Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge Review
Raj Malhotra (Shah Rukh Khan) and Simran Singh (Kajol) are two British NRIs (non-resident Indians) living in London. The only son of liberal, wealthy businessman Dharamvir Malhotra (Anupam Kher), Raj is a care-free slacker who has just failed his exams and sets off with his pals for a tour of Europe at the encouragement of his father who promises him a job at his office when he returns. Joining him on the train journey from London is Simran, the reserved-yet-quirky daughter of strict Punjabi shopkeeper Chaudhry Baldev Singh (Amrish Puri) and his wife Lajwanti (Farida Jalal). Deciding to tour Europe with friends before she and her family move to India for her arranged marriage to her father's friend's son, Simran is repulsed by Raj's laddish behaviour upon meeting him. In France, after missing a train to Zurich and getting separated from their companions, Raj and Simram eventually get closer and begin to subconsciously develop feelings for each other. Raj is shocked when Simran reveals to him that she is engaged to be married to a man she has never met back in Punjab and, after eventually making their way home to England, Raj decides to pay Simran and her family a visit to confess his love for her. But it's too late – Raj finds an empty house and discovers they have already left for India. Raj decides to follow them and reunites with Simram outside her Punjabi village, who tells him that her wedding preparations are already in full swing. Refusing Simran's plea to elope in secret, Raj instead offers to hatch a plan to win her family over and marry his bride honestly.
Written and directed by the debuting Aditya Chopra (son of legendary Bollywood filmmaker Yash Chopra) and starring the popular on-screen couple of Shah Rukh Khan and Kajol, Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge ('Braveheart Will Win The Bride') is one of the most loveable and phenomenally successful Hindi musicals ever made. Now in its tenth straight year running in Indian theatres, it has surpassed even 1975's Sholay's record-breaking five-year run and with cinema halls continuing to fill up with DDLJ fans waiting to see the film for the umpteenth time, it looks likely to stick around for quite a while. There is no single reason why the movie has endured for such a long time – there have been other Bollywood hits before and since that have had better music, slicker direction or equally as good performances. However, DDLJ just has that magic combination of all the right ingredients that make it so loved among its viewers, Asian and non-Asian alike. Everything comes together so beautifully that the film as a whole stands tall.
At the time of its release, DDLJ was a deceptively progressive movie. Though its romantic boy-meets-girl plot may seem pedestrian on the surface, underneath it is chock-full of subtexts and characterisations that were quite novel to Bollywood epics ten years ago. For example, the portrayal of the two NRI leads, Raj and Simran; Bollywood had always depicted Indians living abroad as rich, heartless villains who'd been corrupted by the "evil and materialistic ways" of the West. DDLJ did away with this stereotype and Raj and Simran are shown to be perfectly normal, good-hearted people who still value their Indian roots despite having grown up in Britain. DDLJ aimed to show that Westernisation need not affect a different culture negatively and as such was as huge a hit with Bollywood's NRI audience as it was with the one back home. DDLJ can also be considered the genesis of Hindi cinema's modern age where films are now made with educated, well-off NRI cinema-goers just as much in mind as the working class audience in India is.
Another innovative plot device is Raj's refusal to elope with Simran and his attempt to win her parents over instead. Under normal circumstances in a mainstream Indian musical, the young couple would have defied their evil parents and eloped before perhaps reuniting with them in the end in an unconvincing, over-heated fashion. In DDLJ, however, there are no bad guys - only antagonists to help move the story forward. Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge does feature the Bollywood conventions of broad comedy, plenty of melodrama, energetic musical numbers and, of course, lots of crying. But at its heart, it is a smart, intimate film with believable characters and mature dialogue. Only an out-of-place, dreadfully filmed and amateurishly edited fight scene during the movie's closing minutes spoils things somewhat, but after three hours of otherwise unadulterated entertainment, you'd be hard pressed not to forgive it.
Shah Rukh Khan and Kajol are known for sharing fantastic chemistry and, among the five movies they have made together, it is arguably at its most evident here in Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge, their third appearance together as an on-screen couple. DDLJ was a departure for both of them, however, as their previous films had been (as amazing as it seems now) violent, bloody thrillers. Khan in particular was more known for his roles as bad guys in gory action movies such as 1993's Baazigar ('Magician') and 1994's Darr ('Fear') than he was for the cheeky lover boys he's since almost exclusively played thanks to success of movies such as these. Both Shah Rukh and Kajol do seem best suited to romantic comedies and their chemistry together certainly comes alive in DDLJ. It's hard not to fall in love with both them and Raj and Simran as the performances are bursting with such youthful energy, freshness and exuberance that any potential naff lines and/or plot holes are nullified as the viewer is too caught up in the enjoyment of it all to notice or care.
Kajol charms the most early on the film thanks to her sexy dance in the rain (a Bollywood tradition), her gawky pair of Deirdre Barlow specs and her hilarious portrayal of Simran's frustration at Raj's insufferable pranks. Also notable is that Kajol is a highly unique performer not only among Bollywood stars but all actresses in that, photogenically, she's no beauty queen (in DDLJ she has a chubby physique and a partial monobrow) yet still remains utterly delightful and hugely attractive thanks to her expressiveness and acting talent. In the movie's second half, stealing the show is undoubtedly Shah Rukh Khan. Scenes ranging from comedic to heart-breaking all see Khan excel with convincing enthusiasm. While he's been known to often ham it up on screen, in Dilwale... his performance is always natural and never phoney despite his occasionally hyperactive antics. Though most of the film's 189 minute running time is devoted to Khan and Kajol, the supporting cast also leave their mark thanks to the three-dimensional shaping of their characters by the actors and writers. The late Amrish Puri (best known to Western audiences as Mola Ram, the baddie in The Temple Of Doom) in particular is brilliant as Simran's overpowering, but loving father.
The superb music of the film is provided by Jatin-Lalit, Bollywood's two most popular songwriters of the 90s. Their seven songs in DDLJ are peppy and melodic, but differ from their later, more pop work in hits such as 97's Yes Boss, 98's Kuch Kuch Hota Hai and 2001's Kabhi Kushi Kabhie Gham. Here, everything is kept fairly traditional with a synth-less orchestral sound. All tracks are wonderful (some immediate, some growers), but among the now legendary hits is the notable 'Mehndi Laga Ke Rakhna' ('Make Sure You're Painted With Henna'), a boisterous wedding song picturized fabulously with simplistic, but lively choreography.
No recommendation for Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge will be needed for most Indian film fans as it is a Hindi classic that cemented its status long ago and they've doubtlessly all seen by now anyway - probably more than once. For those who haven't, however, it should be high on their must-see list and would make a fine introduction to commercial Hindi cinema for anyone yet to discover Bollywood.
Distributor Yash Raj Films have unfortunately provided only an average transfer for DDLJ on this DVD, which is in NTSC format and is progressively encoded. The film is presented in its original widescreen aspect ratio of 2.35:1 and is anamorphically enhanced. The picture is rather grainy with dirt and speckles cropping up regularly and image steadiness is slightly shaky. Sharpness is adequate, though it could be better, but thankfully there is little or no edge enhancement to be found. Colours are extremely faded and have a rusty red tint to them at times. Contrast rendition is fine, however some dark scenes lack detail. This is certainly a less-than-ideal presentation on DVD for such a beloved movie as DDLJ, but going by Bollywood's low standards for DVD transfers, it's certainly no disaster and can be enjoyed well enough if you tinker with your TV settings a little. The film was originally released with four-track surround audio, which has been remixed on this DVD to a 5.1 Dolby Digital track. The results aren't too pleasing as the audio is very echoey with very little in the way of bass to be heard, giving a tinny sound. On the plus side, clarity is splendid with minimal crackles, pops or other distortions to be heard.
Probably the most extra-packed Bollywood DVD set on the market, DDLJ's second disc has numerous special features on offer - some interesting, some filler…
'The Making' is a 23-minute documentary that originally aired on Indian television to promote the film’s release - the first TV special of its kind in India. The entertaining piece sees the cast and crew interviewed on location and in studio with behind-the-scenes footage of the movie, incuding some bloopers and general larking about.
The eight-minute 'Success Story' shows clips from the film's star-studded premiere in 1995 before fast-forwarding to 2001 for its 300 week anniversary with comments from fans about DDLJ's enduring success in theatres.
Sixteen minutes worth of highlights from the 1995 Filmfare Awards (the Indian Oscars) see Dilwale… pick up an unprecedented ten trophies, including for Best Film, Director and Actor and Actress for Shah Rukh Khan and Kajol.
Three interviews lasting around twenty minutes each, conducted in 2001 for DDLJ's 300th week celebrations, are featured with Kajol, Shah Rukh Khan and producer Yash Chopra. All three are a good watch while they last, though it is Shah Rukh as usual who has most insightful and witty comments to offer. The same interviews are also rather pointlessly condensed for the 21-minute highlight package '300 Weeks Celebration' included on the same disc.
Finally, rounding off disc two's special features are seven brief deleted scenes (with optional commentary from director Aditya Chopra) as well as the original theatrical trailer and four TV promos. Barring the trailer which is presented in 16:9 format, all of the DVD's extras are in 4:3 aspect ratio with varying degrees of VHS quality.
Subtitles included for the film are in English, Arabic, Spanish, French, Malay, Japanese and Hebrew. The English subtitle track is happily one of the best I've seen on an Indian DVD with no spelling errors and perfect grammar and punctuation. The translations are occasionally slightly different from what is actually being spoken, but the meaning is always perfectly intact. No subtitles are included for any of the DVD's special features, although the extras feature English speech for the most part.
While much of the extra features, though enjoyable, hold little repeat value and can't make up for the dull transfer of the film, Yash Raj Films' release of Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge still comes recommended as it's likely to be the only option for some time on DVD for this classic musical. Ten years on, DDLJ is still as charming as ever.