What's the most unexpected movie that changed your life?
When I was a junior in college, I signed up for a class on Bollywood cinema. It was taught by a guy named Jon Cavallero, and it changed the way I looked at world cinema. While I loved almost all the movies he showed, including Lagaan, Dhoom, and Mother India, it was Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge that really hooked me.
In 1995 most of the world was about to enjoy and call Titantic the love story of our time.
But within India, Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge was lighting a fire that has yet to be extinguished.
In fact, the movie is so popular that, since its theatrical debut in 1996, it never left theaters.
Its tagline was "Come fall in love..."
And people have for almost 3 decades.
There's a Movie that Has Been in Theaters Since 1995
During its first year in theaters, Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge, or DDLJ as it's commonly referred to, made $32,766,000 in US dollars. That was humungous for the time and the country.
But the legend grew from there.
Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge translates as "The Brave-Hearted Will Take Away The Bride."
This 189-minute romantic comedy is about a young Indian couple from London—part of the diaspora—who meet during a Spring Break road trip around Europe. Simran, a young woman from a strict, super conservative family, has an arranged marriage scheduled in India. But when she meets Raj, a young firebrand, he falls for her and pursues her. After singing, dancing and serenading across Europe, they fall head over heels in love for one another—despite opposition from their families. Raj then must chase Simran to India in hopes to break up her arranged marriage and to be with the one he loves. `
The movie is easily one of the best musicals of all time, and the songs are addictive, even if you only understand them via subtitles.
Casting is Everything
Much like Titanic, DDLJ launched its cast into stardom, and their fame today is what keeps the movie so popular. Kajol, who plays Simran, was a virtual unknown when the film released in 1995.
Today, she's Bollywood royalty—one of the most famous actresses in the business and known for a distinct look and voice.
Shah Rukh Khan, who plays as Raj, is now one of the most famous men in the world. They call him the Indian Tom Cruise. He's enjoyed almost unparalleled success in international cinema.
They have chemistry and a connection that's hard to understand unless you're watching the movie. You just want them to be together.
The Theater That Holds it Together
Dilwali Dulhaniya Lejaenge is the longest-running film in the history of Indian cinema. It has been playing at Mumbai's Maratha Mandir theatre since its release. So, what is it that fans keep coming back?
The theater seats around 1000 people, and every day for a quarter of a generation it's been packed with people to see DDLJ.
While many theaters see their shows come and go, the movie has stayed to keep fans and gain new ones every day.
Older people mingle with youth experiencing the story for the first time and over and over again.
The movie has become a spiritual sojourn. Couples go to the movie to show their love and new couples see it as a romantic night out. They laugh, cry, sigh, sing, and clap as each character comes on screen.
It's so popular, the theater changed the movie's tagline to "Come fall in love ... again and again."
The Movie's Legacy
In 1995, India saw a great diaspora all over the world. People were leaving the motherland and coming to America, England, Ireland, and all over, but they still wanted to feel very much connected to home. According to Patricia Uberoi in her article, The diaspora comes home: Disciplining desire in DDLJ, because of its adherence to tradition but also its story of finding true love, "Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge repeats the usual conservative agenda of family, courtship, and marriage, but it proposes that Indian family values are portable assets that can be upheld regardless of country of residence."
In his reflection on the movie for RogerEbert.com, Scott Jordan Harris says, "Raj and Simran’s is the love story of a generation. There has been no equivalent couple in Western movies in the period since DDLJ’s release. They are among the immortal screen couples. Watching DDLJ I feel the same desperate desire for the lovers to be united that I feel watching Casablanca, When Harry Met Sally or Brief Encounter."
He continues, "DDLJ has such widespread popularity because it manages to convey two entirely opposing messages. It argues that we should follow our hearts and chase happiness wherever it leads, regardless of the obstacles in our paths, while simultaneously suggesting we should respect the ways of our elders, particularly our parents, and do nothing that challenges their will. Progressive-minded viewers seize the first message, traditionalist viewers seize the second, and both are so thoroughly enchanted by the soundtrack and the scenery and the emotion they don’t question the contradiction."
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