Valentine’s Day is just around the corner and everyone seems to be upgrading their Valentine’s Day movie list. Here’s a suggestion from us. Kindly remove Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge from that list.
We have spent over 2 decades idealising and romanticising a blatant portrayal of stalking and creepy behavior. We are talking about Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge, the epitome of Indian romance. For years women and young girls were led to believe that Raj Malhotra, played by Shah Rukh Khan was the ideal man. Over the years the film has acquired a cult status, but in retrospect, the movie just romanticised a pathological liar and a stalker. Meet Raj Malhotra.
Raj handsome and carefree and completely the kind of man women envisioned sweeping them off their feet. In reality Raj was passive aggressive who joked about having slept with a girl while she was unconscious.
It wasn’t until recently a time when I came to fully embrace the values of feminism, that I started viewing both Simran and Raj in a different light. It hit me during one of my regular viewings of the movie:
Simran is just a product of her oppressive environment and internalised patriarchy. Raj on the other hand, is the actual douchebag.
The more I thought about it, the angrier I got at Raj. Why is a so-called liberal man living in London stuck with such ridiculously archaic views on a woman’s honor and virginity? In one of the seminal scenes in the film Raj pretends to have had sex with Simran and is quite proud about it.
She balks at the idea of it because she had passed out from having drunk alcohol. She panics when she realises Raj may have raped her and at this point, Raj starts mansplaining ‘Indian kalchar’ and how he knows that she is a “true” Indian woman and hence knows that value of a “true” Indian woman’s honor (because of course, an Indian woman’s honor is stuck in between her legs
She hugs him because she is so grateful he didn’t sleep with her when she was in no position to give consent. In essence, she is literally thanking this asshole for not having raped her.
Raj the douchebag only proceeds to become more villainous as time goes on. Even after he finds out that the woman he loves is for some inexplicable reason in love with him too, he doesn’t respect her views on anything. The moment they reunite in Punjab, she begs him to run away with her.
He tells her no. He wouldn’t budge without permission from her regressive patriarchal father and another douchebag, Bauji.
Now, the Karan Johars of the world would argue that this shows that Raj cares about Simran’s family. Except that he doesn’t. He only cares about his image and the validation of a patriarchal man.
After all, when her mother catches the young lovers in the midst of a late night rendezvous, she gives them permission to run away. Raj turns her down. He wouldn’t “take” his bride without the permission of her father. Why doesn’t he assign any value to Simran’s mother, a woman who not only gave birth to her but had also raised her for two decades? Isn’t she an equal parent?
There is a point in your life when you start to see just how destructive patriarchy can be and how much it has disenfranchised you.
The character of Simran is neither to be blamed nor to be idolized. But has to start questioning the motives of Raj. Oh, it’s not just Raj – it’s every single man in the film who automatically grabs authority for himself. For example Simran’s father – played by Amrish Puri – is a stern yet loving Indian father but in actuality, he is an emotionally abusive manipulator who thinks he gets to decide what’s best for the women in his life.
He has the audacity to assume magnanimity when he gives his grown daughter one month from her own life to lead it the way she chooses.
In fact, even at the very end of the film, when Simran makes the decision to run towards Raj of her own volition, he grabs her hand and stops her. She begs him to let her go. And in one of Indian cinema’s most memorable scenes, he releases her to go after her true love. Even at a moment when his permission is not sought, he gives it anyway! At the end of the day, Simran pretty much has no choice or agency. She is at the mercy of the men in her life.
The more I abandoned the lessons that patriarchy taught me, the sicker I felt grappling with the cultural impact DDLJ continues to hold over our society.
For all the progress we claim to have made, we still live in a world where women are constantly told to live by the rules set by men, be it their husbands, fathers, brothers or romantic partners. Any woman who accepts the status quo is immediately celebrated as the pantheon of Indian womanly goodness. Any woman who dares to defy immediately loses value and gets labelled the slut, the whore, the witch and the bitch. The current Indian society is going through the conundrum of the Madonna-Whore syndrome.
But here’s the thing. I don’t want Raj Malhotra to be the quintessential romantic hero anymore. Thankfully, a number of women have grown to be quite repulsive of the character. So this romantic day, delete DDLJ from your favourite romantic films.