How Dilwale's success lies in Kajol not Shah Rukh Khan
It is important for Rohit Shetty to get off his silly bandwagon for once and make a film that deserves her.
In the pictures being beamed from Bulgaria, both Shah Rukh and Kajol smile into the camera. They still look remarkably young for their age, even as a hint of wisdom, perhaps, marks their brows. (And in SRK’s case, some much-needed weight gain.) The event: a promised reprisal of their chemistry in the upcoming Dilwale, a title that plays, for good measure, on the film that has come to define the zenith of their onscreen romance.
Look at the two actors closely and the pictures promise to be the markers of an era. Both SRK and Kajol have aged but with his slickly gelled hair and her irrepressible smile, they still capture something of that erstwhile goosebumps-filled period. Only now they look senior, and one hopes the film will give them roles that will do their age justice.
In our collective memory, 1995’s Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge stands as a Bollywood landmark, the precursor to what came to be known as the “NRI romance” genre. The film has many flaws, most particularly its blatant patriarchy, but in speaking to the youth of that generation, it denoted a shift in perceptions about what movies were meant to be. SRK had already established himself as a romantic hero but with DDLJhe landed right into the hearts of a generation of women and, better, their mothers.
My memory of the movie is intertwined with that of another blockbuster, Hum Aapke Hain Kaun, which released a year earlier. In the small town that I grew up, both HAHK and DDLJ spoke to the audience in deeply traditional ways, even as the latter tried to wrap itself in more current currency. Songs from the films played at weddings, and one from HAHK, “Mai ne mai” was a frequent tearjerker at sangeet ceremonies.
Yes, some of DDLJ’s tropes were hilarious. The scene where Kajol’s character Simran wakes up in the same bed as SRK’s Raj and flips out over having arguably lost her virginity was so silly as to induce giggles to this day. It is a measure of how far we have come as a society that our leading ladies (the men have never had to worry about such things) today easily include sex as part of the relationship package, which Simran could not bring herself to, in spite of being raised in London.
That was the other problem with DDLJ. It represented a highly skewed idea of immigration, one in which the expatriate from India thought nothing of going abroad to make money but felt little need to incorporate the mores of his adopted land. Bauji, played by Amrish Puri, misses India with such a passion as to make one wonder why he left in the first place. (To be sure, as a teen, I was rather taken with the kitschy longing in the song “Ghar aaja pardesi”, until I learnt better.)
But for all that, SRK and Kajol shared a steady chemistry that was accentuated by the magic of songs such as “Tujhe Dekha to Yeh Jaana Sanam”. Raj and Simran’s holiday across Europe, an event that sets the stage for their love, was, to many Indians, representative of the freedom that they desired for themselves. Even so, the movie endeared itself to the elders by making the protagonist earn his spurs as the consummately Indian lover boy. Raj comforting a frazzled Maaji, Simran’s mother played by Farida Jalal, after she begs him to run away with her daughter, marked both a quietly feminist touch and the then-still-new prospect of a mainstream hero walking the fine line between new-age faddism and entrenched tradition.
That said, the cult around DDLJ has muddied some of the movie’s appeal. A bevy of new-age directors, led by Karan Johar, have paid detailed, and often dreary, homages to the film in their productions. Stars from the film make routine pilgrimages to TV studios on anniversaries of the film’s release, while the story about Maratha Mandir playing it since forever is now plain tiresome.
Cue Dilwale. Kajol, on her part, has been extremely selective about the work she has done lately. She is one of those actors who was part of the transformation in Bollywood but retired before she could fully enjoy the fruits of that change. The only memorable roles of hers over the last decade were in Fanaa with Aamir and My Name is Khan with SRK. Actresses like her, a list that also includes Karishma Kapoor, must dream about the sort of meatiness that a Deepika Padukone or a Kangana Ranaut get to chew on today.
Which is why it is important for Rohit Shetty to get off his silly bandwagon for once and make a film that deserves her. That SRK has gone down the rabbit hole of mediocrity is old news. His presence in 2013's Chennai Express was so tedious he will struggle to live it down artistically (money wise, sadly, even trash featuring him is always a spinner). One hopes that Kajol would ensure that Dilwale retains a semblance of meaning. The actor has said in the past that she is not always satisfied with the transition from script to screen. Here’s hoping that tragedy does not befall Dilwale.