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25 years of Hum Aapke Hain Koun...! How the movie sparked a profound shift in Bollywood

25 years of Hum Aapke Hain Koun...! How the movie sparked a profound shift in Bollywood

25 years of Hum Aapke Hain Koun...! How the movie sparked a profound shift in Bollywood
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By Nandhu Sundaram  Sept 5, 2019 4:07:11 PM IST (Published)

It’s hard to believe that it’s been 25 years since the release of Hum Aapke Hain Kaun!. A game-changer for Bollywood, HAHK went on to become the highest-grosser of the year and one of the biggest revenue earners ever.

It’s hard to believe that it’s been 25 years since the release of Hum Aapke Hain Kaun! Even as the movie became a worldwide hit in 1994, many critics shunned it, with some referring to the film as a “glorified wedding video”. I remember going into the theatre with less than lower expectations. But the title sequence was deeply shocking -- and so seductive -- that I was bowled over. I then knew I was in the hands of a master.

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After the famous title-song sequence, the movie captures the blossoming love of Prem (Salman Khan) and Nisha (Madhurix Dixit) as their families get together for the wedding of Prem’s brother with Nisha’s older sister.
HAHK was the second movie of director Sooraj Barjatya after the blockbuster success of Maine Pyar Kiya (1989).
I spoke to film critic K Hariharan, who put the release of the film in perspective for CNBCTV18.com. “After they were done with the film, I met with the producer. He was telling me how difficult it was to release the movie as it had no fights, no villains and no conflicts. It looked like a long marriage video,” he told me.
An ensemble cast
Tarachand Barjatya, a giant in Bollywood, had passed away in 1992, and Rajshri Productions were grappling with fresh ideas to market the film. HAHK hit theatres before the era of simultaneous releases. This was the time of premiers and so on. Movies travelled from A centres to B centres and C centres.
So, 25 years ago there was no way to release the movie all over the world at the same time. “So the producers of the movie decided to make the Bombay (now Mumbai) release of the movie a showpiece. They purchased Liberty Theatre and completely revamped it. They wanted the audiences to feel the film and not just watch it,” said Hariharan.
The practice harks back to the days of Mughal-E-Azam (1960) when theatrical releases were events by themselves. Raj Kapoor’s Sangam (1964) and Ramesh Sippy’s Sholay (1975) were released in brand new theatres.
“The whole of Liberty was converted into a huge marriage function space. It was a grand set – Shehnai players, food and drinks being served, pan being made, Mehdi being laid on the hands of the women. So after that (entire buzz), movie distributors came running to the producers,” said Hariharan.
Some of the scenes in HAHK were so sexually permissive that it shocked young minds upon release. Equally influential was awful reiteration of patriarchy. As the movie progresses, so does the slow seduction of each other by the hero and heroine. The film had an ensemble cast led by Khan and Dixit and supported, among a host of others, by Alok Nath and Anupam Kher.
“Liberalisation had clearly taken hold of the country. Foreign cars were everywhere. We were living an American-style, market-consumerist system. Into that came this film in 1994. And, you had this highly made-up feudal family that looked western,” Hariharan said. “The film may look traditional while capturing the lifestyle of a wealthy Marwadi family, but many of its ideas were western.”
Fourteen songs 
The film famously has 14 songs and the soundtrack has one song merging with the other until they are indistinguishable. There is a song for every game, every occasion until everybody is a bit tired of them. The film also has an outrageously funny sequence in which Anupam Kher imitates Dharmedra from Sholay.
Tuffy, the Pomeranian, gets a credited role and is the lead in a vital sequence during the climax when he hands over a letter to Mohnish Bahl, who plays Rajesh Nath. The film also celebrates the love between Bhabhi and Devar with Salman even saying the phrase “I Love You” twice to Renuka. “The two characters are always hugging each other. Salman hardly touches Madhuri,” he said. This was Sooraj watching India going modern, he said.
HAHK went on to become the highest-grosser of the year and one of the biggest revenue earners ever.
You may be forgiven for not noticing the carefulness of the framing of the film the first time you watch it. “The mise-en-scene is very different in HAHK; the characters are in close proximity with each other. In one sequence, the groom’s father sings his love for the bride’s mother and the old people are now expressing their sexuality. This was not heard of in Hindi cinema before,” he said.
In the midst of all this is the phenomenon they call Madhuri Dixit. “She is seducing every person on screen, but does it in ways that so graceful,” said Hariharan. “There is a good balance between profanity and the sacred.”
Madhuri magic
“Madhuri is such an excellent dancer. In ‘Didi Tera Devar Diwana’, she is constantly jutting her butt at the camera. But she is one of the graceful and extremely talented dancers ever to hit Indian cinema that the profanity of the scene is nullified,” the film critic said.
The space accorded to Laxmikant Berde, who plays the servant Lalloo Prasad, is accorded significant space in the movie. Besides butting into every comedy scene, it is he who grieves without inhibition for the death of Pooja Choudhury, played by Renuka Shahane. It is Lalloo who prays Lord Ram to unite the loving couple (Nisha and Prem) by causing a chamatkar (miracle).
They say happy families stay together and that is the feeling you get after watching Hum Aapke Hain Koun.
Nandhu Sundaram is a journalist based in Ooty.
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