How Hum Aapke Hain Koun...! influenced desi pop culture 25 years ago, from weddings to soap operas

Karishma Upadhyay

Aug 06, 2019 11:13:30 IST

A little over 25 years ago, teenage-me was excited to be shopping for greens with my ma in Sarojini Nagar Market on a brisk November afternoon. Nope, we were not shopping for veggies. I had dragged my mother through eight different cloth shops looking for the perfect shade of green silk. When I finally found it, it was time to look for sequins and accessories. My cousin was getting married in three weeks, and I wanted to wear the same full-sleeved green kurti with a white lehenga that Madhuri Dixit wore while trying to steal Mohnish Behl’s shoes in 'Joote De Do Paise Lo'. I had thought I would be the only one. Only on the day of the wedding, I found out that half a dozen others had the same idea. We were even embarrassingly lined up by the aunties to see ‘who did it best.’

As Hum Aapke Hain Koun..! turns 25, one cannot help but look back at how the film shaped desi pop culture for most of us growing up in the '90s. 

 How Hum Aapke Hain Koun...! influenced desi pop culture 25 years ago, from weddings to soap operas

A still from Hum Aapke Hai Koun..! Image from Facebook

You could have been listening to Nirvana and wearing Doc Martens to college every day, but the minute it was time to go desi, this Sooraj Barjatya opus set the benchmark. The film might have had its flaws, and what might be called regressive motifs today, but it is impossible to not to have some fond memories of this classic, be it a song, an outfit, a bad joke or Tuffy. A romanticised version of the traditional Indian joint family, Hum Aapke Hain Koun..! was a blockbuster like no other because it influenced so much, in desi pop culture and in how ‘good wholesome’ family entertainment began to get created.

Trade pundits will tell you that this was the film which brought back audiences to theatres in the mid-'90s. Home video had taken over the country by the mid-'80s, with video parlours mushrooming everywhere, and lending libraries peddling the latest films and freshly minted pirated copies by the dozen. The advent of cable TV in 1990 was pretty much the death knell for the dingy, decaying single screen theatres that refused to invest in upgrading their facilities. The spectacle that Hum Aapke Hain Koun..! offered was a lure, and one that proved the medium still had the potential to attract India’s middle class. The initial limited release of the film across ‘quality theatres’ was highly successful. The demand for the film inspired more theatre owners to upgrade their facilities to host the epic film. One could almost say this film was what proved there was still a theatre-goer in this country willing to pay a premium for a better experience, and therefore paved the way for the multiplexes that came later.

But that is just half the story. What Hum Aapke Hain Koun..! also did was open up a new genre of ‘family films’ to satiate the new found demand for ‘big films’ that made for family outings. It inspired other filmmakers to follow in its footsteps, and none bigger than Karan Johar himself, the man who delivered a string of mega hits within the genre. In an interview almost two decades later, Johar said, “After seeing Hum Aapke Hain Koun..!, I realised Indian cinema is about values, tradition, subtlety, romance. There is so much soul in it. After watching this film I got the answers to all the questions I had in my mind. I decided to go ahead and be a filmmaker only after watching this film.” In his own special way, he paid tribute to his inspiration with a scene in Kuch Kuch Hota Hai (1998), where Dadi (Fareeda Jalal) uses a catapult to fire a marigold at Almeda’s (Johnny Lever) rear, just as Salman Khan does with Madhuri in the original.

The influence of the movie was, in no way, restricted to the silver screen though. Television was going through a huge makeover in this decade. The General Entertainment Channel (GEC) was all pervasive during Prime Time. The Indian soap opera began moving from the milieu of Hum-Log-esque middle class apartments to more aspirational stuff. If there is one thing that Hum Aapke Hain Koun..! proved to content creators, it is that people liked to be transported into more glamorous worlds. And that is what began to be served up, daily at 9 pm. Most soaps had joint families living in large houses with the women dressed in finery and gold, regardless of the time of day or what they were doing. Indian entertainment had started looking like one large wedding scene, even when it was not a wedding scene.

Talking of weddings, nothing in this country has impacted weddings like Hum Aapke Hain Koun..! did. You suddenly had people at traditional Tamilian weddings stealing the shoes of the groom, a tradition that was hitherto unknown outside of a small region of northern India. Annoying as it was to an older generation, the idea of the Great Indian Wedding had been appropriated by the Punjabi once and for all, no prisoners taken. The big fat Bollywood wedding had arrived. Teenage girls needed to have five different outfits for a wedding, would spend weeks choreographing moves and practicing for their performances at the Sangeet, and the Mehndi was not just a lady arriving at the door for the bride and her aunts. 

Like it or hate it, the influence of Hum Aapke Hain Koun..! on our culture runs deep. Some uncle at a family picnic would inevitably land up bearing a cricket bat, ball and stumps, and get the ladies to participate, because that became the new definition of family bonding. Hell, there was a time when everyone seemed to have a Pomeranian too. Twenty-five years on, flip through an old family album and look for those clues — you will see that purple sari with a backless choli somewhere on someone. You might even find it lurking in the recesses of your wardrobe, moth-eaten and limp, but with a 100 stories to tell.

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Updated Date: Aug 06, 2019 11:13:30 IST