“Someone somewhere is made for you” promised Madhuri in the brilliantly done opening credits of Dil Toh Pagal Hai. I believed in her, still do. The spell that was cast in 1997 in the dark theatre in Bhubaneswar, refuses to wear off till date. So does the freshness of this Yash Chopra directed love triangle that gave Bollywood love a new definition and a makeover.
Dil To Pagal Hai (1997), came at a time when Bollywood was undergoing a sea change. A churn was on in the way films were made, the way they were received and the people who were watching it. DTPH is perhaps the best example of how mainstream Hindi cinema blended to manage new tastes while still not alienating traditional likes.
The latter part of the 90’s saw the business of movies change forever in India. The traditional 45:55 ratio of Urban: Small- town collections for a movie was a thing of the past. Balcony audiences in the metros, who had long shunned the ghaagra clad docile heroine screaming for help and moved on to Hollywood, was back in the theatres demanding films that were made for them to suit their tastes. The urban centres alone could make a film a super hit, something unthinkable a few years back. DTPH carried on this trend of making films that were made for the cities, while the rest of Bharat could only look at them starry eyed.
It is in this backdrop, DTPH released in the festival season to a rapturous welcome befitting the banner and production house. DTPH was unabashedly western in every sense of the word. There was more to it though.
DTPH had many things going for it from the start. It was the second time SRK would be on screen under Yash Chopra’s direction. This was also the first time Madhuri Dixit, the reigning diva of Bollywood who had not had a single mega hit post the mammoth Hum Aapke Hain Kaun and Raja, would don the chiffon and dance in the Alps for Hindi films maverick kin fog romance, Chopra. The second lead in this already power packed cast was a free for all passing the parcel until Karisma Kapoor decided to take it on. And then there were rumors of it not being a conventional Yash Chopra romance, of it being all about songs and dance, of it being all urbane and glossy and how traditional YRF audiences wouldn’t like it.
DTPH is about three different perspectives of love- Rahul (SRK) doesn’t believe in love, yet sells love stories as a choreographer/ director through his broadway styled musicals. Nisha(Karisma) thinks friendship is love, that two best friends are meant to fall in love, and hence loves her best friend Raj. Pooja (Madhuri) believes in the fairytale version of love, that everyone is made in pairs, all she has to do is find the one made for her. The three ideas clash, there is some heartbreak, and lots of dancing around, some beautiful locales and all is well that ends well as love triumphs and sacrifices are made. In one broad stroke, Love is defined as relentlessly perusing that one person of your dreams, while also reinstating that true love begets sacrifice at the cost of your own happiness.
Love stories had never been this Anglicized before. The film majorly happens in a shack straight out of NYC. The actors are preparing for broad way styled musicals, an imported idea again. The choreography (National Award for Shaimak Davar) was distinctly un-Bollywood in its style, a breath of fresh air that set a new trend. Yet, DTPH was sufficiently old school as well.
Despite being radically westernized in the look and feel, DTPH essential is a stereotypical clichéd version of fairytale love that Bollywood specialized in. The deception of something new and fresh is belied by the reassertion of the old and comfortable. DTPH worked for the yuppie crowd in the metros and for the romantic lovelorn folks in the hinterlands.
While Pardes, released the same year in August juxtaposed love against themes of family pride, respect for elders and an overtly jingoistic patriotic flavor, DTPH changed the discourse to a completely individual level. It eliminated the Family from the equation- there is hardly any room for parents in the story, Pooja alone has a foster family that serves as the last umbilical connection with old school Bollywood love stories. This formula was taken further next year with the stupendous success of Kuch Kuch Hota Hai and has reached fruition in today’s romcoms like Ek Main Aur Ek Tu and Cocktail, where family is nothing more than comic relief and an easy plot device.
However, the real awesomeness of DTPH was the fact that this was Yash Chopra’s reinvention as the king of Romance. To imagine that an ageing director could make a love story so young and fresh was not easy when the movie was being planned. Not only did Yash Chopra silence the cynics, he showed the world that he was as young and romantic at heart as his films were. The maverick rediscovered his craft, remolded it to suit the new times and once again got the audiences eating out of his hands. His penchant for lilting music too was reinforced with his choice of a largely out of work Uttam Singh who gave some of the most memorable tunes of the 90’s.
DTPH was also a reinvention of Madhuri Dixit’s career. Critics had had her packing her bags off for some time then, her thumping sweep of all popular acting awards with the film was a reassurance that with some help (here Manish Malhotra in particular) the queen still had it in her to rule. Shah Rukh on the other hand embarked on a career path of Raj’s and Rahul’s and stretched arm poses for eternity- something he is still doing in the upcoming Jab Tak Hai Jaan. Karisma Kapoor surprised everyone, by taking on a role every single actress refused and winning a National Award for it. For Hindi Cinema, DTPH was a reinvention of the love wheel. Critics went hammer and tongs at the film calling it escapist, half baked, even calling it facile. Yet, the film worked, because Yash Chopra romances are beyond all this, they speak to the heart, directly.
There aren’t many who can tell a love story well. There aren’t many like Yash Chopra. There aren’t many a film like Dil To Pagal Hai either.
Note- This is post is part of the special Yash Chopra Blogathon as a humble tribute from MAM to the master filmmaker, Yash Chopra. You can also check out our posts on Waqt, Kabhi Kabhie, Trishul, Kaala Patthar, Silsila, Dharamputra, Dhool Ka Phool, Aadmi aur Insaan, Mashaal, Ittefaq, Faasle-Vijay-Parampara, Darr, Daag, Chandni, Lamhe and a tribute to Yash Chopra as well.