberalization generation! Because it is Kareena Kapoor Khan’s (let’s start calling her KKK or K3 or something now) favorite love story of all time! Because everyone and their phupha loves the film!
I was an adolescent (what in today’s bullshit terminology would be called a ‘tween’) small town boy when I first saw the movie and probably really liked it. I say probably because I don’t have a very strong memory of the film beyond the fact that my sister (who was a teen at that time, and a very filmy one…that kind of runs in the family I guess) and all my cousins who were the right age (read impressionable hormonal teenagers) went totally gaga over it. So my overall impression was that it was a fucking great film, the kind that only happens once in a lifetime or some such shit.
I watched the film at least once in the theatre and at least twice or thrice on TV (at least that is how I remember it, but memory can be tricky) before I grew up. I always kind of liked it despite never being an SRK fan.
And then I grew up. I went to college. The internet happened. I developed what the Germans would call a ‘weltanshauung’ of my own. I listened to rock’n’roll. I acted in plays. I read whatever I could (does not include course material…I wasn’t reading much of that). And I saw films.
I saw The Godfather and Shawshank and Casablanca and Shinichin No Samurai and the filmography of Stanley Kubrick. I saw Bandini and Mughal-e-Azam and Deewaar and Sholay. I saw Gunda and Kanti Shah’s Angoor and Superman IV and Battlefield Earth. In short, I saw tons of films.
And then I saw DDLJ again. And it just didn’t feel right. The nostalgic value alone should have made it a lot more enjoyable after so many years…but it wasn’t so. What had happened? I had grown up.
Now don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against people who are grown up and still think that DDLJ is the greatest love story ever made or that SRK is the best actor to have ever graced the silver screen or whatever the fuck it is that you think about that movie. It’s just that I started seeing things in that movie and things around me inspired by that movie that I just can’t get behind anymore. In fact…these things don’t just make me not like the movie; they make me hate it.
There. I said it. I hate DDLJ.
Whoa whoa whoa! Hate is a strong word buddy! Are you sure you want to go there?
Yes I do, rhetorical device.
But what are the ‘things’ you mentioned that have made you hate this film that is universally loved (or at least liked) by Indians across the world?
I’m glad you asked, rhetorical device. Here is a list of 5 things that have made me hate DDLJ.
Don’t get your kachchhas in a twist; I’m not going to make any judgmental statements about SRK’s acting skills. Acting, like all art, is subjective and one person’s overplayed melodramatic nonsense is another person’s infectious energetic charm. Hell, there are even some people in this world who like Ajay Devgun’s comic acting (on a totally unrelated note, I refuse to remove that crucial ‘U’ from his surname, unless it is replaced with an ‘A’…a film’s credit roll is not a fucking tweet with a character limit you asshole! Use the vowels! And while I am talking about names that piss me off, SRK should actually be SK…because Shahrukh is a Persian name meaning ‘One with a Kingly Face’ while Shah Rukh is a stupid made up phrase which means ‘King Face’).
But it is an objective fact that SRK wouldn’t have been the megastar that he became had Yash Chopra not convinced him to do DDLJ. This is something even the self-proclaimed King Khan acknowledges. Now before the SRK fans start losing their shit, I do not grudge him his success. I’m just saying had he not become such a huge star we might have lived in a world where Ra.One, Chennai Express and Happy New Year might never have happened. Even his staunchest fans must agree that would have been a much better world to live in.
Just look at his career before DDLJ…yes there was Guddu and King Uncle. But there was also Darr and Baazigar and Kabhi Haan Kabhi Naa and Raju Ban Gaya Gentleman. With great stardom comes great responsibility…to earn money for your producers. Hence a Swades or a Chak De happens only once in a while. He lost his thirst for experimentation and gave us years of a career filled with Rahuls and Rajs. And that is a loss for you more than for me, dear SRK fans.
I don’t know if you’ve noticed it but DDLJ is regressive as fuck! It is patriarchal, parochial and pretend-modern in the worst of ways. These two writers have already covered most of what I would have written under this heading already, so I won’t waste too much time on that.
But I have one more thing to add. That morning after scene where Raj first pranks Simran into thinking she had drunken sex with him and then assiduously assures her that no such thing happened.
The reason why it couldn’t have happened…because Raj knows that an Indian girl’s ‘izzat’ is very important to her. The implication being that taking advantage of a drunk white girl would have been perfectly fine for Raj, because if she got drunk she was ‘asking for it’…the only reason Simran is let off with a ‘humorous’ ‘lesson’ is that she is Indian and usually behaves within the bounds set for her by her father. The other implication being that Raj having sex would have been fine, but Simran is a girl in whom the ‘izzat’ of the family resides and hence it is not at all acceptable for her to have sex with a man not approved by her father.
If this double double standard doesn’t make you angry, you are part of the problem (and you probably don’t even realize it while you’re all over social media calling for the wrath of institutional retribution to be unleashed).
And this is just one of many instances in the film.
When one of the reasons is Regressiveness, how can Karwa Chauth be another reason? I’ll tell you how. Because what DDLJ did with Karwa Chauth was not just glamorizing and popularizing a patently stupid belief/practice. [If you agree with me, skip this part. If you’re still reading, yes I called Karwa Chauth stupid. It is patently stupid to believe that one person staying hungry for a day will have any effect whatsoever on another person’s health. The only way your staying hungry is going to prolong your husband’s life is if you can only afford to feed one person and in that case it is lifelong commitment, not a one day festival.]
What DDLJ really did was that it successfully managed to give Karwa Chauth a “modern” makeover.
In a remarkable break from tradition, Simran keeps the fast without being married and subversively keeps it for her boyfriend who is not her fiancé for whom she is ostensibly observing it. But in an even more remarkable running back into tradition’s ritualistic open arms, she feigns fainting to avoid being fed by her fiancé which would have apparently been as good as being married to him (According to belief, the moon knows who fed you that first bite…if you don’t marry him now, the moon punishes you for your infidelity by turning your paramour into a werewolf or something…I don’t know. Since unmarried girls can’t technically enjoy the awesome experience of starvation, there are no rules made for that situation. No one knows how that piece of rock orbiting the earth would react if you tried to trick him).
But even worse, Raj steps up to bat for gender equality and stays hungry throughout the day in solidarity. Some might think it is a good thing. I say it is taking something stupid and making something even stupider out of it. Now every girl who wears a chooda with a bikini on her honeymoon in Thailand wants her husband to be like Raj and fast with her/for her.
The repercussions have been massive.
I don’t know if you noticed, but at some point of time in the last twenty years, big budget Bollywood stopped caring about Indians living in India and started caring massively for Indians living abroad (better known as NRIs). They invented an imaginary ‘pardes’ where most people who matter can speak Hindi/Urdu and the rest are evil bastards anyway (except for the wise old men and the women who probably have the hots for the hero…and of course all those white people dancing in the background, they’re cool too). And most of our movies now are at least partially set in this imaginary utopian chimera composed of modern Western facilities and ancient Indian morals. And it all began with…I won’t even complete this sentence.
For Not Having Tom Cruise
Most fans already know that Rani Mukherjee’s husband’s original idea was something quite different. He wanted to make a bilingual megafilm where Raj would have been Roger…played by hold your breath…Tom Cruise!!!
But Daddyji convinced him otherwise. This is how I imagine the conversation went…(NOTE: For best effect, read the Addy lines in a rich spoilt entitled Punjabi brat’s fake accented tone and the Daddy lines in a gruff partially garbled Punjabi uncle’s voice.)
Addy: Bauji main aisi film banaoonga ki the world will sit up and take notice. British guy falls in love with a Punjabi girl while they’re travelling over Europe. But the girl’s father is super traditional and her wedding has been fixed in childhood. So now this gora boy follows all Indian customs and learns the greatness of Indian culture to patao the khadoos Punjabi baap. End mein sab fit ho hi jaana hai! We’ll cast the biggest star Hollywood has to offer in the leading role of a Bollywood film! Tom Cruise ko le lete hain, because I have no idea of how truly insane he is yet and how awkwardly awesome it will seem in the future.
Daddy: Chal phitte muh. Apni desi kudi angrej de hath lag jaugi? Kinni besti ho jaani hai? Munde nu desi bana.
Addy: Lekin Daddy, the whole idea works only if the boy is white!
Daddy: Oye tu mujhe batayega white black? Puttar, angrej nu lega to addhi phillum te teri angreji ho jaani hai…apni audience ko kya samajh aana hai, gai ka ghanta? Munde nu wasternized bana de thoda. Paihe vi to kamaane hai.
Addy: But pops…
Daddy: O shutap. Pops di aulaad. Jaa assistant nu script de change karan waaste.
And in this manner we lost a Punjabi wedding version of Pocahontas/Dances With Wolves/Avatar where the White Man visits the Natives, falls in love with their Princess, learns their customs and practices and ends up proving himself better at being a native than the natives themselves. All hail the White Man!
What we also lost in that moment was a potential filmmaker. I like Adi’s original idea much better than what his father turned it into. (I mean no disrespect to Yash Chopra. He was a fine filmmaker, but I would rather live in a world where the last thing he did was Lamhe.) Who knows what kind of films he might have experimented with if he had been left to pursue his first project as he had envisioned. Maybe NRI films would have been a whole different genre, with many more white people in the casts and more realistic depictions of their reality. (Again I am not talking about films actually made by NRIs for NRIs, I’m talking about the shit Bollywood peddles to them.) Maybe Aditya Chopra would have been a more respectable filmmaker and not the guy who made Rab Ne Bana Di F***ing Jodi.
But maybe I am wrong. And the awesomeness of Tom Cruise romancing Kajol and convincing Amrish Puri while pretending to be Parmeet Sethi’s friend and leading on Mandira Bedi and charming the socks off Farida Jalal, Himani Shivpuri, Satish Shah, Achala Sachdev and Pooja Ruparel…wait what was I saying? Yeah, maybe DDLJ (or Balle Hoo or whatever Adi would have chosen to call it without his father’s
interference helping hand) starring Tom Cruise instead of SRK would have been a huge flop…floundering between two worlds but not belonging to either one. And we would still have ended up with Rab Ne Bana Di Sh!tPi$$F***C***C@(&$***erMother***erTits Jodi.
And thus ends my rant on what stands as one of the most successful films of all time in Indian cinema’s history. You may go ahead, brand me a Feminazi Libtard Hater (or whatever is the current fashion on Social Media, it’s hard to keep up because I have an extremely short attention span when it comes to bullshit) and forget about whatever I said, go on enjoying DDLJ, keeping a fast for your wife/husband, hearing a mandolin play out that familiar tune whenever you see mustard fields and being in love with Raj and Simran. You’re probably a happier person than I am.