Saturday, June 14, 2008

Of DDLJ, SRK and NRI-ism

(Please note: I don't intend any bragging of NRIism or condone candy floss movie culture. I am trying to connect events that happened surrounding this movie and see if i can make sense)

Some movies reflect nation's mood. They reflect the generational change...and sometimes tap on the changing sensibilities of a sub culture.

Almost 12 years back, one such movie was Dilwale Dlhaniya Le Jayenge. A 'coming of age' movie for lot of people including the lead - Shah Rukh Khan.

How was DDLJ different? Well to start with how about the acronym DDLJ itself? I don't remember we used to have many acronyms like this before. DDLJ firmly etched the notion of the shortening of big name movies. Although it wasn't the first to do that, the movie goers lingo definitely changed post this.
{My wife has just argued that QSQT was the one that started the trend. But I am going to stick with my gun. I think DDLJ made this acronym notion more prevalent}

But there were many other 'firsts' to this movie. It was the first "hit" movie where the romantic couple was NRI. Before DDLJ, the hero would be "foreign returned" at most; but not an ABCD or in this case British born confused desi. He would be that patriotic Indian who would come back to "serve" his country. DDLJ broke that glass ceiling. It was unapologetically NRI in it's portrayal.

The second "first" for this movie was the romantic rebel who wouldn't try to be "too nice". He wouldn't try to be the devdas or the good guy. He would use brain to fight out his situation . He was NOT a good guy. He was NOT perfect. He was charactersiticly rude and in your face lover.
Something that was never fully attempted earlier. And the third "first" and in my opinion one of the big jumps was the strong feminist portrayal. The female lead in a romantic movie always had to be the coy, all-adjusting girl who would stay within limits all the time. Although in the movie Kajol does portray that "good girl" image, its different; she is shown as fiercely independent and confident and decisive to a large extent in the first part. At times she irritated me too. But that also indicates that the heroine lost all pretense of the good girlie character.

The year of DDLJ was 1996. This was the time when NRI-ism was coming on its own in urban India. It was a period when economy had just opened. Urban India was seeing American brands like Pizza Hut and McDonald opening their shops around the corner. Coke and Pepsi were already a part of the pop culture. Coke was the official sponsor of the Cricket World Cup in India in 1996. IT revolution was also slowly unraveling in India. A revolution, that, with it's one big tide would sweep a whole generation of middle class Indians into an upper middle class mode. The middle class Indians of wannabe NRI types.

In some sense DDLJ tapped that mood of the nation to it's most profitable best. It must be the business acumen of the Chopra camp to have sensed that mood. The mood of a generation of Indians who were ready to move on to greener territories. DDLJ had all the makings of a candy-floss love story with loads of rich NRI shenanigans. It's not hard to see why a generation of India was caught by this fancy flight to Europe. The Flat world of Thomas Friedman was flattening in India at a very high rate at that time.

The globalized Indian was at ease with the NRI romance. He was ok with a convertible car being broken in Switzerland express way. He could easily relate to train journey in Europe. Although Yash Chopra had taken Indian audience many a times over to his favorite destination, it was with DDLJ that he camped in Europe for good. Just 5 years before DDLJ an NRI hero had failed in Chopra's own Lamhe.

In 20/20 hindsight it's easy to see why DDLJ would not have failed even if it was totally crappy. Some may argue it was still crappy after all. But just seeking an objective analysis, it cannot be denied that it was SRK's signature movie. It was for SRK what Deewar was for Amitabh Bachchan or what probably Hum Aapke.. was for Madhuri Dixit.
Any numero uno needs that ONE big movie to propel him or her in a different league. One movie that is permanently tied to that star. DDLJ was that movie for SRK and also to some extent for Kajol. While Deewar reflected the angry socio-economic situation on mid-70's , DDLJ mirrored the new emerging positive India to some extent. Both movies hitting the sweet spot as far as box-office is concerned.

The gloss that Chopra movies started acquiring with Chandani and Lamhe finally reached it's crescendo with DDLJ. Remember Chopra was the same guy who gave Deewar and Mashaal. The suave urbane hero was not Chopra's real deal till very late in his career. Some may say, the coming together of SRK and Yash Chopra spawned a new thread of candy floss cinema. A new lane on Bollywood traffic. A lane which Karan Johar would keep driving and go for an overkill of NRI centric stuff. KJ even created an NRI family in London who lived in a palace that would be bigger than the Queen herself; for crying out loud. I am referring to the sub-standard attempt at movie making - Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gam; K3G as it was called.

DDLJ opened new gates and market for Bollywood and soon other big movie houses joined the bandwagon. NRIs were the new target audience. And before we knew, every one from Saif Ali Khan to Abhishek Bachchan were living in Australia, UK and USA.

But like any other notion, the NRI syndrome had to fail. Not because it was meant to. But because of the curse of Bollywood. That curse is called overdoze. Of over kill. A curse that has been induced time and again by its unidimensional Directors, who cannot think beyond "formula".

The over used formulae of DDLJ may have seen it's sell by date already. But it's significance in the larger pop culture of India can simply not be denied.

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