The Thinking of Speaking
Issue #20 March / April 2016
At the Cinema
Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge
by Erik Zidowecki
March / April 2016 | 

This month's film, Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge (also called DDLJ), was my first introduction to Bollywood. It was shown as part of a "Bollywood Month" on a film channel in the US, in which 3 Bollywood films were shown each Tuesday night for a month.

It was considered a classic at the time, less than a decade after it was released in 1995, and now, after twenty years, it is still bringing in audiences to packed cinemas. It still plays in a Mumbai theatre, making it the longest running film in history.

The premise is simple enough: boy meets girl, they fall in love but cannot be together, for the girl is supposed to marry another man in an arranged marriage, so the boy pledges to win her family over to him, and thus get her as his bride. For this reason, the film is also known in English as "The Big-Hearted Will Take Away the Bride".

The reason the film has become such a classic, in my view, is the strong romance between the characters, the depiction of honour, and seeing how Raj manages to charm everyone he meets. You want him to succeed.

The boy is Raj, played by Bollywood legend Shah Rukh Khan, although this was back when he was still making a name for himself. The girl is Simran, played by Kajol, an actress who has also done well in the world of Bollywood.

As it starts, we are first introduced to Simran's father, Baldev, who is a conservative Hindi living in London with his family for the past 20 years. He is depicted as very regimented, which is a sharp contrast to his daughter, Simran, who we first see dreaming about meeting the love of her life.

Next we see Raj, another non-resident Indian living in London with his father. He is an over-the-top rogue character who is always showing off and not taking anything seriously. He breaks the tradition of his school by not graduating, for which his father is very proud. When his father is ready to start him in the family business, Raj convinces him to let him travel around Europe with a couple of friends first.

How does one describe an imagined boyfriend? Dancing around in just a towel is the Bollywood way.

Simran's dreams of marrying for love are crushed when her father receives a letter from a lifelong friend in India, asking him and his family to return to India so that the families can be joined by Simran marrying their son, Kuljeet. In desperation for one last chance at freedom, Simran convinces her father to let her go on a tour of Europe with her friends for a month, and he agrees.

By an amazing coincidence (common in films like this), the two groups leave London at exactly the same time on the same train and get entangled. Raj flirts with Simran, which greatly annoys her, but after her plan to publicly humiliate him for it fails, he makes it his personal mission to tease her.

The two eventually get separated from the others and must find their own way across Europe, during which time they become friends. When everyone arrives home and they must part, each comes to realize they have fallen in love with the other. Simran admits to mother what has happened, but her father overhears and is furious, moving them to India the very next day so she has no hope of seeing Raj again.

After Simran fails to humiliate Raj, they dance it off.

Meanwhile, Raj has admitted to his father that he has fallen for a girl, but that it is hopeless because she is already promised to another. His father encourages him to go after her, though, and so Raj does. When he finds they have already moved, he travels to India to find her.

Bollywood films are known for their length and musical numbers, and DDLJ is no exception. All of this took half the film time, and so an intermission is given to the audience at a time when most American films would be ending.

Upon arriving in India, Simran's family is greeted warmly and the preparations for the marriage are begun, with both families living in a large, joined house. Simran is despondent, since she is unable to forget Raj, but finally tells her mother that she is prepared to give up her happiness so that her father can have his, something her mother has promised herself she would never let happen to her own daughters.

Raj was a little too clever and caused both of them to miss their train to Zurich.

During the night, Simran thinks she hears a tune that Raj was constantly playing on his guitar, and she rushes out to find him. They meet in a large field of yellow flowered mustard plants and, being overjoyed to be united, they confess their love for each other. But soon, Kajol despairs again, realizing nothing has changed and that she can't be with her love. She urges Raj to take her away from there, so that they may elope, but Raj refuses to, saying that he must win her, and will only marry her with her father's consent. He tells her to return to the house, and when they meet again, that they are to be like total strangers. She sadly agrees to do as he asks.

The next day, Raj manages to "save" Kuljeet, and gets himself trusted by him and his family. As the days pass, Raj manages to charm both families, even Simran's father, eventually. Both Simran's sister, Chukti, and her mother find out that Raj is the boy Simran fell in love with in Europe, and Simran's mother also encourages them to elope, but still Raj refuses to, being sure he can somehow get Simran out of the current arrangements and marry her himself.

Then disaster strikes. Baldev's mother is dying, and it is her wish to move the date of the marriage up to the next day, so that she can see Simran married before she dies. Raj has run out of time.

Parting at the train station, Raj and Simran recognize their feelings for the other.

Worse, before he can take any further action, Baldev finds out the truth about Raj through a photo Simran had saved of them together, and confronts Raj before the families.

There is nothing really surprising about the plot, and things play out as you would expect, including a misunderstanding which has Raj promised to Kuljeet's sister. The reason the film has become such a classic, in my view, is the strong romance between the characters, the depiction of honour, and seeing how Raj manages to charm everyone he meets. You want him to succeed.

Despite most of the first half of the film taking place in Europe, the only languages really spoken are Hindi, English, Urdu, and Punjabi.

Baldev confronts Raj, with Simran watching.

When I first saw DDLJ, I did not know of the taboo against kissing onscreen. Rewatching it with this knowledge, I did wonder about a few scenes which were allowed in it. For example, while in Europe, Simran accidentally gets drunk, and while Raj is trying to catch her as she dances through streets and the countryside of Europe in a musical number, she is proposing to make love to him.

When he takes a drink and also becomes drunk, he is then chasing her, trying to pull her in because "she is a woman and he is a man". When he carries her off, she is singing "God, help me!". It seems innocent enough, but I felt it was suggesting alcohol induced rape, and sure enough, in the next scene in which Kajol wakes up to find herself wearing only Raj's shirt, that is what she fears. Even after he teases her into crying before admitting that nothing happened, and that he would never do anything like that, I have to wonder how this was allowed but a single kiss was not.

I do like DDLJ, and a second viewing after over 10 years hasn't changed that. It is a great love and action film, and despite being over 3 hours long, it never drags or feels repetitive. I did not find it as touching as Dil Chahta Hai or as inspiring as Queen, but it is film worth watching.

At The Cinema - Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge
Writer: Erik Zidowecki
• "Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge" Internet Movie Database <>
All images are copyright Yash Raj Films

All images are Copyright - CC BY-SA (Creative Commons Share Alike) by their respective owners, except for Petey, which is Public Domain (PD) or unless otherwise noted.


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