Whilst this is far from being my first Indian film, it is my first proper Bollywood musical. At three hours long with many breaks for large lip-syncing numbers (because, of course, no one in the film actually sings the songs – as is the style) this is a film I have been putting off watching for years in the vain hope that it would be bumped off the 1001 list in a future update. But that hasn’t happened in the last 10 years, so let’s just watch it.
As far as I can see, there are two main reasons for Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge’s placement on the list. Firstly it is one of the most successful films in Hindi and Indian cinema, which includes the record for the longest continuous cinema run (which, I guess, makes it the Hindi Titanic). Also, I have seen it said in a number of places online that Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge may be the perfect film to introduce a Westerner to Bollywood. On that second one, I might have to agree with them.
I think a film like Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge works as a good Western crossover for one big reason – the romantic lead characters are third culture kids (in this instance: born and raised in Britain by parents who moved over from India). This means that the leads are able to appeal to both Indian and Western viewers that are able to see bits of themselves in the leads. Similarly, the first half is set in Europe which helps to phase in the more culturally alien ideas (to Western viewers) before we spend the second half in Punjab.
Another thing that probably helps is that this is a storyline that many will have seen and read a number of times before. It starts off with the standard Pride & Prejudice style courtship of both characters disliking each other before falling in love a few songs later – then, when we get to India, we get the twist of trying to stop an arranged marriage.
Despite knowing nearly every beat of the storyline (aside from some random set pieces, including a rope trap and some impressive tiger mimicry) this was one of those films where it was fun to be along for the ride. Once you get used to the more Bollywood elements and view this more as a mini-series than a film to be watched in one go, I had a really good time.
Hands up, I misjudged this film. I wouldn’t go as far to say that I loved it or that this is a fantastically original film, but I will say that I really enjoyed it. Going forward, I think I really should be giving Bollywood films more of a chance and not be as dismissive of them as I have been previously. After all, what’s wrong with a film that can take a dance break every now and then, as long as the story around it is engaging enough and you can forget that the guy playing a teenager is clearly in his early thirties.