"DDLJ , the acronym it's remembered by today, put young lovers Raj and Simran, played by Shah Rukh Khan and Kajol, at its centre as they fall in love while travelling across Europe but learn to balance tradition as the story goes back home to Punjab.
On the film's 25th anniversary on Tuesday, Singh recounted then debutant director Aditya Chopra's first narration to the team.
Amrish Puri’s Chaudhary Baldev Singh letting go of his daughter’s hands with “Jaa Simran jaa” became a celebrated symbol of love’s victory over familial resistance in Hindi cinema, but many in the “Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge” team, including the late producer Yash Chopra, initially felt the film’s ending was a “cliche”, recalls cinematographer Manmohan Singh.
“DDLJ , the acronym it’s remembered by today, put young lovers Raj and Simran, played by Shah Rukh Khan and Kajol, at its centre as they fall in love while travelling across Europe but learn to balance tradition as the story goes back home to Punjab.
On the film’s 25th anniversary on Tuesday, Singh recounted then debutant director Aditya Chopra’s first narration to the team.
“The common reaction for many, including Yash ji’s, initially, was that the climax wasn’t working. We thought, ‘It was such a brilliant film but eventually it became a cliche’. It follows a pretty normal ending, with the father letting go of the daughter’s hands. Before the shoot and even after that, we had reservations about it,” Singh told PTI.
The cinematographer, who was 46-year-old when he shot the film, said his doubt vanished when he saw people clapping and whistling during the now-famous train sequence.
“Yash ji had some reservations but started feeling it’ll work. Aditya agreed it wasn’t pitch-perfect but told us he didn’t have another alternative, the film had to end there. But when we heard people clapping and hooting, we were pleasantly surprised. We didn’t have the faintest of clue that this would work, let alone be remembered even decades later.”
“DDLJ” marked the 50th film of dialogue writer Javed Siddiqui, who had earlier penned lines for wide-ranging films like “Umrao Jaan”, Yash Chopra’s “Darr” and “Baazigar”.
There was a feeling of “timeless romance” attached with Aditya Chopra’s script, Siddiqui said, adding that many were not on board with the idea of a large-scale musical romance shot across continents.
“It isn’t that when the film was being made people thought it would break all records. There were several people who had doubts about it. A prominent personality of Yash Raj Films asked me to request Yash ji not to do this ‘bewakoofi’ (stupidity) with this film. He said it’s not a film, it’s a travelogue,” the 78-year-old screenwriter told PTI.
But “DDLJ” proved the naysayers wrong by redefining Hindi film romance and scripting history as it went on to become one of the longest-running films in the country. A matinee show was dedicated to the film at Mumbai’s Maratha Mandir till March, when theatres were shut due to the pandemic-led lockdown.
Siddiqui said the film’s long run can be attributed to its story, Jatin-Lalit’s music, and the chemistry between Shah Rukh and Kajol. “They brought it alive. The love story is so effective, it makes you believe. You forget the age of Shah Rukh, or that Kajol today has a grown-up daughter. It captures you in that moment and doesn’t let go. That’s its biggest strength.”
The film occupies a significant pop-culture space thanks to its dialogues, from “Palat”, “Jaa, Simran, jaa, jee le apni zindagi” to “Bade bade deshom mein aisi chhoti chhoti baatein hoti rehti hain.” Siddiqui said the lines, which are today considered “proverbs”, weren’t “designed”.
In the film, Raj calls Simran “Senorita”, a Spanish term for the title ‘miss’, something that came from Siddiqui’s first meeting with Kajol when he had gone to her residence to narrate “Baazigar”, the first film to feature Kajol and Shah Rukh as a couple.
“She was wearing a Spanish frock when I met her and was looking like a Spanish beauty. I had complimented her as ‘Senorita’ back then and that stayed with me. In the film, it would’ve looked odd if Raj called Simran a ‘lady’, ‘darling’ or ‘baby’. So what would he say? That’s when I remembered, he would say ‘Senorita’.”
While “DDLJ” was about Raj and Simran trying to get her father’s approval, her mother, played by Farida Jalal, was portrayed as a supportive, progressive woman who wanted the couple to follow their dreams. Siddiqui said Jalal’s dialogues were a window to her backstory, which wasn’t shown on screen “but you can feel the pain” of a mother wanting the kind of independence for her daughter that she never had.
Interestingly, the conversations between Lajjo and Simran find roots in a Bhojpuri film by actor-filmmaker Nazir Hussain, which the writer had loved. “He had written a mother-daughter scene, which had inspired me tremendously. I tried to recreate something like that here as well. It had a fantastic line: when a daughter grows up, she becomes a friend.
“That bond between two women of different generations, who reach a certain age and strangely feel equal as sisters or friends is beautiful. That was my effort.” As a cinematographer, Singh said the biggest challenge was to not let the film dip visually when the scenic locations of Switzerland are replaced by the mustard fields of Punjab.
“We were aware that after shooting beautiful locations across Europe, when the second half reaches Punjab, the film shouldn’t go down, visually or subject wise. It shouldn’t stop looking breathtaking and emotionally engaging.” One of his fondest memories remains watching Yash Chopra turn into a production manager for his son during the filming. Senior Chopra surrendered to the first-time director, Singh said.
“The whole unit would laugh at times because Yash ji, being an extremely passionate person, could feel the subject even though he was not directing. If a scene was happening, we would sometimes look at Yash ji’s face.
“He was there in it hundred per cent: he would get emotional, cry, react passionately to the scene. Sometimes he would handle the fog machine and the fan himself.”