Monday 21 September 2020

1,001 Films: "Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge" (1995)

Produced by Yash Chopra and written and directed by his son Aditya, Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge was one of the first Bollywood films to crossover into overseas Top 10s (the opening stretch takes place in London, with location shooting in Leicester Square), and the movie that would confirm Kajol and Shah Rukh Khan as leading stars of their generation. It's the story of two star-crossed lovers, forced to hitchhike across Europe after they miss their rail connection, and what happens to them once they return to the embrace of their families. Simran (Kajol) is fleeing the prospect of an arranged marriage and her sternly conservative father; Raj (Khan) a rich kid from Hampstead, breezing through life, whose father has rewarded him for flunking out of uni. The Chopras found a way of appealing to the widest possible audience by locating drama and heightened emotion in the generation gap between pop kids (there's an unexpected runout for Doop's one-hit wonder "Doop") who feel obliged to retune the radio to classical hits whenever their elders come home from work, and those diaspora parents, keen to maintain certain traditions in the face of Western commerce: Simran's father, who carries an umbrella after the fashion of an English gent, lights incense sticks on the counter of the garage forecourt shop he works in. The key to the film's success may have been that father-son partnership behind the camera. Though set in mid-Nineties Europe and carried chiefly by its youthful leads, this nonetheless feels like a period movie or the type of film Indian audiences had been watching for years, with sweeping landscapes, a timeless love story, melodramatic crash-zooms at moments of high tension, classical choreography (none of those nightclub numbers that have become a cliché in modern Hindi cinema; the second half - which relocates everybody to India - opens with country folk waving brightly coloured fabrics through fields) and songs that might just as likely have been heard in the Bollywood hits of the Sixties and Seventies. (The hero plucks a mandolin whose refrains haunt the heroine.) To a Western eye, it takes an age to facilitate the narratively inevitable - and get these kids together - but Kajol spends that time making a fair case for the quiet sexiness of the fuller eyebrow, while Shah Rukh's natural gift for onscreen mischief-making proves, even at this relatively early stage in his career, infectious indeed.

Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge is available on DVD through Yash Raj Films, and to stream via Prime Video.

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