As Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge completes 27 years, we look at how its inherent and dreamy Indianness makes it the cult classic that it is.
Perhaps the best way to start any foreign-based Indian movie is to begin it with an ode to your mitti, your desh. In India, patriotism is not only a sentiment, but it's also a genre and Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge is one of the most effective Indian movies of this genre. On the surface, DDLJ is a typical yet distinctive rom-com, an innocent Simran runs into a chaotic Raj and their lives are changed forever. Opposites attract, and love conquers it all, even a thoroughly conservative Bauji.
Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge has all the elements of a cheesy romantic comedy. A conservative girl runs into a wild boy. Luck keeps bringing them together, and they soon go from enemies to lovers because "Ho gaya hai tujhko toh pyaar sajna". However, Bauji hates him. We also have a deadline; she is getting married to Kuljit in a few weeks. Suddenly, love makes Raj a serious person. He goes and wins her family over but has to lie to do so. He's about to tell them the truth, but oops, they learned it just 2 minutes ago. Now, the hero tolerates the taane, tohmat, kicks, and blows. Suddenly, the khadoos father realizes "Oh, he really does love my daughter!" So, he goes, "Jaa Simran, jaa. Jee le apni zindagi." In the words of Om Prakash Makhija, it's a "happy ending."
Multiple aspects make DDLJ a cult classic, but the biggest reason is Shah Rukh Khan as Raj. Very few possess the ease with which he combines and balances humor and charm while also leaving us teary-eyed. The second strongest reason is DDLJ's Indianness. Very few movies are as Indian in their charm as well as follies. The film goes from cute to happy to problematic to tragic but carries Indianness in each scene.
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The film begins with a monologue by Bauji about how despite living in London for 22 years, it will never feel like home; even the pigeons feel 'paraye'. He possibly represents all NRIs who romanticize even the flaws of Indian culture. His wife wears salwar kameez and covers her head even though she lives in London. His daughter dances in a mini skirt when he's not home, but wears salwar kameez in front of him. She knows that the way to her father's heart is through the mandir. In contrast to him, is Raj, a brat whose father aka 'Pops' spoils him to the core. We don't blame him right; Raj doesn't have a mother and it is a mother's job to groom the son. So, when Raj says that the girl he loves is getting married to someone else, his father has a very Indian solution to offer - "Shaadi rukwa dete hai".
Raj constantly harasses Simran. When she asks how dare he touch her, he shouts that she should be grateful that he helped. Simran, too, is always rude; the kind of girl jiski naa mein haan hoti hai. She gets drunk and roams around the entire city in one song without passing out or getting even slightly sober. Raj insensitively pranks her that they had a one-night stand, and she reasonably freaks out. However, the next moment she hugs him and falls for him because he says, "Main ek Hindustani hu aur main jaanta hu ki ek Hindustani ladki ki izzat kya hoti hai." In the next scene, he falls for her when he sees her praying.
You are wondering whether I am pointing out Indianness or misogyny. The answer is both. Misogyny is universal, but DDLJ brings it to us in an Indian context. Most Indian women can relate to Simran when she pretends in front of her father. We know what it feels like to have two personalities, one for family and one for ourselves. Most Indian women have at some point asked their Raj, "Mujhe yaha se le chalo," because "Abba nahi manenge." Most of us know how our mothers struggle with who to side with, husband or daughter. Most of us have seen our mothers cry as they see their daughters sacrificing their dreams just like them. Even the idea of eloping being shameful and doing everything with their parents' permission, especially the father's, is Indian, if not South Asian.
In a conservative country like India, we all feel awkward whenever a romantic scene comes on screen. It could be something as innocent as two lovers only holding each other, but it makes us shyly look away from the screen. DDLJ is successful probably because it brings generations together. It explains that each generation has a different definition of love, and it's only through love that we can understand each other's preferred definition. Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge is like a dream - a mad, cheesy, hilarious, and romantic dream; it's in dreams, where we can achieve anything.