Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge (Aditya Chopra, 1995)
English Title: The Brave Heart Will Take the Bride
Only in Bollywood do you have films that stretch past the three-hour mark and still manage to be authentically engrossing. Only in Bollywood films do you have plotlines (sometimes borrowed from Hollywood or elsewhere) that are rehashed to death, choreographed show-stopping musical numbers that pop out suddenly, actors and actresses that practice histrionics in their method of acting and still remain enjoyable and surprisingly refreshing. Only in India would you have a film like Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge (The Brave Heart Will Take the Bride), a well-made but rather conventional romantic melodrama, have commercial public screenings for untiring patrons years after its initial release.
Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge is the first feature film of Aditya Chopra, son of legendary Yash Chopra, prolific director of such movies like Dhool Ka Phool (Blossom of Dust, 1959), Deewaar (The Wall, 1975), and most recently Veer-Zaara (2004), and even more prolific producer to several other well-loved hits. At the young age of 24, Aditya Chopra has crafted what would become one of the most successful Bollywood film of all time. It is not a great film, merely a pleasant one. Evidence of Chopra's inexperience is abundant, like the frequent flatness of his visuals (those unaccompanied by majestic geographic backdrops or loud colors, such as when the sequences happen indoors, are relatively plain-looking). However, the film's success is of course not surprising as Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge has all the elements of a Bollywood hit in near-perfect mix: an unchallenging thus extremely watchable and rewatchable plot, doses of enjoyable musical numbers, bits of lowbrow comedy (slapstick, witty one-liners, and other unembarrassed attempts for laughter), some action including a sequence featuring thunderous slaps on the face and a brawl scene, and most importantly, one big and unsubtle heart.
The film tells the story of two London-bred Indians, Simran (Kajol, a lovely actress with perfectly shaped eyes), who is engaged to marry the son of her father's best bud back in India, and Raj (Bollywood superstar Shahrukh Khan), happy-go-lucky son of a doting millionaire. The two meet during their one-month long excursion in Europe, a rather lengthy affair that predictably begins with the two exchanging looks of annoyance and ends with them magically falling in love. This love-hate struggle for that romantic link that would sustain the challenges to come comprises half of the film. The father's plan to have Simran wed his friend's son pushes through forcing Raj to relocate to India, assimilate into the household of the groom-to-be, and hopefully or magically convince Simran's family to have Simran marry him instead.
Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge is mostly interesting because it strikes a balance between two conflicting values, that of tradition and progress. "Habits left unchanged tend to become necessity-like," explains Simran's younger sister when she joked about her mother's insistence on calling his father every morning just to find out if he reached work safely. That phrase seems to be the film's starting point in its goal to ease the challenging strictness of Hindi culture. The traditions, considered by Simran's father as his family's only linkages to the homeland they left two decades ago, are guarded from being tainted by foreign influences, which is exactly how Raj is portrayed: brash, careless, and wasteful Hindi-European hybrid. Following tradition, he keeps true the promise made to a friend to have their children marry, compromising love and affection from the marital bonds.
The film puts that tradition in the spotlight but tangentially criticizes the necessities produced by the habits forged by tradition. In one touching scene, the mother placates Simran, weeping because of her inescapable misfortune. She tells her of how she was told of the equality between men and women, and how all her life she was deprived of that so-called equality leading her to promise Simran when she was a baby to assure her a life of happiness. She recants her promise, surrendering that women do not even have the right to give such promises. In that scene, we see how a strict appraisal of tradition is tantamount to a deprivation of some facets of humanity. That scene is sad, uncharacteristically so in a movie that bursts with such mirthful energy.
Despite that, the film relishes in tradition where it matters. Raj, supposedly the Indian who was lured to the liberalities of the West, exemplifies tradition and progress in harmony. Faced with the dilemma of losing her love to the whims of an agreement made decades ago, he still chooses to have the father give his blessings instead of whisking Simran away with him. He grounds his belief with object rationality, as explained in his impassioned speech to Simran and her family, that to elope with Simran is tantamount to severing treasured ties with the family. Even during the final suspenseful moment, Raj keeps his well-tempered adherence to tradition with absolutely no clue whether his gamble will pay off or cause him to spend a lifetime of heartache and regret. Whatever happens, the conclusion remains sumptuous, truly deserving of the three hours spent arriving to it.