When a Mumbai picture house decided to discontinue the run of the Bollywood classic Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge, the managers expected little in the way of backlash. True, they thought, the film was undoubtedly popular
When a Mumbai picture house decided to discontinue the run of the Bollywood classic Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge, the managers expected little in the way of backlash.
True, they thought, the film was undoubtedly popular in India. But it had already been running for 1,009 weeks at the Maratha Mandir cinema – a record for India. There could have been few cinema-goers left in Mumbai who had not seen it.
But no sooner had it been revealed that DDLJ, as it is known, was being taken off the silver screen than the protests began. According to Yash Raj Films, the production house behind the film, the sudden announcement “resulted in a spontaneous and an overwhelming outcry from the cinema-going audience, as well as dedicated fans of the movie, expressing their shock and disappointment”. And so the record-breaking film was reinstated.
Directed by the son of king of desi (south Asian) romcoms, Aditya Chopra, DDLJ is the story of two star-crossed lovers of Indian origin born and brought up in London, who are in their own way defying the traditions of their conservative parents’ generation and creating a mix of the best of the east and west for themselves.
It has run daily at 11.15am at the cinema ever since it was released in 1995, “the longest for any film in the history of Indian cinema”, according to Rafiq Gangjee, vice-president of marketing and communications of Yash Raj Films.
“I am very proud of having been able to screen DDLJ [Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge] over all these years, and am overwhelmed with the response of the people,” said Manoj Desai, the executive director of Maratha Mandir. “I personally have seen the movie more than 20 times in these last 20 years. We are a theatre for the public: unlike other multiplexes, we don’t overcharge and we play cinema for the mass.”
On a recent midweek morning, there were two dozen people in the hall. India-lover Mario Cibelli has seen the film 15 times. “I don’t need to understand the dialogues, I get it every single time,” said the 35-year-old, adding ruefully: “It’s a bit slow today. Usually people are dancing and shouting during the song-and-dance sequences. It’s the most fun I’ve ever had watching a movie.”
Nathu Ghorpade, whom Cibelli has befriended over multiple screenings, works as a railway porter in the nearby terminus and during gaps between trains comes to spend his heard-earned money on the movie.
For him it’s the chance to watch the movie’s stars, Shah Rukh Khan and Kajol, on the big screen that brings him back.
“When Raj and Simran [the characters played by Khan and Kajol] meet for the first time, it makes me very happy,” he said.
The film’s appeal lies in its east-meets-west sensibility and its window on a world of 20 years ago, when India was starting to undergo enormous change.
“It was a consumerist India in 1995 and young people were exposed to a whole new world,” said film critic Mayank Shekhar. “This was the film that gave a centre to those young people.
“It’s the story of a typical London Indian boy with a desi accent, who is western in his outlook but has typically earthy Indian roots. This was also India at the time. The young were exposed to a world of dating and imbibing contemporary culture, yet staying rooted in their own traditions. That, and it invoked the NRI [non-resident Indians] pride for sticking to Indian culture when living overseas,” he added.
The movie’s other appeal is the ticket price. You can see it for R18 (19p) in this single-screen 1,000-seater hall, which is as old-school as the movie itself.
Bollywood is the world’s most prolific film-making industry, producing between 800 and 1,000 films each year and has earned a Guinness World Records mention for the largest annual film output.
In the past two decades, over all those releases, DDLJ is the one movie that continues to endure, and its only message is simple yet effective: “Come and fall in love.”