Cinema is a record of its times – cinema doesn’t change the way you think, it shows you how you think

Saturday, January 10, 2015 - 17:19

By Naomi Datta

December 14, 2014| 11.00 pm IST

Let me state at the outset that I am no DDLJ fan. It is a film I enjoyed as a teenager and watched all of once. I often get confused whether SRK’s name in the film was Raj or Rahul. And even today if you say Raj to me, I’d rather think of a rosy cheeked Aamir Khan in the tragic QSQT of 1988. Yes. I know. Total blasphemy. Therefore, I have been mildly indifferent to all the assorted DDLJ tributes in its 1000th week at a cinema in Mumbai. But what did catch my attention was a school of opinion which is railing on about Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge being a conformist film, and not deserving of the cult status it deserves. 

So let’s concede that DDLJ was conformist – but why is that a problem? Except I wouldn’t call it conformist – I would call it a robust, practical take on modern day romance. Let’s examine Raj‘s predecessors – there was another gentleman called Raj in 1988. He starred in a film called Qayamat se Qayamat Tak – a refashioning of Romeo and Juliet. Raj runs away with his desi Juliet, sets up residence in la la land, sings some hummable songs and then dies. So does Rashmi at the tender age of 21. Even as I choke back tears writing this, you do realise that a pair of dead lovers are of no utility to anyone. Least of all – to themselves. The Raj of DDLJ is a lot more practical- apart from risking Simran to the possibilities of a sprained ankle (that completely avoidable mad scramble to get on the train), he doesn’t do much to imperil either himself or her. And if Simran hadn’t quite managed to get on the train, my wager is Raj would be sad, but not suicidal. Which is exactly how a practical love story should play out. That is why DDLJ must be celebrated – for its solid common sense. 

Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak1

DDLJ was also a pre-emptive strike at the litany of woes that an elopement can bring upon you. You remember a perfectly horrid film called Dil? It predates DDLJ by a couple of years. It starred Aamir Khan and Madhuri Dixit – and in a scene hollering non conformist, the two lovers burn a chair and take the saat phere around it as a sign of defiance to disapproving parents. They then proceed to la la land tucked away in a truck with no idea on how they are going to pay the electricity bills. As luck would have it, they do suddenly feel the need for a huge amount of money which can only come Madhuri’s way if she gives up on Aamir. Utterly daft. Contrast that with Raj – he’s got doting dad on his side and in case of sudden bankruptcy, pliant dad in law can be expected to step in too. Sorted. All Raj and Simran ever need to think of is planning their next vacation. Round one to conformism. 

Lest you think this is a shallow, consumerist piece – let me impress you with some sociological analysis. Cinema is a record of its times – cinema doesn’t change the way you think, it shows you how you think. So if DDLJ has the air of self satisfied conformism to it – it is because in 1995, we had a lot to be satisfied about. I for one could buy a foreign label of jeans from a regular shop, and not wait for it to show up in the dodgy grey market. I did in fact buy a pair of jeans just before the DDLJ show. My parents had more money. My neighbours were buying cars – liberalization had set in, and we were all happier. There was no need to change the system – because well it was working fine. Then comes along a film that says exactly that – there might be a few bottlenecks, but on the whole working this system to your advantage makes eminent sense. Why then be defiant? 

The other hardnosed truth that DDLJ hinted at was that while romantic love is well and good – it will run its course of hormones, and like every other good desi, what you finally want is the comfort zone of your family. There is only so much that singing in the meadows of Switzerland can do for you – eventually, everyone wants their mummy. So best to have the in- laws on your side right from the beginning. Because finally home cooked food will always win over raging hormones. 

Which brings me back to where we started – there is no issue in DDLJ adhering to a system. Because the intent of Aditya Chopra, the director was never to spark off a revolution – he was just holding up a mirror to what a bunch of cool blokes we had become. We no longer unnecessarily died in the pursuit of a foolish passion – we waited it out and made the system work for us. What’s not to celebrate in that? DDLJ epitomised the Indian spirit of enterprise and hustle – in a seemingly impossible situation, Raj showed some inventive jugaad and walked away with the girl. 

Having said all of this, I will now end with a quote that SRK once gave me in an interview. ‘Cinema’, he said, ‘doesn’t change your life. It can only change your mood’. 

So actually quit the heavy duty analysis and treat DDLJ for what it was. A hell of a mood changer! 

Naomi

(Naomi Datta doesn’t write as often as she wishes she could but promises to do more in 2015. That could be a threat or a promise – follow her on )

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