In Bollywood, the most successful films are measured in number of weeks showing in a first run cinema. In 2005, Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge replaced Sholay as the longest running film in history. Since then, it has crossed the 600 week mark (April 2007) and is still going strong. Even today, it is still possible to “Come fall in love”, as the film’s slogan puts it, at the daily showings at the Maratha Mandir in Mumbai. Or at the Cinema Brady in Paris every Sunday at 3:30pm.
Aditya Chopra’s film shines in taking the basic structure of Bollywood films and spicing it up in fresh ways. His formula for success comes in giving the audience something that is enough like what we know, yet different enough for it to feel revolutionary. At the heart of it is a great concept: the young lovers fall in love while travelling on the Eurail. Spending a month visiting Europe by train had been fashionable for quite some time, but the idea of using this as the backdrop for a Bollywood love story is truly brilliant.
Chopra makes another great choice in the storytelling – opting to use NRI characters. Non-Resident Indians make up a huge part of the Bollywood audience today. If films in the past have shown Asians in England (My Beautiful Laundrette by Stephen Frears at the time was probably the most successful), a Bollywood film had never done it. In an era of ever-increasing Indian migration to the West, DDLJ addresses both Eastern and Western audiences by portraying NRI’s.
Having found this way to capture South Asians around the globe, Chopra makes another wise decision: to depict the NRI’s in the film with little regard to realism. If Laundrette insists on the social reality of Asians in Britain including darker aspects like racism, none of this is present in DDLJ. The film represents Indians in England not the way they are, but the way the audience would like them to be. The characters hardly seem influenced by England at all – everyone speaks fluent Hindi – Raj and Simran seem to come straight out of Mumbai, not London. Chopra recognizes that this is the image that the public- both international and domestic- wants to see, and he delivers it.
Having given us bold originality through a portrayal of NRI’s in the UK and their adventures on the Eurail, the film then masterfully weaves in the elements that are common to the Bollywood love story genre: tradition vs. modernity and more specifically love marriage vs. arranged marriage. Here again, Chopra understands the audience and makes the perfect compromise – a love marriage is acceptable only if the parents agree to it. These values are appealing to Indians both at home and abroad.
Chopra does offer one key reality for immigrants – the overpowering nostalgia for the old country. From the first few frames of the film, we see Amrish Puri’s character dreaming that he is back in the bright yellow poppy fields of Punjab surrounded by women in colorful shalwar kameez instead of the gray and subdued hues of London. The lyrics Gar Aaja Pardesi Tera Des Bulaye Re (Come home, foreigner, your country is calling for you) beckon not just Baldev but all the characters to come back to India. This sense of everything being better back in Punjab is maintained throughout the film, and we are delighted when we finally see Raj and Simran embrace in these same poppy fields later. The film functions as a message to all NRI’s and their families back in India to reconnect with each other. This call to come home has had a profound impact on audiences making DDLJ one of the most successful films in Bollywood history. Perhaps a more fitting slogan than “Come Fall in Love” would be to “Come Back to India and Fall in Love”.