Re-watching Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge as an adult
‘Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge’ follows the standard storyline of any Bollywood romantic film — the male lead and the female lead meet, they don’t initially get along, then the male lead chases the female lead and they fall in love. Their families don’t approve of their union. In the end they fight all odds to be together.
However, there is more to DDLJ.
NRI Romance & appeal to “Indianness”
Garwood (2006) describes DDLJ as one of the first “NRI Romance” films (after Hum Apke Hai Koun) which led to a series of films such as Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham and Kal Ho Na Ho to name a few. The interesting point to note is that these films continue to propagate stereotypical gender roles and seek to reaffirm an “Indian identity” in an alien environment.
These films seek to amplify and celebrate an Indian specific national identity with an emphasis on traditional Indian family values. They capture the imagination of Indian citizens by showing beautiful visuals of London, New York and other sites, however, hardly any screen time is given to foreigners. The films try and show the victory of Indian values over Western traditions and characters are celebrated if they continue to align with Indian morals and the Indian way of life.
In this context, DDLJ which was released in 1995 with a star cast of Kajol and Shah Rukh Khan assumes centre stage. More than 50% of the screen time shows the characters in Europe. However, hardly any screen time is given to foreign actors. The characters of Raj and Simran travel throughout Europe but there is not even one single line in any European language nor any interaction with any European. This tells us that the film is markedly Indian and caters to Indian citizens and the Indian diaspora. DDLJ and other films use song and dance sequences, which are typical to Indian cinema, to carry the Bollywood brand to western territories and reinforce the “Indianness”
Songs such as Ghar Aaja Pardesi make an emotional appeal to the Indian diaspora abroad and makes them miss their homeland. The conflict between being Indian diaspora and an Indian citizen is repeated multiple times in the film. It is important to note that the film starts with Chaudhary Baldev Singh reminiscing about his life in India and thinking about how London does not feel like home.
In a famous scene which happens to be Raj’s first encounter with Mr. Singh, Raj buys beer by crook after he appeals Chaudhary Baldev Singh to open his store (Singh owns a shop which sells medicines, general merchandise, and also beer!). He does so by saying “aakhir ek Hindustani hii ek Hindustani ke kaam aa sakta hai” (Only an Indian can help an Indian).
Mr. Singh’s character is markedly different from all other members of his family as he by choice rejects everything that is western and controls the choices of his family as well.
Stereotypical gendered representation of characters
Both the lead characters are introduced into the film with the song Mere Khwabon Mein Jo Aaye (The first song of the film). Simran, the female lead, is seen dancing in the song. Raj, the male lead is shown to be playing sports. It is interesting to note how differently the characters are established in the film though this 4 min song.
Raj (played by Shahrukh Khan) is shown as a successful sportsperson playing Rugby and single-handedly defeating the westerners while running and dodging players. In another shot Raj is go-karting and triumphs against other racers and finishes with an aggressive celebration. He is also seen racing against airplanes, bowling and roaming around freely in the European countryside on a sports-bike and occasionally riding with unnamed European girls.
In contrast to this, Simran’s very first shot in the song sequence shows her dancing in the confines of her room in a towel after bath. While Raj is shown as an achiever who is a master at multiple sports and celebrated by those around him, Simran is the eye-candy and the girl who longs to meet her lover. Simran dances in the rain in a costume presumably designed to cater to the male gaze , all while imagining what her hitherto unknown lover might be like. Raj on the other hand continues to display his machismo by playing basketball in the rain.
Sanjena Sathian in her exploration of the representation of the female Indian diaspora terms DDLJ as the “foundational text for modern diasporic films”. As the song Mere Khwabon Mein Jo Aaye established in the beginning of the movie, Simran — who is overtly sexualised in the song — is the one who desires to be elope with Raj. She is dependent on Raj to save her from her misery, and from the clutches of an over-protective father. She doesn’t talk to strangers, and her social circle is restricted her small group of Indian female friends.
Raj on the other hand, dances with more than twenty girls at once in the song Ruk Jaa O Dil Deewane and his shown as a seasoned flirt. He openly flirts with Simran, and Simran’s friend Sheena throughout the song. At the end of the song he throws Simran on the floor and garners appreciation from the crowd. He is shown as a philanderer who proudly boasts of the many affairs he has had in the past.
He enjoys his drinks (as indicated in the beer buying scene mentioned above) and parties around Europe without worry. When Simran has a drink for the first time in life (that too to survive the cold), she loses control (Watch the song Zara Sa Jhoom Loon Main)and needs to be looked after by the male.
(To be fair, Raj too gets drunk and looses control in the last 30 seconds of the song. However, but such a depiction is missing in every other part of the movie where Simran is shown as helpless and dependent.)
Of course I love the film and the songs (whose lyrics many fans remember like the back of their hands), but these were my thoughts when I re-watched Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jaayenge as an adult with more thought rather than boundless (and unchecked) love for Bollywood.