[Edit: This article had originally been written in 2017 to commemorate 22 years of DDLJ. The iconic Indian romance completed 28 years this year.]
“Jaa Simran jaa. Jee le apni zindagi!”
When I caught a screening of Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge at the famed Maratha Mandir, on a quiet Tuesday morning, one would hardly expect the audience to still scream along with the iconic “Ja Simran JAAAAA!” as the final scene unfolds. Yet, it seems time comes to a total standstill for all those who enter through the quiet, unassuming doors of Maratha Mandir.
After 25 years of daily screenings, it appears there’s no love lost among those who still come to watch. Hushed whispers of people reciting dialogues along with the characters, guffaws here and there as Shah Rukh Khan ambles across the screen with an antic or two, and of course, crowd encouragement is all part and parcel of your movie experience here.
Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge, fondly known as ‘DDLJ’ is a rite of passage for any self-respecting desi kid. The right to quote a dialogue from DDLJ in casual conversations, share an Amrish Puri GIF or even reposting one of the many memes inspired by the movie are all rights you earn, after devoting a good three hours of your life towards this classic piece of Indian cinema. Not only has it set the bar for all Indian rom-coms after, but it also gave us all terribly unrealistic expectations of love — because let’s be honest, if you regularly travel by train around this city, you’re more likely to get pushed back on to the platform by a tough fisherwoman than helped up by a handsome young man.
However, there’s no denying that we’ve all shimmied to ‘Mere Khwabon Mein Jo Aaye’ in our towels post-shower, fueled a friend’s bad decision with, ‘Ja Simra ja. Jee le apni zindagi’, or even tried to convince a friend to fake-chase you while you’re on a train. Don’t even get us started on our hopes of finding our soulmate on a Euro-trip. It isn’t just us who feed into this though, Bollywood itself refers to this iconic film through dialogues, character names or sometimes, even the whole plot!
Anaita Shroff who played Kajol’s friend Sheena and has been Vogue India’s former fashion director, spoke to us about DDLJ, “The film was made with so much love and pure intent that it transcended to the film. DDLJ was one of the most stress-free sets I have ever worked on. We all lived in a small Swiss cottage, hung out together, travelled together, had our meals together. We were like a big joint family! Much like the film. I think it resonates with so many people because it celebrates a universal ‘Indian-ness’. We never imagined that the film would leave such a legacy in Indian cinema!”
Released in 1995, the Bollywood film that stars Shah Rukh Khan and Kajol as Raj and Simran continues to make history right here in Mumbai, in 2018. Maratha Mandir has cancelled the show all of one time in its history of screening the movie over the past 25 years. As your eyes adjust to the dimly lit interiors, one notices that this 60-year-old art deco building is surprisingly still quite clean and well-maintained. If it weren’t for the towering Sai Baba statue at the foot of the theatre’s grand marble staircase, the surrounding reflecting glass and geometrical chandeliers transports one straight to the early 90s.
It wasn’t always as easy as screening the same film daily though. In fact, according to a report in 2015, when DDLJ had completed a target of 1000 weeks of running shows there was a dual agreement between Maratha Mandir and the film’s production house Yash Raj Films that the shows of the movie would be discontinued. “We thought there would be a drop in numbers. We are a single screen theatre competing with multiplexes, television and internet portals for showcasing cinematic content. We cannot get sentimental about these things. But then when we saw that so many people still wanted to watch DDLJ and it was as popular as ever before, we decided to continue the screenings,” says Pravin Rane, who has been the manager at Maratha Mandir for the past 40 years.
When further probed about the film’s committed audience, he laughed, “It’s because it’s a family film at the end of the day.” Breaking down statistics for us he explains that during the week, they only see their shows fill up to 30-40% of their capacity but the weekends and holidays fill up to almost 70-80% of their capacity. Removing a sheet of pink paper, Rane discreetly shows us Maratha Mandir’s box office collections, pointing out that often, DDLJ’s numbers have outdone new releases at the movie hall!
While running a business might be about numbers, Jagjivan Maru, the man who has chosen to screen DDLJ for over two decades, said that it is mostly for the sentiment now. He even told IndiaTimes about a romantic gesture that occurred within the cinema’s walls, “A well-to-do man came to us, booked the entire 1100 seats of the theatre and sat in the balcony with his girlfriend and perhaps proposed to her after the film.”
Raj and Simran hug each other amidst the audience’s applause and barely seconds later, the lights come on, stunning everyone back to reality as they hurriedly rush out the door. I quietly walked out through those very wooden doors that unknowingly hid a world of nostalgia within. It dawned on me that this theatre was truly no less of a legend than DDLJ itself. Back in 2017, when we had the chance of speaking with Rane, he had smiled serenely, aware of the magic we witnessed and had left us with prophetic words before he bade us goodbye, “I see DDLJ shows running on for at least 22 more years.”
He was right.
Catch this cult classic’s daily show at Maratha Mandir at 11.30 am.
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