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Dear woke Indians, please stop ruining DDLJ with your 2020 vision

After 25 years of being released, Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge is cringeworthy in 2020. But Shah Rukh Khan & Kajol’s film was progressive and feminist in 1995.

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This week marks the 25th anniversary of Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge or DDLJ — the longest-running movie in the history of Indian cinema, so of course, its cult dialogues and songs were shared all over our social media. But so were articles on how, in 2020 (hindsight, if you will), the movie hasn’t aged well, and is in fact cringeworthy, outdated and unwatchable.

Such articles have been written multiple times over the years, and honestly, it’s a little tiresome. Of course, the movie has its flaws. But even a flawed movie can be enjoyed, and DDLJ, for all its flaws, is still deeply enjoyable. It was a product of its time, and busted many stereotypes about the ‘Westernised’ NRI and the ‘obedient Indian wife’, that were prevalent in 1995. Most criticism of the film fails to acknowledge the many things it got right. And honestly, that tune lives in your mind rent-free.

So, dear woke Indians, please stop ruining DDLJ with your 2020 vision.

Also read: From DDLJ to Dil Chahta Hai, Bollywood has one act to thank — that one tight thappad

Cringeworthy patriarchy

Criticism of the movie typically focuses on a few scenes. First, the one in which protagonists Raj Malhotra (Shah Rukh Khan) and Simran Singh (Kajol) meet for the first time on a train in Europe. He persistently flirts with her, even though she makes it clear she isn’t interested. He then goes on to embarrass her by making a production of returning her bra that he had accidentally sat on after her suitcase had burst open, and gets too close for comfort.

The second contentious scene is the one in which Raj pretends he and Simran slept together after she got completely drunk one night, and she, horrified at the thought that she lost her virginity this way, starts to cry. He then tells her it was all a prank and that he merely put her to bed and nothing more happened, because he is a Hindustani boy, and knows the value of a Hindustani girl’s izzat and would never even dream of sleeping with her without her consent.

Both scenes are obviously unacceptable now (frankly, even my preteen self in 1995 was confused as to why an Indian girl’s izzat is located in her vagina and whether Raj implied that non-Indian girls have no izzat). His cruel prank was then followed by gaslighting her for having thought of him as a “ghatiya kism ka awara ladka (a crude, good-for-nothing loafer)”.

Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge | Yash Raj Films Twitter @yrf

But naysayers do not recognise that while these scenes certainly do make one cringe, they are meant to paint flawed, but human characters. Raj is never meant to be perfect — he is a rake, a Casanova, and openly so. The two don’t fall in love immediately either, they grow to know one another, see each other’s quirks, flaws, often apologise for them.

Critics have also pointed out that the film bows down to patriarchy — centred as it is on waiting for Simran’s Bauji to give her hand in marriage to Raj, and Simran lacking the agency to do anything without being led or permitted by a man.

It’s worth remembering that this movie was made in the 1990s, so accusations about tone-deafness must be contextualised in that time period. This is not to say that other movies, even before it, did not address feminist issues in a much more direct and, I dare say, strong, manner. But DDLJ was a different beast. It was meant, above all, to be an entertainer, a purely commercial, mainstream Bollywood romance. And yet, within those limitations and tropes, director Aditya Chopra tweaked, moulded, bent, and busted stereotypes in his own way.

Also read: HBO pulls ‘racist’ Gone with the Wind. Many Bollywood films haven’t aged well either

What does it mean to be an Indian?

 The film was made at a time when Indian cinema was trying to return from the blood and gore of the 1980s to family-friendly dramas and romances. DDLJ, while adhering to many of these tropes, also showed that outright rebellion and alienating one’s family wasn’t the only way to make a point. One could do it smartly, nicely, in the ‘Indian’ way.

India was waking up to globalisation at the time, and grappling with a host of questions, at the forefront of which was: What does it mean to be an Indian?

With the opening up of markets and attitudes came the fear of forgetting one’s roots. Amrish Puri’s Bauji was meant equally to address that fear as well as the guilt of Non-Resident Indians (NRIs) for having left their homeland in search of better lives. DDLJ is probably one of the earliest Hindi films, if not the first, to not demonise the NRI as ‘Westernised’, and therefore, a lesser Indian. In fact, the most ‘villainous’ character was the born-and-raised Punjabi gabru jawan Kuljeet (Parmeet Sethi), Simran’s fiancé who was shown as a lecherous boor.

Using the leitmotif of pigeons, the film makes an important point about not judging others by their appearance or by where they live. Bauji, who feeds pigeons every day in London, feels they don’t know him, even after 22 years, whereas with the pigeons in Punjab, he feels like he belongs. And Raj, trying to win him over, says that perhaps a pigeon flew from one place to the other and Bauji is unable to recognise it.

Also read: How much acting can Shah Rukh Khan do? Zero

Parents can surprise you  

Bauji is an interesting guy, because despite his gruff exterior and strict rules, he is a loving, affectionate father and husband. He has spent 22 years making a life for himself and worrying that his daughters will be ‘corrupted’ by London, but he is not immune to their desires. When Simran wants to go on a month-long Eurail trip with her girlfriends, she and her mother are convinced he will say no. But one can tell from his face he was never going to say no – when he says “Europe?”, it is less out of disapproval and more out of interest, because it is something he has never had the chance to do.

Anupam Kher, as Raj’s father Dharamvir Malhotra, is the other kind of parent – a jovial, liberal high-school dropout, who failed his matriculation and went on to become a self-made millionaire. He pours Raj a glass of champagne when the latter has failed his college exams, and tells him formal education is useless and one must go see the world, live a little. Pretty revolutionary, especially for 25 years ago.

And upon rewatching the film, in fact, I found the appalling morning-after scene interesting, because it is followed by Raj and Simran going to pray in a church. So evidently, while one idea of Indianness (the woman’s izzat) is deeply problematic, the film tries also to make the point that Indianness is pluralistic. After this, in one of the many frank conversations Raj and Simran have (a refreshing change from coy glances and dialogue baazi about them being each other’s sun and moon), the film addresses Simran’s own discomfort with the fact that she is to marry a man she has never met.

Also read: Art, life and Bollywood’s role in violence against women

Feminism comes in different shades

The film does make many concessions to patriarchy, but it also carves a space for women to have their own voice. Simran and her mother Lajjo (Farida Jalal), share a wonderfully close equation and talk openly about their dreams. One of the film’s most outstanding scenes is the one in which Lajjo begs Simran to forget about Raj. She talks about how her own father always used to pay lip service to gender equality, but didn’t practice it when it came to her, and how she promised herself, when Simran was born, that her baby would never have to sacrifice her happiness the way she’d had to. But she forgot that women don’t even have the right to make promises.

It is an incredibly powerful scene, for here, smack in the middle of a mainstream commercial Bollywood film with all its limitations, is a statement on women’s rights and agency.

Once he lands up in Punjab, Raj also spends a lot of time cultivating his relationships with the women of the house, in their domestic spaces. He peels carrots, serves lassi, clears plates and helps them choose saris — not something one saw in many leading men of the time. Of course, he’s doing it to win over her family, but that doesn’t take away from the novelty.

So yes, Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge has its flaws, but it was an undeniable game-changer, and for good reason. And really, SRK saying the word ‘Palat’ should be enough to win anyone over.

Views are personal.

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  1. In ALL of SRK’s movies in the 90s, he hits on married women or women engaged to other men. Example: Darr, Anjaam, DDLJ, Dil to Pagal Hai, Pardes and Kuch Kuch Hota Hai. I am sure I missed many. SRK’s goon style, aggressive, maniacal and often one-sided proposals were adored by Indian girls. These moves became hits. But unfortunately for the Indian girls, the Indian boys got their idea of love and romance from SRK’s cheap antics. Today we have a huge problem of Indian men raping women. It all started with SRK’s movies whether you like it or not. SRK’s on-screen characters in the 90s were quasi-rapist for the most part. Indian society is facing the music today.

  2. Theres Nothing Wrong In Being Nostalgic the film D D L J Was a Block Buster Released During Indias Festival Of Lights Diwali 1995 Played To Packed Crowds from New Dehli To Jullundur City Punjab. But as Far As Comparing The 1990s Era Out Of Which The First 6 years 1990-1995 Were Epic, Years 1997-2020 Dont Even Come Close in Any Form Be It Films-Politics-Music Or Society in General worldwide.

  3. Lol,you contradicted your own statements throughout the article…and such refrain from being *woke* when the problem is from Bollywood but you be woke when the problem is from elsewhere..that cringeworthy movie needed to be dragged then itself..let alone now..

    Subtle harassment starts from of 90s learnt from movies like that and still are not learnt enough on subjects like consent..their is a huge problem with that movie and your thinking (it is not ok to defend a subject in your own accordance and make selective outrage..pseudo)

  4. Misogyny packaged in commercial glam.

    Sadly many girls/women love the movie and are inspired by it.

    And Justify its terrible treatment of women.
    Like you. And the actresses who defend it breathlessly.

    Maybe Indian women should demand more and not settle.

    Thats why its dangerous and needs to be trashed.

  5. Very cute defense of patriarchal nonsense portrayed in the film which should have been unacceptable even in 1995. “hindustani aurat” ki izzat and exchanging an 18 year old girl’s entire life (not to mention choice) for “baap ka wachan” without any choice of educating her because “apni desh ki mitti ka kabootar and rasam”….I can go on…I found it regressive AF even in 1995 as a 7th grade student.

  6. Bullcrap. DDLJ was a stupid movie in the 1990s and it is a stupid movie now. I remember my parents taking me to watch this stupid movie when I was in 7th grade and I slept half way through the movie. I never got the fuss of this idiotic movie except the fact that to many of us it was nice to to see such exotic locations in Europe. That is all. To think it is considered a cult and an epitome to Indian movie industry makes me puke and cannot hate this movie enough. I actually I can probably hate on those other shit movies like Kuch Kuch Hota Hai even more. Grow up there is nothing innocent of this shit of a Bollywood propaganda. I am just glad we had some better actors and scripts in the last decade or so but there is still a long way to go for this industry to be an art. Otherwise just put your brain aside and laugh stupidly at stupid movies if you are into such things.

  7. You need to be a woman’s man first before you become a man’s man. That’s how the cruelty against women will recede and a great family will be founded.Women are torch bearer of family .bFamily is the smallest unit of nation. And DDLJ is one of the finest film. And even the ” izzat” is still relevant in modern time. India is not about few millions living in urban areas. That word ” izzat” is the reason of child marriages.

  8. The writer mentions the 1990s as a long gone period with old and obsolete values. The 90s are long gone, 25 yrs ago, but patriarchal values have the same stronghold, whether in Indian families living in India or abroad. The film depicts that Indians hold on to their traditions even if they have lived in a foreign country for over 2 decades- parents have to arrange the marriages of their children and the bride has to observe karwa chaut. This is often true even today.

  9. the self cringeworthy article with the cringeworthy love shit movie🤮🤮💩💩

    of shahrukh khan, duh!😂😂

  10. Well another pseudointellectual elite of the society…. So called’know it all’… Seriously don’t we have any other issues prevalent in the society that you’re dissecting this movie….Grow up!!

  11. Who is this author, let’s focus on what it got right. Oh so a sexism is allowed in a movie as long as it gets everything else right. How much money did you get paid and how much moral gymnastics did you have to play to come up with this logical fallacy?

  12. One woke telling other wokes about how to make some woke -allowances because you like it. Wokeness come and go, values stay.

  13. A very well written article. Context and time is extremely important. Do we destroy the Pyramids because the slaves built them or destroy the Taj because the hands of its workers were chopped off? Is Mother India a cringe movie because we frown upon a mother shooting his son or Sholay because it shows a widow in such a gloomy light? It is amazing we are woke now and creating better movies but we should not criticise the giants of past with the benefit of hindsight. Let’s opt for love instead of hate.

  14. Great article and a great entertainer- it was DDLJ! It was really a novel concept unlike the blood spattering of most love stories of 80’s and 90’s where a rape of the heroine would supply the failed love story, towards the end. Real escapade from the drudgery and nepotism of everyday life.

  15. We have seen far more progressive and feminst movies and series way before 1995 and DDLJ.
    DDLJ was shit and now you are just making up excuses to justify your fandom. We had movies like Darmiya, Khamoshi, Maachis, Lamhe, Bombay, Zakhm etc. These movie may have also had some problematic scene which makes them a product of thier time. But these movies tried to make a point. What does DDLJ stand for??? It’s just a stupid Love story, a masala entertainer which was made to make money and for the masses… It’s like saying Wanted or Prem Ratan Dhan Payo was a product of its time. Such movies are regressive and are made regressive to appeal to a certain section of society.

  16. Nothing cohesive and coherent.Basically the cringe laden excuses by masochistic insecure females veering off towards horrible humans and ironically piloting the protests.Does the irl hardworking M/F’s injustice.

  17. Good analysis after 25 years of DDLJ release in the context of present time. Discussed women dreams and promises which almost failed but for the climax. Yes, he is right about difference of those days and present days in thinking of the India regarding IZZAT and also questioned whether it is for only Indian women or for other countries women also. Yes, inspite of some flaws DDLJ is not only a definitely watchable movie but also left a message to the then generation regarding some social myths and culture of feminine. It taught to some section of the society how to value and respect the women and their feelings also. In toto good analysis of one of the good movies.

  18. This crap movie is made to run forcibly in martha mandir theatre mumbai. I went to maratha mandir theatre on 84 th day of the movie released, at 11 o’clock morning show and on 84th day at 11 o’clock show there were hardly 11 people to watch the movie. Still they run the show for 22 to 23 years in the same theatre as morning 11 o’clock show!how this miracle was possible?it happens only in india?

  19. It’s about time we took fiction as fiction. By and large try not see movies as a means of reforming the society or a mirror of the latter. Movies are meant to be watched and forgotten (or rewatched). They are a source of entertainment for us and income for them. If every movie has only feminists/ progressive/ ethical characters how would it proceed. There would be screwed people in the movie as there are in our lives. Period.

  20. There were great films happening even in 1995 or 1985, even 1955, DDLJ was a shitty piece of art(if you can even call that art) back in the day and remains one so even today. I remember to have had the same thought in the 90s when i first laboured hard to watch the film, the experience has remained unchanged even now. To get one man sitting by YRF in Maratha Mandir and saying the films has never stopped running since is the most ridiculous thing i have seen to sell a substandard product

  21. Aptly titled. “Dear woke Swara, …” also works in light of her comments. Sometimes one needn’t do anything but to let them speak.

  22. Great article! Well written with great insight! I’m going to watch DDLJ with my family this weekend for the first time in a lot of years!

  23. What a pointless article. Ms Sood, you can make up as many excuses as you like. DDLJ might have been a product of its time, but it’s still a reel of crap. Period. This entire article is cringeworthy and echoes the hypocrisy of the 21st century Indian woman. Her own worst enemy, in addition to all the horrible men. Disgusting.

  24. The movie was cringeworthy, outdated and unwatchable when it first came out let alone by the standards of 2020. Why don’t you write about something we don’t know??

    • What does one’s religion has to do here. I think this mindset of bringing religion into everything is cringeworthy.

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