So this movie is a super mega blockbuster cultural icon in India. No joke, you can still see Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge in theaters -- it hasn't finished its initial theatrical run that it started twenty one years ago.
I've heard from friends who grew up watching Bollywood films that the central relationship in this movie was to teenage girls in India what Jack and Rose from Titanic were to their American counterparts in the mid-90s. They better be, because I'm expecting some serious fireworks if I'm going to sit here for over three hours, constantly on my guard for an impromptu musical number.
Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge revolves around two young adults who are of Indian extraction, but have grown up in London.
Simran comes from a traditional Indian family, where she has been promised to the son of a her strict father's best friend since she was a baby. Raj, on the other hand, is a classic example of an only child, the screw-up product of a liberal and doting father. Star-crossed lovers, y'all.
These two crazy kids meet up while on a trip to Europe with their friends, where fate and the screenwriting gods keep throwing them together. To the surprise of exactly no one, they can't stand each other. I can't blame them, though. At the beginning of the film, Raj is an obnoxious moron, and Simran is completely and utterly humorless.
But then, through an act of outright stupidity on Simran's part, they are stranded together in Switzerland, a destination for which neither is even remotely appropriately dressed.
Seriously though, what kind of idiot gets off a train to buy something and doesn't bring her luggage with her? She knows that the train is leaving any second with all of her possessions along with it, but I guess buying a random bell at a souvenir shop is more important. And why is she not carrying her passport in her purse like a normal human? I'm done with you, Simran -- you deserve to get stuck with this clown.
Then there's the classic moment that fanfiction was created for -- two people, one bed, what to do? Simran does the only thing a respectable young girl can, which is to leave in a huff and go sleep in a...barn in the Swiss Alps? I don't know it seems extreme but whatever.
By this point, Raj has realized what we've all come to understand, which is that Simran really needs to loosen up. The solution, of course, is booze. Since Simran is Simran, she takes a few swigs of cognac and starts throwing rocks through store windows and stealing shit, proving once and for all that it is always the quiet ones you have to watch out for.
When Simran wakes up in Raj's bed the next morning, no doubt nursing a massive hangover from her tablespoon of liquor, Raj decides to pretend that they slept together. Which is, you know, a hilarious joke to play on a conservative Indian girl who places immense value on her virginity.
Once she's over being enraged, though, Raj starts to grow on her, like a fungus or something. After they separate in London, both realize how much they like each other, but by this point it's too late. When Simran's father learns that she met a boy during her travels, he has the hissy fit of the century and uproots the entire family back to India, where she will soon be married.
What's a boy with no obligations and an immense fortune at his disposal to do? In this case, he follows her to India and plans to win over her entire extended family. Because (and this is important) he will only marry Simran once her father approves of it, rather than just sneaking off with her like a thief in the night to elope. Those are his pesky Indian values peeking through.
Luckily for Raj, he happens to be crazy charming. He wins over pretty much her entire family in like fifteen minutes -- the only hard sell is her father. Unfortunately for all of us, getting papa's approval requires a painfully cheesy fight sequence in which punches land about two and a half feet away from their intended targets. But hey, if that's what it takes.
Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge has all the hallmarks and limitations of a traditional Bollywood film. That means the fantasy-like atmosphere, the impromptu dance sequences, and the total and complete lack of kissing. But this movie managed to be immensely popular not only in its native India, but abroad as well. So how does it accomplish this?
Well, the movie, like Raj, is ridiculously charming. Yes, it's fluff, but it's adorable and endearing fluff. Simran and Raj are perfect together, and their actors Shah Rukh Khan and Kajol have frankly unsafe levels of chemistry.
It's sweet and goofy and innocent and it just makes you smile, OK? Sometimes you need a movie like that. And I guarantee that if I saw this as a teenager in 1995, I would have been so into it it's not even funny.
A huge part of the film's success in Indian culture is that it appeals equally to the young and old, traditional and liberal, native sons and the wide Indian diaspora around the world. It walks a very thin line where it manages to feature young people having fun and spreading their wings and doing things their own way, while still staying true to the ideals and values that they were brought up with.
Raj is a perfect example of this. He's liberal and quite thoroughly westernized, having spent most if not all of his life in London, but he still won't marry Simran without her father's approval. It speaks to young people without scaring off their parents and grandparents. And I think it did that in a way that felt personally meaningful to a lot of people.
And did I mention how adorable Shah Rukh Khan is in this movie?
He even manages to rise above his goofy-looking 90s hair, which is probably the highest compliment I can pay to anyone. Look, we Americans live in a little western bubble, but this guy is big time. More people in the world know who Shah Rukh Khan is than Tom Cruise. So your homework for tonight is to track down a Shah Rukh Khan movie and watch it, if you haven't already.