Bollywood's most known saga of family-blessed love completes 1000 weeks, reminding us why we love to mash rites with rights
Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge (DDLJ), director Aditya Chopra’s forever gift to Indian cinema’s syrupy, soppy, passionate and correct take on love, completes 1,000 weeks of non-stop running at Mumbai’s Maratha Mandir theatre this month.
It is a big milestone for cinema buffs and film historians. For assorted lovers, good daughters, ideal sons and perfect families, DDLJ was of course about Raj and Simran, about a fuzzy bridge between Switzerland and Punjab, about mustard fields and the male karva chauth (a festival celebrated by Hindu women in northern India), but it was really about the difficult parent. It was a hell of a lot about Chaudhari Baldev Singh, a father high on entitled male dominance played powerfully by the late Amrish Puri and the closet-liberal mother Lajjo played by Farida Jalal.
Even as I was thinking about this last Sunday, my aimless television surfing led me to 2 States directed by Abhishek Verman based on Chetan Bhagat’s book 2 States: The Story of My Marriage. Released earlier this year, it is a similar text with the sites of tension being Ahmedabad, Delhi and Chennai. Tamilian Ananya Swaminathan and Punjabi Krish Malhotra (SRK in DDLJ was Malhotra, too) represent the same dilemma: a couple in love from different cultures struggling for parental consent to get married.
Curiously, the caricature of the difficult parent is heightened in 2 States, even though it was made 20 years after DDLJ. Instead of one unrelenting Baldev Singh, there is an abusive father foiled by his caste-fanatic wife (Krish’s parents) and the glowering father and mother of Ananya.
Both films have a dozen other subtexts, each more grating than the other. DDLJ served its clichés like warm and salted melting cheese; 2 States like frozen yoghurt. Unlike the loving-pining-kissing-hugging-but no erotic combustion, Raj and Simran of the nineties who ignited many a similar passion in young viewers, Arjun Kapoor as Krish and Alia Bhatt as Ananya have premarital sex with only as much fire as a cold wave. Their lovemaking is like a mild quarrel for chocolate cake. It douses our interest in their Big Struggle. In DDLJ, we rooted for Raj till the end; in 2 States, you want them to get on with whatever it is instead of stretching our nerves. No wonder 2 States faded out in two weeks.
What’s potent besides the tugs of love and war is the need of the Indian youth apparent in two films separated by 20 years to cajole difficult parents.
DDLJ was made in the nineties, not exactly a regressive decade in the evolution of the independent Indian youth. Yet it idolized a righteous hero. He was the nurturing parent while the father behaved like a tantrum throwing teenager.
2 States, too, has a misbehaved father while the son tries to be rational and patient.
What could explain this need of appeasing to unreasonable and archaic parents? A need that doesn’t emanate from the anxiety of being struck off inheritance rights but instead from an emotion.
If Indian parents as portrayed in cinema resist progressiveness, even the youth are at best quasi-progressive. Love (eternally sanctioned even by the gods) is good, but elopement teases the limits. A favourite narrative re-kitted and sent out even in Chennai Express.
Reality, however, doesn’t mirror this cinematic loftiness. Indian fathers may not be enthusiastically open-minded but few would endorse Baldev Singh or Malhotra senior. They are too pragmatic, learn to cut their losses and go for the next health check-up. Most sons on the other hand stretch boyhood long into adulthood and adore their membership to the I, Me, Myself club. Not in the least interested in the elaborate and exhausting rituals of righteousness like Raj and Krish.
But both types of men in real and reel life seem to be in favour of the traditional wedding. As long as there is a wedding, who the bride or the groom is can be resolved between revolving doors of family politics.
Is it then the romantic, fun-filled promise of the Indian wedding—blessed by parents, performed according to rites, bathed in ghee, sandalwood, marigolds, accessorized by brocade sherwanis, glitzy lehngas, teasing aunts, non-resident Indian guests, solemnized after five days of single malts and choreographed lungi dances in an exotic seven-star destination—at the crux of all this? A bombastic and commercially fertile event on the outskirts of the happily ever after that can be demolished by rebellious elopement.
If the answer is yes, there is reason to feel elated. Much cynicism is recycled these days by the nature and lifespan of the new Indian marriage. But if we can save the wedding from that pessimism through the myth of the groom as the saviour of rites and rights, DDLJ has been worth every day of its 1,000 weeks.
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