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Love that endures: Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge

As Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge, the longest-running Bollywood movie, marks its 20th anniversary, a long-time fan and London Film School student has set out to trace its enduring success at home and abroad in a documentary.
Hinnaa Sulahria, Natashja Rathore and Sound Recordist - Zoya Machkina. Erwin Fassler
Hinnaa Sulahria, Natashja Rathore and Sound Recordist - Zoya Machkina. Erwin Fassler

As Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge, the longest-running Bollywood movie, marks its 20th anniversary, a long-time fan and London Film School student has set out to trace its enduring success at home and abroad in a documentary.

The 1995 Bollywood love story Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge is so close to London Film School student Natashja Rathore’s heart that she has watched it 50 times – and is making a film about it.

The 24-year-old is working on The DDLJ Documentary, which traces the route taken by lead characters Raj and Simran – portrayed by Shah Rukh Khan and Kajol – from London to India, via Switzerland, and revisits the locations where the film was shot.

The 80-minute-long documentary, which also includes interviews with real-life couples whose lives the film has touched, is set to premiere in October at the London Film School, and at film festivals, to mark the 20th anniversary of the film.

Directed by Aditya Chopra and produced by Yash Raj Films (YRF), DDLJ has been screened at a cinema in Mumbai everyday since it opened in 1995. Despite talks of ending the run after its 1,009th week in February, the film is still going strong and completed 1,025 weeks on June 4. Fans still pack the cinema, where DDLJ tickets cost between 15 and 20 rupees (about Dh1). The price hasn’t changed since the film’s release in 1995.

The aim

“We wanted to celebrate the 20 years DDLJ has been running, and figure what it takes to touch a billion hearts and why people are still watching the film,” says Singapore-born Rathore.

“With this documentary, we wish to answer a crucial question filmmakers always ask themselves – what really makes a film successful?” adds producer Hinnaa Sulahria, 23, who says she owes her choice of career to the film.

A great idea

The plan to make a documentary on DDLJ struck Rathore when she visited her parents in Mumbai during her Christmas holidays last year, and heard about the film’s 1,000-week anniversary on a TV talk show on which Khan and Kajol made an appearance. A little later, over a family dinner, Rathore shared the idea with her parents, who immediately supported it.

“Soon after, while I was driving – as if in a cosmic series of events – I heard the DDLJ song Mere Khwabon Mein Jo Aaye on the radio, saw a poster of DDLJ just a few metres ahead, and knew that this was it,” says Rathore.

Getting YRF’s blessing

In January, Rathore presented Yash Raj Films with a clear plan about her documentary. Over the next few weeks, they “evaluated her work and found it promising and interesting”. What clinched the deal was her “dogged passion for the subject” and the fact that she was a student of the London Film School. Rathore also obtained the rights to their archives and footage of the original film.

“If it pushes the narrative forward I plan to use some of the unused footage in my film,” she says.

What Rathore didn’t ask the production house for was funds, which would have given the company full creative rights over the documentary. “My film will be a production of London Film School and Awara Pictures [an India-based company she founded in December] and will premiere at renowned film festivals, as is the tradition with London Film School. But I do hope that YRF loves my film and takes over its distribution.”

Pitching it right

How did the London Film School buy her idea of a documentary about a Bollywood flick?

“I gave an elaborate PowerPoint presentation to my professors explaining the social and cultural impact of DDLJ. But what really caught their attention was that I had watched the film 50 times,” says Rathore with a laugh.

“And of course, that the film had run for 1,000 weeks and is still going strong – that kind of thing is unheard of in this part of the world,” says Las Vegas-born Sulahria. “In London, almost 16 films release every week and each of them has an average run of one or two weeks. So DDLJ’s long run is a big deal here,” says Rathore. Her idea was approved and the next thing she knew was that a DVD of the original film was being passed around and her professors were taking turns to watch it.

The content

The first part of the shoot took place in Switzerland in May, and it brought plenty of surprises for the five-member crew. They met dozens of couples who identified with Raj and Simran, including a pair of honeymooners who missed their train twice, but were quite pleased about it since it recreated a quintessential DDLJ moment for them – Raj and Simran are on holiday with friends in Europe when they miss their train from Zweisimmen to Zurich, hire a car instead and fall in love on their road trip.

The second part of the shoot will be in London this month, where Rathore wants to examine how the Indian migrant community has changed over the past 20 years. “I want to find out why the Indians in London are more rooted to their culture and traditions than the ones back home,” she says.

In India, the film will investigate why DDLJ has become the sensation that it is. “I’ll speak to people who actually go to Maratha Mandir in Mumbai [where the film still runs] and watch the film over and over again,” Rathore says.

The philanthropic subtext

The London Film School has offered to start a scholarship, with its share of revenue from the film, for talented Indian students who cannot afford a formal film-school education. That’s reason enough to hope that The DDLJ Documentary meets with the same success as everything else associated with DDLJ.

artslife@thenational.ae

Updated: June 20, 2015 04:00 AM

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