I met Prem in the summer of 1990. On a sweltering Kolkata afternoon, at a friend’s birthday lunch, he had me at, “Dosti ka ek usool hai madam, no sorry, no thank you.” I knew then that this relationship was for keeps. It wasn’t every day that I was allowed unsupervised television, and it was definitely providential that my friend’s parents had thought Maine Pyar Kiya to be the ideal party film for a bunch of tweens.
Prem was everything that a marriageable young man should be. Sanskari, he sulked when Suman (Bhagyashree) got held up in the kitchen; environment-conscious, he cut carbon emission by zipping around the house on a bicycle; he could even have been PETA’s poster boy with his love for his messenger fleet, the kabootars.
It is a truth universally acknowledged (in India, we are the world) that “Ek ladka aur ek ladki kabhi dost nahin hote”. And so, as he wooed Suman to BO success, like a (gently obsessed) stalker, I decided to follow his every exploit, every screen outing.
Of course, there had been that other Prem who had burst onscreen with his “Prem naam hai mera, Prem Chopra” (Bobby, 1973), but he was not a patch on my Prem. Neither was Prem Bhopali (Andaz Apna Apna, 1994), rip-roaring funny as he was. For none of them, you see, had been raised by Sooraj Barjatya and educated in Indian values at Rajshri Productions. They did not ride chandeliers to gatecrash baby showers, or play cricket with bored Spitz umpires. Heck, they never even made elaborate wedding videos look like full-length feature films. Here was the perfect lover-boy, who left lovemaking to the kabootars, as adarsh a man as one can be in between shooting a black buck or two.
That was where I met him next, a good four years later, when advice such as “Insaan ki pehchaan tann se nahi, mann se ki jaati hai” and years of “studying business” in America had mellowed him down considerably. He was older now, rid of his teenage angst and baggy satin suits of dubious colours (remember his mustard/brown suits in Hum Aapke Hain Koun…!). And while his sprawling family did all the talking (Hum Saath-Saath Hain), he spent his time looking profound or bashful, take your pick, and courting a doctor without a practice in monosyllables and Bambi eyes code. What was not to love?
Over the years, I have searched high and low for Prem’s gems and nobody has understood my quest better than Mr Barjatya. Nothing, nothing made 2003 more special than watching Sanjana (Kareena Kapoor) in Main Prem Ki Diwani Hoon torn between Prem Kishan and Prem Kumar, one, the prospective groom, the other, an employee of the same first name, sent to do a reccee of the bride and her family “kyunki pyar ki ek apni hi kundli hoti hai”. And no one, not even Raj Malhotra, Bollywood’s other pillar of romance, could have done justice to this mush other than Prem: “Kasam ki kasam hai kasam se, humko pyar hai sirf tumse. Ab yeh pyar na hoga phir humse, kasam ki kasam hai kasam se.”
I can’t wait for Barjatya’s Prem Ratan Dhan Payo to release this Diwali. Kya karoon, main Prem ki diwani hoon!