Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge (DDLJ) has completed 1,200 weeks at a theatre in Mumbai. Nobody is complaining. Nobody is bothered either. Footfalls no longer matter; what matters is that it is still being screened, 23 years after its release. Thank heavens for that!
Its director Aditya Chopra, the eldest son of Yash Chopra, is a recluse by nature. You are not likely to run into him at a regular film party and ask him to explain the raison d’etre of the uninterrupted screening of his maiden blockbuster all these years, when the rest of the world has moved on.
True, DDLJ has helped us all stay eternal romantics all our lives. Its sweet-sweet love story of Raj and Simran, played by equally effervescent Shah Rukh Khan and Kajol through the tulip gardens of Keukenhof and the mustard fields of Kapurthala, also made us forget all our mundane worries. But 1,200 weeks over 23 years? Come on, didn’t a wise man once say that all good things must come to an end?
Ever since it was released way back in 1995, DDLJ has been running at the Maratha Mandir theatre in Mumbai. It has become a permanent fixture of sorts on the art and culture calendar of the maximum city. But nobody has a clue as to when will the Mumbaikars get a break from this syrupy romance, generously dipped in saccharine sentimentality.
Many people who have gone back to the theatre in recent years to watch it again have found the theatre near-empty. Still, given the way DDLJ is running, it seems unlikely as of now that it will be yanked off before its silver jubilee year. There was a glimmer of hope that it would finally be done when it completed 1,000 weeks a few years ago. At that time, even its ‘last show’ was organised for its 200-odd misty-eyed fans amid much fanfare at the theatre. Alas, the catastrophe was soon averted once the sense of nostalgia got the better of business acumen of all its stakeholders. DDLJ’s screening has since continued apparently, to quote an old film industry lingo, "on the pressing public demand".
All records are, doubtless, meant to be broken sooner or later, but DDLJ’s run of nearly a quarter of a century may well go down in the history as the one carved in stone till eternity. Nowadays, when a new movie starts gasping at the box office on the first Monday of its release, it would be sheer stupidity to expect any film to eclipse its feat in the near future. But then, who knows another film-maker, obsessed enough to run past DDLJ in the race for the longest-lasting movie, will breathe down the neck of the audiences with his own gem of a creation?
Remember, Ramesh Sippy’s epic dacoit drama Sholay could run for less than five-and-a-half years on the trot at Minerva theatre in Mumbai after its release on August 1975. It was pulled out only when Sippy was ready to release his next venture, Shaan in December 1980. But there were few takers for Sholay when its 3-D version was released in 2014. Some of Amitabh Bachchan starrers did run for a maximum of three years in the seventies but it was Ashok Kumar’s Kismet (1943) which pioneered the trend of long-running movies with 187 weeks in the pre-Independence era at Roxy theatre in Calcutta, a record which was ultimately broken by Sholay.
Come to think of it, is it imperative for a film to have an extended run at the ticket windows to emerge as a classic? Movies like Mother India (1957), Mughal-e-Azam (1960), Pyaasa (1957), Ganga Jamuna (1961), Guide (1965), Deewar (1975) and many others did not even have Sholay-like run and yet, they are today counted among the classics which have stood the test of the time. In fact, movies such as Kaagaz Ke Phool (1959) and Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro (1983), widely considered to be classics now, were big commercial duds at the time of their release. It, therefore, makes one wonder if DDLJ’s staying power at the box office automatically confers on it the status of an all-time great movie.
DDLJ, of course, is a sweet movie, a blockbuster of all times without a shred of doubt, which heralded Shah Rukh’s arrival as a superstar. The millennial audience has grown up watching the Raj-Simran romance in awe and admiration, loving every moment of it. Even a visiting American president (Barack Obama) once underlined its impact on the collective consciousness of Indian society by quoting one of its famous dialogues (“Senorita, bade bade deshon mein aisi chhoti chhoti baatein…”). But a record-smashing theatrical run will hardly qualify it for a place of eminence in the league of all-time classics.
Even though we have all loved DDLJ over the years, it's time to give it a sentimental farewell at Maratha Mandir, maybe at a premiere-like gala with all its stars and reclusive director Aditya Chopra in attendance. Let the film be remembered in the long run for what it was, and not for any inconsequential record that it seeks to create.