How Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge pioneered a new genre in Indian cinema

Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge (1995)

Director: Aditya Chopra

Cast: Shah Rukh Khan, Kajol, Amrish Puri, Farida Jalal, Anupam Kher

Music: Jatin Lalit

American critic Charles Taylor in his review of Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge (DDLJ) described his experience of the film as “a flawed, contradictory film – aggressive and soft, tough and endearing, clichéd and fresh, sophisticated and naive, traditional and modern…” However, He admits, “I think it’s a classic too!” It is true that the cult film of the 1990s is now considered a contemporary classic, but its subsequent socio-cultural impact far exceeds its cinematic value.

The success of DDLJ ushered in a new genre in Indian cinema, the NRI, which, within a decade and a half, emerged as a major determinant of the success and circulation of Hindi cinema in the West (especially in the UK and the US). Although director Manoj Kumar tackled this issue for the first time in Purab Aur Paschim (1970), his hero, Bharat, is an Indian who moves to the UK, where he ‘Indians’ the film’s British Indian heroine. In DDLJ, not only the protagonists but also their family members are British citizens.

Amrish Puri and Kajol in a scene from Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge

Amrish Puri and Kajol in a scene Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge

However, returning to Charles’ observation, an interesting point to note is his adjectives that refer to certain Navarasas — aggressive (veera), tender (karuna), hard (raudra), elegant (sringara), perhaps without identifying the workman. The same is true of Indian film narratives.

The plots

Raj Malhotra (Shah Rukh Khan) and Simran Singh (Kajol) are two young non-resident Indians living in London who fall in love while on vacation in Europe. However, Simran’s father, Chaudhary Baldev Singh (Amrish Puri), promises his childhood friend that he will marry Simran to his second son.

From Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge.

from ‘Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge.
| Photo Credit: The Hindu Archives

When Baladev finds out about Simran’s affair with Raj, he hastily arranges her marriage. On the other hand, Raj follows Simran to India with the encouragement of his father Dharamveer Malhotra (Anupam Kher), not to save her or run away, but to win over Simran’s family. In essence, the film is a vivid story that evokes love or romance. Traditionally, it has been defined as an epic romantic melodrama due to its scale and length. In contemporary terms, its structure is similar to that of a romantic comedy for the strong undercurrent of fun and humor that defines and develops the love story.

Anupam Kher and Shahrukh Khan in Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge.

Anupam Kher and Shah Rukh Khan Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge. | Photo Credit: The Hindu Archives

DDLJ almost unveiled two different films depending on the nature of the unfolding events against two different backdrops – Europe and Punjab. While the first half follows the usual boy-meets-girl format, the second half, opts for a more nuanced, intense and unusual intersection of their love saga, enhanced by an undercurrent of empathy or compassion. As the protagonists share a mutual concern for their individual efforts to fight against the mounting odds of their love, the audience is also conditioned to look back on the story with greater care and empathy.

Love may be the unifying emotion in the film and its songs, but DDLJ is not just about romance.

From Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge.

from Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge. | Photo Credit: The Hindu Archives

In London, Baldev Singh maintained an undying love for his motherland, India. The effect is heightened by the film’s theme song, ‘Ghar Aaja Pardesi…’ (Come Home, O Wanderer!), which gives voice to Baldev’s unspoken longing for his native Punjab.

Mother is a key role

Vatsalya (motherly affection) defines the relationship between Lajwanti ‘Lajo’ Singh (Farida Jalal) and her eldest daughter Simran. The empathy born from this love prompts Lajwanti to run away when she discovers Simran and Raj’s love.

A humorous romantic sequence between Dharamveer and Simran’s unmarried aunt Kammo (Himani Shivpuri) is occasionally used as comic relief to lighten the film’s tense moments (pathos, fear and anger) in the second half. Although it preaches morality, tradition and family values, it is in a way a coming-of-age film, where the youth are finally allowed to live their dreams.

Indian filmmakers are often influenced by our epics and come up with big heroes and characters who win against the odds. Like art and mythology, different rasas also drive our images.

Critic, Writer, Filmmaker Dean, School of Liberal Arts and Sciences, RV University, Bangalore.

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