Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge (The bravehearted one will take away the bride) is one of Bollywood’s most quintessential films. Starring Shah Rukh Khan and Kajol, DDLJ follows two NRIs (Raj and Simran) who meet on a train during a European holiday. They fall in love, but Simran is engaged to another guy and must return to India to marry him. Raj decides to pursue Simran in India. The story follows the expected romantic arc and includes classic Bollywood dance numbers and songs. This movie is on numerous top 50 lists and is one of only two Indian films on the 1001 movies you must see before you die list. DDLJ is the longest running movie in Indian cinema history and can still be viewed once a day at the Maratha Mandir Cinema in central Mumbai.
Honestly, I expected this movie to be a bit of a cheesefest, but was pleasantly surprised that the characters were compelling and believable. Nevertheless, the film has its cheesy moments. When we first meet Simran, she is standing at a window with her hair in complete disarray. She performs the quintessential Bollywood hair flip, and voila, our heroine is introduced.
Shah Rukh Khan acts with his dimples a bit too much at times, but when he stops mugging for the camera, he has a great capacity for emotion. The scene between Raj and Simran when she mistakenly thinks they have slept together takes a tender turn as he proclaims that he is Hindustani and understands how important her honor is to her. He would never take that for granted.
Unlike last week’s film, Queen, DDLJ takes a traditional approach to romance. Honor is a key theme in this movie, both for Simran and her father. Queen and Simran come from similar family backgrounds as both are Punjabi. But, while Queen lives her life in India, Simran is raised in London. When Simran learns it’s time for her arranged marriage, she asks to go to Europe with her friends for one last fling before she commits to a man she has never met.
The film also explores the inherent tension between Western and Indian culture with which NRIs struggle. For the fathers, it’s important to retain the bond to India. Simran’s father has a deep, almost physical, connection to the land. When a bird is shot by the groom-to-be, Raj cures the bird by placing the dirt of Mother India on the wound. We watch amazed as the bird flies away unharmed by the bullet.
For foreigners, the film offers a glimpse into the complex rituals that surround Indian weddings. Like many Indians, Simran has an arranged marriage. This film explores the complex feelings associated with marrying someone you don’t know. Raj, born and raised in London, mocks Simran for the choice. Her father expects that she will accept the match and gradually forget her European dalliance. We also see the marriage rituals unfold over multiple days. My favorite dance number takes place when the women break their fast after celebrating Karwa Chauth, which is a festival observed by married Hindu women. Although not connected to the marriage rituals, in the movie, the feast is celebrated around the time of the sangeet.
This film is the origin of a classic Bollywood trope: the young lovers running to catch a train. This scene has been re-created many times in Indian cinema, including in Shah Rukh Khan’s latest movie, Chennai Express.
“Ja, Simran, Ja! (Go, Simran, go!)” her father exclaims as she rushes to meet Raj.