Now as I think of DDLJ, or Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge, I mix memory with desire, for I haven’t watched it in a while.
It has often been accused of vile deeds: endorsing patriarchy, a narrow nationalist identity, class prejudices. True. On the morning after, when Simran (Kajol) discovers herself in Raj (Shah Rukh)’s bed, he informs her, cutely though, that her virginity is intact because he, despite being an NRI, is from “Hindustan” and knows how to treat girls from “Hindustan” with respect. The terrible burden of pre-marital chastity is, or at least was, pure Hindustani. Unforgivable.
But I love DDLJ. For it is a great love story.
I love it when Raj waits for Simran to turn back once before boarding the train. “Palat,” he says, “palat”. She does. I love the trains and the many journeys. For the young lovers in Europe, these are also slow, long journeys into themselves, into a space of freedom and expression. I love it when Simran asks Raj to attend her wedding, which is going to happen with a desi Punjabi stranger of her father’s choice back in Punjab, and Raj refuses, clearly. Then at the end of the journey, after they are back in London, on her way home, in the Tube, in the streets, on her doorstep, she sees Raj everywhere.
I also love it when Simran, in full bridal gear but bereft of jewellery, runs faster than the train, Indian Railways finally, and hops into a ragged carriage with a little bit of help from Raj.
The Raj-Simran chemistry is overwhelming; Simran’s intense eyes scorch the screen, compelling Raj into a dogged buffoonery that is almost a sacred quest, with almost everything at stake, at once funny and moving. Their steadily mounting passion renders almost everything around them insignificant: family, community, society, norms, the malign political agenda of the film — and yes, even Shah Rukh’s hamming. The love story takes over and drowns everything.
I also do not think that Raj is kowtowing to patriarchy entirely when he says no to Simran’s suggestion that they elope and says he wants to marry her with her father’s blessings. He says something about not wanting to run away from one’s own people, from oneself. He wants to work his way through the conflict and perhaps this is more practical, in his situation, as it could be in the case of numerous real-life couples today, than running away. Rebellion is not always made of the most demonstrable gesture and it may not always be on Facebook.
Simran is no doormat either, despite her staunch faith in Karwa Chauth. She is a good girl; she does not oppose her elders vocally, but possesses a fierce spirit under her quiet demeanour and knows exactly what she is going to do from the moment Raj appears on her trail across continents in the mustard fields. Next moment he has his mandolin in one hand and Simran in the other. Cut to fantasy sequence in the Swiss Alps with Kajol shimmering in Chandni costumes: “Tujhe dekha toh yeh jaana sanam…” The Yash Chopra centrepiece of eternal romance. Never mind. It feels good. The mustard fields are also fields of magic.
I do have one major quarrel with the film, though. When Raj and Simran meet the first time — where else, in a train — what Raj does to her is nothing less than sexual harassment. Ugly words, but yes, it does happen, in the best tradition of Bollywood hero-behaviour of yore. Sick. But he reforms quickly and good for him, for I still don’t know why Simran put up with him even for those few minutes, but if it were me out there, I would have pushed him out of the train (without a palat) and he would have missed out on my love.
I forgave him for what followed and I loved him. And here I am now stout and in my 40s, still wanting to leap into those outstretched arms, without a thought for consequences.
And I actually watched bits and parts of DDLJ on YouTube before writing this piece. They still feel as good. True love survives middle age.
Five members of the t2 girl gang revisited Raj and Simran at the cinemas this week
I FELT DDLJ TELL ME: COME FALL IN LOVE... AGAIN...
I was 14, had just about managed to get the cute boy in my math tuition class to steal glances at me in between notes and I was ready to fall in love… and then DDLJ happened! I watched the film with my mom for company — no, cute boy didn’t ask me out on a movie date — and I was in love… with the idea of being in love. As Raj and Simran exchanged searing glances after sips of cognac, I felt a little light-headed; as they walked away sullen-faced after their Europe jaunt, I felt my heart break; as Raj managed to pull Simran into the train in the film’s penultimate moments and she melted into his arms, I heard myself high-fiving them with: “Opochi okoka obobi olola”.
Nineteen years later, on Sunday afternoon, I found that nothing had changed. I still willed Simran to turn around when Raj murmured “palat”; my heart still skipped a beat when Raj stretched his arms out in the mustard field and Simran ran into them; I still winced every time Raj got slapped by Baldev, Simran’s dad. As the crowd at Navina erupted every time an iconic moment played out, I found myself clapping and cheering instinctively, even appreciating many moods and moments I had missed out on as a teenaged viewer. I felt the film tell me once more: “Come, fall in love... again”.
I WAS KAJOL IN THE TOWEL!
For someone who has spent her teens obsessing over Shah Rukh’s dimples and Kajol’s eyes, it was a tough time deciding what actually made me more nostalgic when I watched DDLJ at Navina on Sunday. I went alone... I didn’t want any talkative movie date to ruin my moment of crushing over Bolly’s most romantic pair all over again. I still remember imagining myself as Kajol and dancing in a towel on lazy summer afternoons... watching the film on Sunday made me realise nothing has changed — I still skip a heartbeat when I see Raj on that train with a guitar, I still love the nerdy Kajol, and oh... where have the good old curls gone, Mandira? I wanted to dance to Mehndi lagaa ke rakhna... only to realise that it was a houseful hall!
DDLJ IS... A BEAUTIFUL EXPERIENCE
I was six when DDLJ released and I had seen my elder sisters swoon over Raj and Simran’s love story. Years later, the impact of the film was so strong that I memorised the songs, mugged up the dialogues and aped the expressions of the characters. But I felt the real flavour and feel of DDLJ when I watched it this week in its re-release. From the scene where Shah Rukh flicks his wet hair while playing rugby to his blood-smeared face in the climax, my face wore a ear-to-ear grin. It was brilliant how the whole audience sang along to the songs and mouthed dialogues, applauding when Raj went, “Bade bade deshon mein aisi chhoti chhoti baatein hoti rehti hai’. DDLJ isn’t just a film to me.... it’s a beautiful experience, that I have lived and often compared my real life situation to.
THE MAGIC... ONLY GETS BETTER
Before Sunday, I had only wondered how it would be to watch the fairytale called DDLJ on the big screen. Within the first few minutes, I realised that the magic has only got better with the years. From the first scene on the rugby field, SRK had me! While watching the film, I experienced something I had forgotten about... people were humming DDLJ songs after coming out of the hall, while waitingfor their popcorn tubs and even in the washroom! That was quite something because who remembers the lyrics of film songs these days?
FOR ME, ROMANCE IS SRK AND KAJOL
As a child of four, I ran out of the hall after watching DDLJ, shouting: “Papa, itna bada TV!” Cut to 19 years later, it was Navina Cinema where I turned to my friend and exclaimed, “Itna bada TV!” There was something about watching one of my favourite films in a cinema hall. For me, romance is SRK and Kajol. Depressed, I watch their films. And since it’s rare that we see them together… I had to watch DDLJ on the big screen... again. I found myself jealous of Simran’s Europe trip, angry at Raj for the stupid flower trick and smiled foolishly when Raj played the mandolin in the mustard fields. It might be make-believe and some may even call it foolish... but, for me, DDLJ is what love is!