How Yash Raj Films Destroyed Indian Culture
You hear a lot of discussion on “Indian Culture” these days, especially from people who are dismayed with the loss of “Indian Values”. Specifically, the major complaints are about the following things:
- Love marriages
- Pub-going Women
- Women wearing western “revealing” clothing
- Concepts of boyfriend and girlfriend (and Valentine’s Day)
- Raunchy MMS clips
You can assign the blame on many factors – MTV, Globalization and whatnot. But, there is one culprit closer to home – Yash Raj Films. How? Well, two movies – Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge and Dil To Pagal Hai. DDLJ came out in 1995, closely followed in 1997 by DTPH. Both movies were major hits, with DDLJ going on to become one of the biggest hits of Indian cinema. Both swept a lot of awards, and both went on to win the National Award for popular cinema as well.
What were the key themes in these movies?
- Love marriage can totally happen
- Parents will oppose initially, but will come around later
- This whole thing will work out without too many problems for you
Now, there were plenty of movies about love marriages before DDLJ. And there is no shortage of fictional love stories either. However, most of them are either tragedies, or they cost the protagonists a hell lot more than most movie-watchers would prefer to lose for “true love”. Countless sisters and other relatives of assorted Bollywood heroes have lost their lives and/or dignity because the Hero was in love with a woman whose relatives didn’t accept the relationship. Things usually worked out in the end, but by then there had been enough violence to make people swear off love marriages.
The biggest anti-love advertisement was Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak, in which the hero and heroine end up dead. Released in 1988, it was the last, most desperate attempt to dissuade people from love marriages. I suspect that this movie was a major hit because parents made sure that their family watched the movie together. Repeatedly. Many of those who watched QSQT with their parents would later – 15 years later, enough time to have an arranged marriage and a kid or two – do the same to their kids with Baghban (with a different theme – don’t forget to take care of your parents, you ungrateful kids). Yes, Baghban was a hit too.
The contrast between DDLJ and the love stories that preceded it is striking. DDLJ was light-hearted and let humour do the heavy lifting for love. The only bit of violence came from a non-family villain, and just once. It was, as my significant other put it, perhaps the first Indian movie in the Romantic Comedy genre. Certainly the first one to become a mega hit. The road-less-traveled taken by DDLJ has led directly to movies like Jab We Met, which is essentially DDLJ-lite.
- Someone, somewhere is made for you (official tagline)
- Women can go to pubs and drink themselves silly
- Women can wear western “revealing” clothing safely
- Valentine’s Day is meaningful
- It is okay to videotape your girlfriend in any situation
If Yash Raj Films was circumspect enough to depict the protagonists as NRIs in 1995, its success led them to make India-centric DTPH in 1997. There was nothing NRI about this movie. Well, Akshay Kumar is kind-of NRI and Karishma visits London once, but these are not important issues in the movie. The main characters were all resident Indians. There were no villains either, except self-doubt.
Spurned by the love of her life, Karishma Kapoor does nothing more drastic than to take part in a short dance competition (watch Dance of Envy, official title) against The Other Woman (Madhuri Dixit) – which she loses. In an earlier era, her character would have been a vamp who would have sought the help of her villainous brother to show Shahrukh Khan the error of his ways. She does nothing of the sort, and accepts her fate after throwing some stones at God (no, not metaphorically).
I vaguely recall that some films in 1970s had leading female characters who would get drunk at a party (big, lavish, black-tie sort of affairs) and sing a love song for the hero. However, the hero would usually be upset about this and the heroine would probably feel ashamed about her drinking act later. In some cases, a villain might also try to “have his way” with her – leading to a rescue act by the hero (after which, the heroine would be very sorry about her behaviour). In no case would a woman getting drunk be something normal. Well, DTPH changed that. Karishma Kapoor got drunk in a pub, where she went with her friends (mostly male, though there might have been another woman), after challenging her male friends on downing tequila shots. Her male friends respectfully escort her home after that event. Nobody tries to take advantage of her vulnerable situation. There is nothing out of the ordinary about this sequence in the movie.
Nothing much to say here about western clothing. If you have seen Karishma’s outfits in the movie, you know what I mean.
DTPH was perhaps also the first mainstream Bollywood movie to highlight the concepts of boyfriend and girlfriend (there is a 1960s movie titled Boyfriend, but I doubt if it was a precursor to anything except Shammi Kapoor’s future movies). If I recall correctly, it is not explicitly stated in DTPH that Karishma-Shahrukh and Madhuri-Akshay are seeing each other, but their romantic-platonic relationships paved the way for future portrayals of boyfriends and girlfriends in various hues in Bollywood movies – like 3 years after DTPH in Mohabbatein by, you guessed it, Yash Raj Films.
This was also the first Bollywood movie to popularize Valentine’s Day by including it as a major plot device – you are supposed to find your soul-mate by midnight on Valentine’s Day. And don’t worry, God will send you a signal to let you know. Yes, that actually happened to Shahrukh Khan and Madhuri Dixit in DTPH. Valentine’s Day was also the setting for one of the songs (watch Chand Ne Kuchh Kaha), complete with heart-shaped balloons etc.
Lastly, if you are going to tell me that Shahrukh making a video of Karishma Kapoor swimming around in a two-piece swimsuit was not the precursor to raunchy (and often obscene) MMSes of our times, then you are in a major state of denial and need professional help.
Oh, and it is not as if Karishma won’t find her “someone somewhere” who is made-to-order specifically for her. As it happens, the movie hints that it was probably the man (Akshay Kumar) left by The Other Woman. See, it will all work out for you.
Now, you may protest that Yash Raj Films was merely capitalizing on the prevailing social undercurrents. Me, I just want to direct the Pramod Muthaliks of India to tangible Indian villains and leave unarmed pub-going women alone.
Summary: Yash Raj Films, with DDLJ and DTPH, popularized two concepts most dangerous to “Indian Culture” – (a) there is someone, somewhere who is made to be the love of your life; and (b) you can totally go out wearing western clothing, get drunk, find and marry that person without too much trouble. In addition, pretty much everything else that Indian youth indulges in – and is found offensive to “Indian Culture” by some people – can be traced back to these movies.
If that’s not an assault on “Indian Culture”, I don’t know what is.
Bonus explanation: This post perhaps also explains why Shahrukh Khan became such a huge Youth Icon despite his less-than-satisfying acting skills.