25 Years of Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge: A Film Romanticising Women’s Oppression At Hands Of Patriarchy

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Few films manage to leave indelible footprints on the sands of time and one such Hindi film is Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge (known and remembered by the masses as DDLJ). The iconic film that released in the year 1995 will complete its 25 years on October 20. For more than two decades the film has been running at a theatre in Mumbai, such is its unique trajectory.

The film had a powerful casting with Kajol and Shah Rukh Khan in the lead roles of Simran and Raj respectively. Also, the film boasted of a strong supporting cast including veterans like Amrish Puri, Anupam Kher, Farida Jalal, Himani Shivpuri, Satish Shah, and young actors of those times like Mandira Bedi (you might not recognise her at first in the film) and Karan Johar.

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Re-watching Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge

Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge is regarded as an iconic film and was one of the highest-grossing films of its time. Targeted towards NRI’s, it was a post-liberalisation film centred around nationality, territoriality, and sense of belonging. These themes intersected with the themes of gender, sexuality, and desire. Did you notice how misogyny was romanticised at various instances? If not, then you are not alone, and the blame lies with the makers for sugarcoating it to an extent that it seems acceptable.

DDLJ being a super iconic film with strong visuals and rich use of cultural mise-en-scène had a huge impact on the masses. Few scenes and dialogues still stay with people and are reiterated several times by them. Remember the  Jaa Simran Jaa Jile Apni Zindagi? Many of us have heard it and even re-enacted in real life. Raj and Simran’s chemistry was another superhit. But its various strengths aside, let us take a look at problematic scenes, dialogues, and representations from the film.

Patriarchal Set-up

In the beginning of the movie itself, its patriarchal set-up is visible. Baldev Singh played by Amrish Puri has fixed his daughter’s marriage long back with his friend’s son without even giving Simran a choice of accepting or rejecting the proposal. It was a father-only decision and even Simran’s mother doesn’t get to have a say in it.

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In another instance of male-dominance when Simran wants to go for a trip to Europe the final decision lies with the father and not with the mother. Moreover, later when Simran confesses to her mother about being in love with Raj, Baldev Singh immediately makes a precipitous decision to leave the foreign land and go to Punjab to get her daughter married. In the starting of the film when Simran agrees to her dad’s will of getting married to a person of his choice and was seen following Indian traditions, Baldev Singh said to her “Tu toh meri achi vali beti hai”  but as soon as he got to know about her love, his pride transforms into shame. For the father it is not his daughter’s happiness or choice that matters; The sole thing that matters is his izzat.

But it is not just Baldev Singh who is deeply patriarchal. Later in the film, the fact that Simran’s mother has consented to their marriage is irrelevant to Raj; only when the Baldev consents can the marriage acquire legitimacy and can be deemed honourable. When Simran’s mother says, “Mard kabhi kurbani deta nahin aur na hi kabhi dega kyunki aurat paida hi isilie hoti hai ki mard ke lie kurban hoti rahe,” again reinforces the idea of male-dominance.

Do we realise the kind of impact such a glamourisation of patriarchy would have had on generations that grew up watching DDLJ multiple times? Why do viewers even in this day and age not find the films messaging problematic? How does Raj and Simran’s eternal romance still manage to overshadow the peddling of patriarchal beliefs in name of customs and rituals?

And if the present generation isn’t aware let this be told that it was DDLJ which exacerbated the entire celebration of the patriarchal festival i.e. Karva Chauthbefore DDLJ it wasn’t as popular as it is now.

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The Idea Of Family’s Honour And Maintenance Of Women’s Sexuality

“Mai janta hun ki ek hindustani ladki ki izzat kya hoti hai,” this dialogue made Raj a good NRI who knows an Indian Girl’s boundaries and limitations. But this whole sequence is also indicative of how the sexual purity of Indian women becomes synonymous with the purity of national culture and family’s honour. Let us look at the flip side of it,  Simran starts crying during this sequence, fearing that she may have lost her virginity, following which Raj pacifies her. This depicts how women are denied the agency to manage their sexuality or protect their honour. They depend heavily on the men in their lives to protect them. So had it not been for “good boy” Raj (as represeneted) she must have not been able to protect herself, right?

The denial to send a girl out alone, the hiccup of sending a daughter on a trip to Europe, and the immediated decision to take Simran back to India were all methods of policing her sexuality. It was clear to Baldev that he can recuperate family’s honour only by returning to India and getting Simran married, thereby transferring control of her sexuality to her in-laws and the husband.

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These strings of incidents and the problematic portrayal of men and women through the length of the movie makes its success questionable. As viewers, we must ask ourselves why we are so reckless about the content we consume and what it endorses? Why do we still believe in romanticising orthodox values that deny women their agency and the right to make their own life choices?

To end on a lighter note, the only good thing about the movie was our much loved Mogambo singing ‘Aye Meri Zohra Jabeen’ in ‘Mehndi Laga Ke Rakhna’ song sequence for his wife. It was a delightful scene.

Sanskriti Tiwari is an intern with SheThePeople.TV. The views expressed are the author’s own.