I can pretty much number the Bollywood films I’ve watched on one hand. In trying to expand my knowledge and repertoire, I reached out to my good buddy and Bollywood expert Ibraheem “Mark Brown” (Twitter: @The_Anim_Comm). Without hesitation, Ibraheem recommended that I watch the 1995 Bollywood sensation Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge (also known as DDLJ, which acronym I’ll use in this article for simplicity’s sake).If you haven’t heard of DDLJ (I know that I hadn’t until Ibraheem’s recommendation), it’s only one of the most successful Bollywood films ever. The film was a box office smash when it opened in 1995. It won multiple film industry awards in India, including 10 Filmfare awards and a National Film Award for “Best Popular Film Providing Wholesome Entertainment” (one of my favorite award title names ever). It is also the longest-running film in the history of Indian cinema where it has been playing since 1995 at the Maratha Mandir Theatre in Mumbai (there’s a daily matinee screening of the film; the theater almost ended the run in 2015, but a new agreement with the distributor was made and it’s still playing there today). About the film, it was the directoral debut of Aditya Chopra (who is now a major movie mogul in India). It stars Bollywood actor Shah Rukh Khan as Raj (the role that catapulted him to superstardom) along with Bollywood beauty Kajol as Simran. As a fun note for Western audiences, my friend Ibraheem pointed out to me that Amrish Puri, the actor who plays Simran’s father in the film, is also the same actor who terrified me as a youth with his portrayal of the dude who pulls hearts out of humans in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (and his eyes are just as scary in this film, too).
The plot centers around Raj and Simran, of course. The families of Raj and Simran respectively are Indian ex-pats living in London. 20 years prior, Simran’s father arranged his daughter’s marriage to his friend’s son–a guy who Simran has never met. Before her arranged marriage happens, Simran gets her father’s permission to take a 30-day train tour of Europe with some of her friends. On the trip she meets good-intentioned goofball Raj and his friends who are doing the same thing. Raj is immediately smitten by Simran, but Simran isn’t so sure about Raj (not to mention that she’s already taken by the dude she’s never met). The duo inevitably fall in love, but Simran is in a horrible dilemma–should she follow her heart and go for Raj or respect her father’s wishes and proceed with the arranged marriage? (You’re going to have to watch it yourself to find out what happens.) I was quite smitten by this film. I found the love story to be incredibly charming and, ultimately, very moving. I’ve seen other films with Shah Rukh Khan before and think he is a talented and compelling actor. Kajol is also a good actress and I really liked her portral of a young woman wanting to honor her father and her family but also follow her heart. The film’s themes of family, loyalty, honor, and goodness are so often overlooked or excluded from films these days, that it was very refreshing to see these ever-important traits front and center.
I heard a famous Hollywood director once state that movie directors’ first films are always their best films (think of John Huston’s The Maltese Falcon or Mike Nichols’ The Graduate as examples). With that being said, I still can’t believe that DDLJ is Aditya Chopra’s first film. Chopra directed DDLJ with so much confidence, beauty, and style–it’s a remarkable achievement for any director, let alone a first-time director.
The film follows many of the conventions that I’ve experienced watching the handful of Bollywood films that I’ve seen. It’s long (run time is 3 hr. 9 min.), the musical numbers are elaborate and often bizarrely out of place (which I believe is part of the charm of it all), and the film’s a bit a hybrid of multiple genres (romantic comedy/screwball comedy/family drama/martial arts movie–really) which can be a bit jarring. Still, even though I’m 22 years late, DDLJ was a delight to experience and I can’t wait for future adventures watching more Bollywood films.
Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge is available for rent and purchase on Apple iTunes (that’s how I watched it).