By Proma Khosla, Daily Bollywood Columnist
Published October 4, 2012
When it comes to what makes a “classic” film, you can always count on people to disagree with superb consistency. Yet, there remain a select few films that are incontestably beloved across demographics; the films that strike at the right moment and define a generation of moviegoers. In Bollywood, that film is “Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge.”
Translated, the title tells us that "he who has heart shall take the bride." DDLJ, as it shall be referred to henceforth, remains a quintessential part of India’s cinematic history. The story is almost laughably basic: Raj (Shah Rukh Khan) and Simran (Kajol) meet on a trip from the U.K. to mainland Europe with their friends, and though they start out with their differences, they inevitably fall in love. Unfortunately, Simran’s marriage has been arranged to a stranger, so Raj crashes the wedding party to win over the family and take his bride.
The love triangle is Bollywood bread-and-butter, but DDLJ is somehow immune to the triteness of that convention. Of course Raj and Simran will end up together, but why is it always so stressful to see how they pull it off? Why do the songs always tug at our heartstrings? How is it that 17 years since the film’s release, it’s still playing in theaters to sold-out crowds?
Despite the plot’s classic Bollywood simplicity, DDLJ proves brilliant when broken down into separate narrative components. For starters, it's the first Indian film whose protagonists are second-generation Indians — born or moved overseas with immigrant parents.
Raj and Simran grew up in London, but the most ingenious aspect is that they still consider themselves fundamentally Indian. When the couple spends a night in the same bed (scandal!), Raj tells Simran with shocking intensity that he would never dream of taking advantage of her because he is an Indian boy who knows how to respect an Indian girl. Seeing those values preserved outside of India comforts those who fear losing Indian culture while abroad.
Then there’s the lead couple themselves, played to perfection by Shah Rukh Khan and Kajol. Raj is a textbook rom-com hero: arrogant, charming and, apparently, a hit with all the ladies. He’s the kind of male character set up to be equally charismatic and annoying, presented with flaws only to have them erased by the wonder of true love. Every quality Simran hates about him vanishes when he realizes his love and places it above everything else in his life. It’s that quality that makes him irresistible to those of us who fall in love with him every viewing.
It’s also worth noting that Raj Malhotra became the defining performance of Shah Rukh Khan’s film career. It rocketed him from promising young actor to bona fide superstar, and has been unable to shake the mischievous-but-loving persona in every romantic movie since.
Simran, meanwhile, despite rocking a unibrow, is a typical Bollywood heroine of the time. She’s quiet and reserved, but dreams about love, and does so with the kind of romantic abandon that we in “real life” could never get away with. In a heartbreaking scene, Simran’s mother essentially tells her that women are supposed to quietly endure injustices thrown their way. Yet, Simran cannot help but persevere and believe in her dreams with such conviction that they all come true.
At the same time, Simran stands up for herself: She’s the only person willing to put Raj in his place and the only woman able to resist his preliminary flirtations. What attracts her to him is the respect he shows for herself and her family, one of the most overlooked but crucial aspects of a relationship.
Most impressively, DDLJ withstands the test of time. It has none of the abysmal acting and excessive goofiness of most popular Bollywood films of the ’90s, and a story as relevant today as it was 17 years ago. Maybe nowadays Raj would just call Simran’s cellphone when she moves to India instead of tracking her down in the fields of Punjab, but the gesture is as marvelous as ever, if not more so in today’s age of pragmatism and technology.
The best moments are the ones that build tension: Raj watching Simran walk away, hoping she will look back just once to prove her love; Simran running to him in that field of unforgettable yellow flowers; Raj reaching out from a moving train and Simran running as fast as she can toward his outstretched hand.
And as with all classic Bollywood romances, what keeps this film alive so fondly in viewers’ hearts is the predisposition to adore and believe in it. DDLJ dares us to imagine that dreams come true if you only want them badly enough, that there is someone out there for everyone and true love can triumph over the most impossible circumstances. Sometimes, things work out for the best, and the result is timeless.