The DDLJ Effect: 20 years later, SRK, Kajol still fuel our romantic aspirations
by Chaitali Patel
Here's a fact that you can't unhear: there are 20-year-old kids, doing whatever it is that 20-year-olds do, who exist because their parents saw Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge. Because their parents' hormones turned into tsunamis, thanks to Shah Rukh Khan and Kajol making eyes at each other in Switzerland.
There are children that have been conceived because Mummy lay back and imagined Raj (naam toh sunah hoga) while Daddies dreamed of Simran. I'm reasonably certain music shops in New Jersey and other parts of America with a high concentration of Indians and Pakistanis saw a dramatic rise in the sale of ukuleles. A friend of mine planned her honeymoon in Switzerland because she wanted to go to the church that Simran and Raj go to, with her husband. That's the DDLJ effect.
Everyone talks about DDLJ breaking records as the longest running film in the world and how the cinema Maratha Mandir in Mumbai has seen people trickling into see this film that made so many girls dream of Eurorail.
But on the other side of the pond, DDLJ changed things for girls like me -- regular, American, brown girls who were basically lusting after black and white actors and sportsmen. Now, out of the blue, there was this goofy guy, with floppy hair, saying slightly cringey things, but looking totally adorable while saying them.
Suddenly, I was imagining myself standing in a yellow field of mustard flowers. You have no idea how unsettling this is. I'm a Patel, for crying out loud. We don't do mustard fields. We do garbas. Of course, if we're talking about me in particular, I did neither. I'd been memorising the lyrics to "Creep" and imagining a college crush who shall remain nameless murmuring Boyz II Men lyrics in my ear.
And then, because of DDLJ, the aforementioned college crush was whispering "Tujhe dekha toh yeh jaana sanam..." in my ear.
For the first time that I could remember, Bollywood had made a film that I wasn't embarrassed by. Yes, the heroine was a little wimpy, but she wasn't unbearable. The hero wasn't a creep. The melodies were beautiful and there was none of the clownish pelvic thrusting that had made Bollywood such a nightmare in the Eighties and much of the Nineties.
DDLJ was a love story that we could imagine happening in our lives. That was a first as far as my experience of Bollywood was concerned.
The thing with DDLJ was that it checked all the boxes for everybody and so, for the first time that I could remember, here was a Bollywood film that you could watch with your family without rolling your eyes (or at least not rolling your eyes too much).
Parents felt like it got their point of view, their nostalgia for the Motherland and the need to continue traditions like arranged marriage. At the same time, DDLJ pointed out that these expectations were ridiculous, but it did so gently and in a way that was acceptable to both the old and new.
For us, who were young 20 years ago, Raj and Simran raged -- ok, serenaded -- against the machine. For our parents, there was a little rap on the knuckles followed by the soothing balm of knowing that all said and done, at the end of the day, the kids are marrying Indians. Punjabi was marrying Punjabi, which meant Patel would marry Patel, and worst case scenario was Mukerjee might marry Ghosh. Little India was safe.
There was something else about DDLJ for people like me, who were seeing it in places far away from India. It saw us, the tribe of acronyms -- NRIs, ABCD, and so on -- as regular people. Raj and his dad aren't absurd caricatures of human beings. They don't speak in weird accents. They don't wear ridiculous clothes. They're normal. This is a courtesy that very few Bollywood films have done for my people.
Usually, the foreign-residing or foreign-returned Indian is, put simply, a weirdo. And it's not really the most pleasant thing to watch. DDLJ did us a courtesy by pointing out that we're not all crazy accents and crazier wardrobes.
Twenty years later, DDLJ still feels comforting. When I'm feeling like the world is out to get me, I must admit that I close my eyes and imagine a mustard field with Shah Rukh Khan, with a floppy fringed mullet, standing in it, waiting for a version of me that has Kajol's hair, to run into his arms.
Chaitali Patel lives in New York and would like to maintain a diplomatic silence about whether or not her offspring owe their existence to DDLJ.
Updated Date: Oct 21, 2015 13:02:52 IST