Some films are not just films - they become cultural markers, signaling a societal shift in attitudes and values.
When Shammi Kapoor said "Yahoo" at the top of his voice and rolled down the snow (Junglee, 1961), an entire generation declared its independence from the hang-ups of their parents who had grown up under the Raj. It triggered off the fun-loving 1960s, when films went full-colour and were shot in Kashmir, Simla and soon enough, Paris, London and Tokyo.
Zanjeer (1973) indicated that our carefree days were over - the country was now angry and frustrated. The less said the better about the 1980s - future historians, studying that period in Indian history through its cinema will judge the country to be passing through a phase of extreme tastelessness.
And then there is Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge.
DDLJ, as it is called, has just completed 1000 weeks - every day, in the mornings, it has played at Mumbai's Maratha Mandir continuously since it was released in 1995. It has not just been seen by millions of people, but also been analysed by cultural theorists as an artifact that tells us a lot about the India that emerged after Dr Manmohan Singh's economic reforms.
The generations that grew up after 1991 look on it fondly as the film that defines them - or at least their idea of romance - and countless filmmakers have cited it as an inspiration. DDLJ captured new India's personality - globalised but rooted in Indianness, fun-loving but family-oriented, economically liberal but socially conservative. Don't forget your roots, your land, your sanskriti - and never forget, elders know best, is the core message of the film.
Youngsters loved it when it came out and have loved it since - and that is precisely why it bothers me a lot.
As someone who grew up on a steady diet of 1970s films, the inherent conformism of DDLJ and much else that came after is troubling. One of the great cliches of the 1960s Hindi film was the stentorian father declaring to his child - "Yeh shaadi nahin ho sakti." This was usually on the basis of class - rich boy-poor girl or vice-versa - but it could very well also imply caste or religious differences.
The son/daughter then invariably walked out of the house, leaving behind wealth and riches - it was better to live poor but in love rather than rich and under the parental (more accurately patriarchal), thumb.
In DDLJ, Rahul refuses to elope with Simran, telling her that parental blessings are very important - it is only when Amrish Puri gives "permission" that Simran runs to her boyfriend.
Yash Chopra, the astute chronicler of Punjabiyat, from partition-affected (Dharmputra) to the westernized and modern (Waqt) to the wealthy (Kabhie Kabhie) had handed over the baton to his son Aditya, who smartly understood the anxieties of the NRI and the post-liberalisation globalized Indian.
They had everything they wanted in their lives, but they yearned for their roots. They were traditionalists. And they did not want to rock the boat, because the comforts of the boat suited them just fine.
Youth should be about rebellion, about discarding the old and finding a new voice. Amitabh Bachchan's Inspector Vijay in Zanjeer and the many other clones who came after him were angry at a system that rewarded the law-breaker. They decided to do something about it. The 1970s saw marches, protests, student riots as young men and women raised their voices against the establishment. The establishment hit back with brutality and finally, when it couldn't control things anymore, imposed a national emergency, during which the press was tightly controlled and opposition leaders and journalists went to jail.
Today, 20 years after DDLJ, the government feels no need to impose any restrictions, because no one is really protesting. The trade unions have almost disappeared, the media is happy playing its role as a cheerleader and the young see no reason to raise their voice, because they can't see anything wrong with things around them.
Religious intolerance, browbeating of dissent, erosion of tribal rights - nothing seems to move them.
When you get everything you want, what is there to fight for? Yes, there is poverty and insurgency and all that stuff, but surely that is not our problem? All around the world, young men and women are rebelling - against repressive governments, economic exploitation, police injustices. A spark was lit when the crowds came out on the streets after the Delhi gang-rape, but the fire never really spread. Maybe they are waiting for an app.
It is not DDLJ's fault, of course. Films reflect reality, not create them. Indeed, it is to Aditya Chopra's credit that he understood the new ethos of the nation and captured it so well and so early on. It is not surprising that his film has completed 1000 weeks in the cinema - at this rate, given how things are headed, it has a life of another 20 years.
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