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Looking back at Dil To Pagal Hai as the Yash Chopra film completes 25 years

Looking back at Dil To Pagal Hai as the Yash Chopra film completes 25 years

Looking back at Dil To Pagal Hai as the Yash Chopra film completes 25 years
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By Sneha Bengani  Oct 31, 2022 8:13:04 PM IST (Published)

Starring Shah Rukh Khan, Madhuri Dixit, and Karisma Kapoor, Dil To Pagal Hai presented a love triangle unlike any other. If you haven’t already, you should watch it for the terrific performances, Uttam Singh’s ethereal music, Shiamak Davar’s avant-garde choreography, and Yash Chopra.

The first song I ever danced to on stage was 'Koi Ladki Hai', the rain song from Yash Chopra’s 1997 blockbuster musical Dil To Pagal Hai. I was five. I love the songs of several other Yash Raj and Dharma classics — Chandni, Lamhe, Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge (DDLJ), Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, Mohabbatein — but the album of none of these films has been as intimately a part of my life as Dil To Pagal Hai’s been over the years.

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It’s been a quarter of a century since the film’s release but I invariably keep returning to its enchanting music composed by Uttam Singh (hands down his most inspired work so far). It never fails to charm me and make me believe a little in love no matter where I am or what I am going through in life. My eldest cousin would dance for hours on Karisma Kapoor’s Le Gayi. I was too young to know what the lyrics meant but I could sing the entire song word for word, much better than I could some of my pre-primary poems.
I was besotted with DDLJ’s Raj like an entire generation of women and girls but I could never relate to Simran or bring myself to like the film’s second half. It was too much of desi melodrama for my subdued sensibilities. Meanwhile, Kuch Kuch Hota could never really affect me the way it did so many people around me. I was always a Dil To Pagal Hai girl. I loved the stage, dancing, music, Yash Chopra movies, and romance. This one film brought it all together and how.
For the first few years, I was so awestruck by Nisha that I couldn’t notice anyone else in the film — not Shah Rukh Khan or even Madhuri Dixit. It was a supporting role that reached Kapoor after several female superstars had turned it down. I’m so glad they did for I cannot imagine anyone other than Kapoor playing Nisha with such aching vulnerability and haunting beauty. I used to think that in a country of Madhuri Dixit fans, my love for Nisha was my little secret. But turns out, I’m not the only one.
Soumyata Chauhan, a 28-year-old Mumbai-based advertising professional, says, “The way Nisha’s character was written, it was so refreshing. It would have been so easy for the makers to portray her as the other woman or the second fiddle but they chose not to. That’s what made the character stand out for me.”
Swati Thapar, a 32-year-old digital marketing copywriter based in Amsterdam, agrees. “Nisha’s character has stood the test of time. She’s talented and makes no bones about it. She manages to be kind and appreciative towards her competition, which only a person who is comfortable with their own art and their own self can do. She is not afraid to confess her feelings to the boy she loves or even be judged for it. She beat the cliché in 1997 and there’s something that I could learn from her even today. Also, Nisha’s closing dialogue is one of Bollywood’s best wisdom on love. 'Kisi ko pyaar karna aur usi se pyaar paana bahut kum logon ko naseeb hota hai' (Very few people are fated to be loved back by the ones they love)," Thapar says.
Nupur Agrawal, a digital marketing consultant from Bangalore, says she too has always been able to connect better with Nisha than anyone else in the film. “As a teenager, I remember feeling super bored about the ‘Maya’ stuff. The best part of the film was Nisha. Her character, her love, her friendship, and the scene where she tells God, ‘Tu bura hai’ (you are bad) was relatable and seemed a lot more real than Rahul and Pooja.”
Twenty-five years feels like a good time to look back at a film and see if it has aged well. Sure, Dil To Pagal Hai fields problematic ideas such as 'Hum Hindustani ladkiyan apna jeevansaathi khud nahi chunti, usey toh humare liye koi aur chunta hai' (we Indian women don't get to choose our life partner, he is chosen for us by someone else) or finding your true soulmate in the first person you get together with. Life doesn’t work like that. Sometimes, you need to meet a lot of people before you get to the one who makes your heart sing Are Re Are.
But Dil To Pagal Hai also gets a lot right. It introduced the concept of loving thy self a lot before Kareena Kapoor’s Geet from Jab We Met came along and told us unabashedly, 'Mai apni favorite hoon' (I am my favourite person). Chauhan agrees. “In a world of Kuch Kuch Hota Hai fanatics, I always managed to remain a Dil To Pagal Hai loyalist. The whole film is a masterpiece but that one scene where Pooja gifts herself a bunch of flowers and chocolates on Valentine’s Day really spoke to me. It was this scene that introduced us ‘90s kids to the subject of self-love, much before Instagram came into our lives.”
Even if Kuch Kuch Hota Hai kept harping about 'pyaar dosti hai' (love is friendship),  Rahul was an extremely horrible friend to Anjali. He does not follow his own theory; he falls in love with a woman who is not his best friend, so smitten he is with her beauty. Rahul and Nisha’s equation in Dil To Pagal Hai, meanwhile, is the stuff of friendship goals. Nisha is no Anjali. She doesn’t just confess to Rahul her feelings, she also confronts him about it when needed. Together, they reach a resolution and move on, stronger and thicker than ever. Dil To Pagal Hai is what Kuch Kuch Hota Hai should have been but is not.
It is also one of those rare Hindi movies in which the actor and actress meet each other for the first time around the interval. Chopra doesn’t treat the friendships between Rahul-Nisha and Pooja-Ajay as an aside but gives them ample space and concrete in the first half to become a solid foundation for the conflict to play out later in the film.
Yash Raj and Dharma are also notoriously infamous for making their films in a way where the first and the second halves look and feel like two different movies. Take any of their popular films — Kabhi Kabhie, Chandni, Lamhe, DDLJ, Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham. The first halves of these films are starkly different from what you get to see post interval. Dil To Pagal Hai was among the first films to break this construct. It flows like one country brook that gurgles through uninterrupted, making soft music as it moves along.
The one big question that the film revolves around is a major life lesson. Dil To Pagal Hai opens with Khan and Dixit breaking the fourth wall and Khan asking: 'Mujhe kaise pata chalega ki mere liye kaun banaya gaya hai?' (how will i find out who it is that is meant for me) I don’t entirely agree with Dixit’s response but there is some element of truth in it. You need to find your version of right. It takes a while but once you do, it becomes a lot easier to spot them when they come along. What the Chopra directorial also illustrates wonderfully is how you cannot and should not force love. It either happens or it doesn’t. And when it does, you’ll know.
I cannot write about Dil To Pagal Hai and not mention its opening track Ek Duje Ke Vaaste. Remember Ye Fizaein, the song that Mai Hoon Na ends with? Ek Duje Ke Vaaste is even better. It features several prominent real-life couples. See how many you can identify. I’ll drop a tiny hint. It ends with an adorable Yash Chopra lovingly hugging his wife Pamela.
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