A Fan’s Response To Those Who Think DDLJ Represents Conformism

Posted on December 16, 2014 in Culture-Vulture, Specials

By Meghna Bohidar:

As the celebrations for 1000 weeks of Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jaayenge (DDLJ) are in full swing, there is a parallel conversation amongst the critical consumers of media about how the movie is patriarchal, regressive and contributed to the building of an ethos of conformity in the young minds of the 90’s. This is contrasted with the rebellion against parental authority by the 70’s kids. Some analyses have been sensitive, carefully treading around questions of films as representation of reality and shapers of reality, not giving undue value to one over the other. Others have directly blamed the movie for contributing to the internalization of a conformist cultural idea thus trying to establish that somehow movies, or at least this particular one, shaped reality to a greater degree than representing it. While I agree by and large with the analyses of the movie as patriarchal, I find the idea of labelling it as representing conformism slightly ridiculous and narrow-minded.

DDLJ poster

I have been a fan of DDLJ, more so of Raj, primarily because of his courage to stay put and fight for what he thinks is ‘right’. Simultaneously, I have also been a fan of the 60’s counter-culture revolutions and the May 69 riots in Paris against state and parental authority. I personally do not think that the two revolts have to necessarily contradict each other. What one needs to do, perhaps more so in the case of DDLJ, is to adopt a flexible approach to rebellion and not fall into the trap of ‘what the “correct” form of rebellion is’. I think my problem remains, not with the criticism of DDLJ as a symbol of conformism, but with the attempt to define right and wrong rebellions which deny the individual and multifarious ways in resistance presents itself. One needs to think – Why is it that the act of staying put and initiating a dialogue with the aggressor, in this case the paternal authority, seen as an act of conformity as opposed to being viewed as another form of resistance? I understand that the rebellion against authority and fleeing from sites of oppression have a sense of romanticism associated with the 60’s, but surely that does not mean that there is a monopoly on what rebellion means. Because if rebellion is defined as that and conformism is constructed as everything which is not a direct revolt against authority, or a mass movement at that, then it trivialises various other shades of rebellion.

If it is so then it invalidates everything that Raj and Simran stood for. There is immense courage, faith and sensitivity that goes into understanding the intricacies of a system and rebelling against it. One has to give some credit to Raj for realizing that the aggressor isn’t an individual but it is the entire system and that under the pretext of ‘caring for the other’, there is a large degree of control that is exercised over family in patriarchal setups. There is a recognition of the fact that one can rebel by rendering the other humane. Even though I am reluctant to make direct comparisons, it reminds me of the Gandhian form of resistance which finds force in the belief that the oppressor is after all a human being. But this recognition does not come from fleeing (eloping in this case) or battling the parental authority. It comes from turning the other cheek, premised on the belief that the power of the human face (in terms of presence of the silent, suffering body) induces an inkling of self-realization even in the worst of cases.

The movie ends with the famous dialogue: ‘Jaa simran jaa, jee le apni zindagi’. For me it was much more than just a singular, chance act of permissiveness. I think that it depicted a decline in parental authority, recognition of the porosity of consent and the flaws in a worldview which allow us to control the decisions of anyone else. And I think Bollywood does that time and again, each time the ‘couple’ (albeit heterosexual) reinstates the value of love over parental wishes. This particular movie culminates in the imagery of the running train, in full Bollywood style, symbolizing mobility and freedom. (This is only my interpretation of DDLJ, and I’m sure there will be many others, just like there will be rebellion or conformism in different shapes and sizes).

Of course, one may argue that the final act was similar to that of a kanyadaan, of a simple transfer of authority rather than letting go, and I won’t deny that. I completely agree that DDLJ is an extremely problematic movie with Simran portrayed as the good, virginal girl. It is terrible how gender roles play out and how Raj and her father refuse to listen to her and assert their own views as the right ones (Raj’s wish to stay and fight and her father’s act of forcibly marrying her to Kuljeet). I am not defending any claim against DDLJ but the one that has adverse consequences for individual subversion. For if one narrows the definition of rebellion to simply fleeing and/or violently opposing, then it renders silent, non-violent protests useless. I am worried for rebellion more than for DDLJ, for rebellion needs to constantly produced and re-produced, with full awareness that following ‘trends’ often devalues subversion of certain kinds, and we don’t want to fall into that trap.

Also read: 7 Reasons Why DDLJ Should Be Declared As Our ‘National Film’