Sunday, March 4, 2007

I'll Never Let Go, Raj... I'll Never Let Go

1995 must have been a good year for film.

In the United States, it gave us Titanic, a film that...

No, wait. Damn you, Salon. I don't know what crack you were smoking, but a bit of fact-checking reveals that Titanic and Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge were not, in fact, released at the same time. The former was released in 1997. The latter was released in 1995.

This changes the nature of this post considerably. I was going to write about the similarities between Titanic and DDLJ and propose theories as to what in both our national and international cultures prompted the creation of these two films, both the highest grossing ever of their respective countries, both in the same year.

Now I think the post may turn into "did Titanic steal from DDLJ, and, if so, what?"

A bit of backstory first. I saw Titanic in the theatre when I was sixteen (do the math and you'll know how old I am now). I only saw it twice. I wanted to see it three times (okay, I wanted to see it fifteen times) but couldn't find anyone to go with me after the first two showings. I had posters of Leonardo DiCaprio in my bedroom. I sat by the radio and hand-recorded all five versions of "My Heart Will Go On," including the techno dance-mix and the parody versions. I loved that film. At sixteen, I would have lived and died for that film.

I just saw DDLJ. Not because I'd been putting it off, but because it is never, ever in stock at Namaste Grocery. It is perpetually rented (along with K3G). Today, I got lucky.

The two films are remarkably similar. They both feature a young, plucky, "non-conventional beauty" (remember how Kate Winslet got slammed for her weight, and Kajol for her unibrow, while it was plainly obvious to anyone who watched either film that both women were just gorgeous) who is on the cusp of adulthood. Both are engaged to a man not of their choosing, but who will bring financial security to the family. (The man is also -- in both cases -- a real jerk, prone to violence and dirty tricks.) Both meet a strange young man while away from home on a trip.

In both cases, the young man and the young woman fail to hit it off at first meeting; this is nothing new, of course, in romantic films. Raj and Jack are initially attracted to Simran and Rose, but the women find the men crass and off-putting. However, both films offer each man an opportunity to rise to the occasion and prove himself a match -- in terms of social graces -- to the more "refined" female. In these two films, both of these opportunities appear at fancy dinner parties; Jack dons a tuxedo and holds his own among the nouveau riche, impressing Rose with his charm and quick wit, and Raj (again in formal wear) proves to Simran that he is in fact the talented pianist he claims to be. Thus the attraction begins.

The next twenty-five minutes are all about the young man breaking the young woman out of her comfort zone and teach her how to "live life to the fullest." "Make it count," says Jack Dawson, as he teaches Rose how to spit. "Small mistakes happen in big countries," says Raj Malhotra, as he teaches Simran how to hitchhike. And is the imagery of Jack and Rose "flying" at the prow of the Titanic all that different from the imagery of Raj and Simran flying down the road in a convertible? Both, at any rate, involve a lot of blowing hair.

The turning points of each film's "first act" -- the moment where Rose and Simran begin to warm up to Jack and Raj -- both involve alcohol and dancing. Jack takes Rose to a steerage dance party, where she shies away until she's consumed a tall glass of Guinness and then -- voila! -- is at the center of the dance floor. Raj leaves a bottle of cognac next to Simran so that she may keep warm as they spend the night together in the barn (another similarity; note that both women must remove themselves from their original "class standards" to truly open up); she drinks, starts dancing on a haybale, and we are swept off into a Bollywood musical number.

After this, of course, it's true love all the way.

There is, perhaps, no DDLJ equivalent to Titanic's famous nude sketching scene (though, to be fair, DDLJ started out the film with a near-naked Kajol), and although DDLJ was filmed during Bollywood's "no sex" period, I would argue that the fishing scene at least makes itlook like they're having sex. (If anyone has a link to a pic or clip, please let me know and I'll post it.)

The third act of each film is slightly different, if only because Raj and Simran are not trapped on a sinking ship. There is also, of course, no "Heart of the Ocean" diamond to provide an (unnecessary) subplot. And yet the similarities tick and tick again: Rose refuses the lifeboat from Cal, but takes it from Jack; Simran refuses Karva Chauth food and drink from Ajit, but accepts it from Raj (in both cases only accepting the means necessary to survive from the man they love). There's the "lacing up" scene with Rose and her mother, and the "windowseat" scene with Simran and hers ("do what's best for the family, honey, and forget about love" -- although I would argue that DDLJ's version is much more nuanced and memorable). Cal and Ajit both call in their henchmen to kick the shit out of Jack and Raj.

The biggest difference, of course, is that Jack dies (did I give away the ending to anybody?) and that Simran and Raj live happily ever after. I suppose one couldn't make a film called Titanic without having one of the lovers die (or a film called "The Big-Hearted Lover Gets the Bride" without having the lover get the bride).

Are these similarities coincidental (that is, if I ran the comparison between DDLJ and, say, When Harry Met Sally would I find most of the same stuff) or is this unique to these two particular films? Does it have anything to do with their theoretically "similar" release dates? What does it mean for multiculturalism if a quintessential Indian and a quintessential American film share, essentially, the same story and imagery? Did James Cameron watch DDLJ while making Titanic?

What do you all think?

1 comment:

Indianoguy said...

Interesting analysis.

The story is nothing new in both movies, even the scenes you described are nothing new, I think its the Actors, Music and Screenplay that did the trick.

BTW, I watched DDLJ 40-50 times, I lost count after some time :)