When Shah Rukh Khan gave us Raj Malhotra in Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge in 1995, nobody thought his screen avatar would become the poster boy for romance in Bollywood. With scattered hair and a mandolin in hand, he was unlike any lover boy Hindi cinema had seen before.
So what was it about Raj that struck a chord with a generation of cinephiles?
Raj Malhotra was unlike his predecessors in films like Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak, Saajan, Dil Hai Ki Manta Nahin, Aashiqui and Silsila. He did not believe in sacrifice or dying for love, neither did he want to elope or break hearts. Raj was different.
His defining moment was when he convinces Simran not to run away, giving a new definition to “love marriage” on screen. Until then, we only saw our lovers either succumbing to the desire of their elders or go the Romeo-Juliet way. Raj changed it all. For him, the permission and blessing of the entire family were of utmost importance.
Raj preferred to stay with Simran’s family and convince them about the union. This was a new concept in our Hindi films back then, something that was practical and seemed sincere.
Director Aditya Chopra smartly weaved the details of Raj’s personality (and other characters too). Raj came at a time when the country had just embraced liberalisation. The young were adjusting to their new found global exposure while still clinging onto their Indianness. Raj romanced Simran all across Europe, taking the Indian audience on a rail trip which was beginning to seem possible in the near future. That’s exactly what made Raj stand out. He was aspirational for more reasons than one.
Raj arrived onscreen when there was a dearth of hardcore romantic heroes in our Hindi films. His arrival in Bollywood couldn’t have been timed any better. It was also an image makeover for Shah Rukh Khan, who had played negative roles in films like Darr, Baazigar and Anjaam.
Raj became a turning point in Shah Rukh’s career and a reference point for romance in Indian cinema too. Post DDLJ, you either loved like Raj or you didn’t!