So, the plot of Dilwale can either be seen as a triumphant homage to multiple past films of Shahrukh and Kajol’s careers. Or, it can be seen as part of an industry that is constantly recycling plots and abhors originality. I would argue it is a combination of the two, certainly the essential plot is a result of laziness, but it is still worth while to compare the way it interacts with past performances and films in order to discover how things have changed and how the stay the same.
So. back in 1995, the same year DDLJ came out and Shahrukh and Kajol became the record breaking phenomenon they are now, Shahrukh starred in another picture, Trimurti. At the time, Trimurti looked like it would be the bigger release. It was produced by Subhash Ghai, and was a multi-starrer with newcomer SRK joined by longtime hit makers (and Subhash Ghai collaborators) Jackie Shroff and Anil Kapoor.
The plot was also solidly traditional, a separated brothers/brothers on opposite sides of the law film, a kind of Amar Akbar Anthony/Deewar hybrid. Jackie Shroff is the honest cop older brother while Anil Kapoor is the gangster with a heart of gold younger brother. Of course, they had a falling out as children and haven’t seen each other for years by the time the present day part of the film starts. But then there is Shahrukh, thrown in for good measure to sort of lighten up the proceedings as the lovelorn baby brother.
Back in 1995, Shahrukh was where Varun Dhawan is now, and he played a similar role in Trimurti to what Varun plays in Dilwale. While the angst and anguish of the plot is carried by the older established stars, his sequences are there to lighten up the proceedings and bring in the younger audience to the theater. In order to further partition his segments from the drama of the rest of the film, his character is kept in the dark as to his family’s past, just as Varun’s character is kept in the dark in Dilwale.
(the 90s version of “Manma Emotion”. Less catchy, but more sexy)
Like Varun in Dilwale, Shahrukh in Trimurti has protective and doting older brothers who will do anything rather than tell him the truth. His honest cop brother who raised him, Jackie Shroff, has told him his mother is dead (hiding the truth that she was wrongfully imprisoned) and has hidden the fact that he has a criminal older brother.
As a lovelorn young man, Shahrukh confronts Jackie Shroff for the way he has been raised, when it prevents him from being with the woman he loves, just like Varun confronts Shahrukh. However, rather than leading to a greater closeness between brothers, this leads to a break as Shahrukh in Trimurti chooses to leave home and throw his lot in with his brother’s enemies. This seems to be a gesture against fraternal unity, but actually it isn’t.
Of course, it turns out that the criminal he works for is actually, unknown to them both, his other brother! The truth is revealed moments before a fratricide is committed (a call back to Waqt). Which leads immediately to Anil Kapoor the criminal becoming Anil Kapoor the doting and besotted older brother. So much so, that their relationship can even be read as fanfic.
(yes, Anil wears that hat the entire film. He thought it made him look cool)
Again, this is related to Dilwale, where the brother relationship is so close that it is just begging for an against the grain reading. Especially since this song comes right after they have learned they are not blood relatives!
(woo! Finally posted legally!)
The major difference comes at the end of the film. In Trimurti, the romance is sidelined, as the true purpose is familial revenge on their nemesis, with the help of their mother and the Goddess Kali.
(Also posted legally, thank you Rajshri!)
In Dilwale, there is no such higher purpose. The only goal is to reunite lovers, any violence or revenge is merely a distraction from that.
This gets at the larger differences and similarities between the two films. Similarities first:
- Lovesick younger brother who is unaware/uncaring of the greater issues beyond his love story
- Doting older brother who is criminal/anti-criminal (two characters in Trimurti who are combined into one in Dilwale)
- Fight between brothers when the love story is threatened
- Ends with a reunion between all loves and brothers
So, why are these fraternal elements consistent between two films separated by 20 years? Well, the brother relationship remains a primary one in Indian culture. Everything from the Ramayana and the Mahabharata to think pieces on the death of the joint family drive the brother relationship to the forefront of thought.
On the practical level, the average life span for males in India is 66 years of age (compared to 76 in the US). That ten years makes a big difference. It means that in India having an older brother act as guardian and caregiver for a younger sibling is still a common eventuality. Even more so if you consider households that still have a father, but lost a mother (India still has the maximum number of maternal childbirth deaths in the world), meaning the older sibling may have to step into the role of either parent. While in America the idea of the doting brother is relegated to such off-brand items as this Coke ad that always makes me cry,
(Every. Single. Time.)
in India, the brother relationship is the centerpiece of narrative, bowing only to that between a mother and son.
The brother relationship, for all these, reasons, is closer to that of a parent and child than that of equals. Actually, it’s closer to the parent child relationship as we know it in western cultural products, rather than how it is presented in Indian pop culture. Which leads into similarity number 1, the self-absorbed younger sibling protected from the realities of the world.
While in Indian film the parent-child relationship is one of expectations and responsibilities, leading to the angry father forbidding relationships and forcing the son to continue the family business, and the son rebelling by running away from home and creating his own destiny (again, just in film, I have no idea how this plays out in real life). In contrast, the older-younger sibling relationship is one of pure love without duty or expectation. The older sibling gives you whatever you want, keeps you happy, protects you from the world. While the younger rewards this protection and love by unquestioning loyalty and worship. Which leads to similarity number 3, the fight over the love story. It takes a little longer in Trimurti, but in both films, by the end, the younger brother has voluntarily sacrificed his girlfriend in order to please his older brother. Not as a gesture of duty or respect, but out of love.
And then, of course, the only true happy ending possible is when both the brothers and the lovers are reunited, not one or the other. Again, this is distinctive to the brother relationship. In other films, the lovers may unite against the wishes of their parents and form the happy ending (Dil, R… Rajkumar, ten million other films), or the child may obey his parents’ wishes and marry for duty which will lead to happiness (Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam, Kabhi Kabhi, another ten million others), but in a story about brothers, both the family and the lovers relationships must end happily in order for the ending to satisfy.
And then there is the final similarity, the criminal/anti-criminal dichotomy. The standard explanation, which makes sense to me, is that this originally came about through an effort to make sense of the horror of Partition. How can two regions-communities-countries, which were as close as brothers, suddenly be divided?
Later, in films like Deewar, the idea took on an additional shading, the idea of questioning which direction India will go and why. Is the right way the brother who obeys the laws of the government but remains stagnant, or the brother who follows his own morality and strides forward? Which brother will provide best for India’s future? This argument is made explicit in Trimurti, as the initial dispute which leads to the separation is over whether it is better for baby Shahrukh (representing future India) to cry for what he needs but remain honest, or for him to enjoy stolen goods (stolen by adorable little boy Anil Kapoor)?
(again, thank you Rajshri! The relevant scene starts at 9:20)
But now, we don’t need that shading any more. In post-liberalization India, one brother can combine both arguments. Dilwale says that, in the past, it might have been necessary to break the laws and do the needful, but now, you can be peaceful and law-abiding, and still maintain your edge. No more boring good brother/sexy bad brother, they are all in one!
So, the similarities revolve around the brother relationships, where do the differences come in?
- Attitude towards crime/criminals
- Love is main goal/vengeance is main goal
- Sisters story parallels/no sisters
So, how does this play out? Taking the last one first, finally an acknowledgement that sisters can raise sisters too! While popular culture in India may put precedence on the brother relationship, and show brothers raising each other, in reality I suspect it is often the oldest girl of the family who is given that responsibility when either parent dies. And thank goodness, finally, there is a film that shows that. Kajol gets the same devotion and respect from Kriti that Shahrukh gets from Varun, and it is in response to the same lifelong protection and caring.
The first two differences, attitudes towards crime and towards vengeance, are closely related. Trimurti has a strong and explicit statement that all of these actions were set in motion years earlier through the evil actions of a powerful man working outside the law. Once vengeance and justice have been enacted on him, all other problems will disappear. The brothers will reunite, they will regain their mother, and love stories will also resolve.
Now, in Dilwale, crime is a side-note, only important in how it affects our romances. Kajol’s father is a “bad man”, but he died years earlier, and has little effect on their lives now. If you notice, when Kajol is informed of his terrible miss-deeds, her reaction is more regret for the past than anger. There are no calls to Kali for vengeance here.
Morally, I like this better. I can be whole-heartedly behind forgiveness and building a new life and forgetting the past much more than I can for vengeance and justice for old crimes. Cinematically, vengeance is sooooooooo much better! I mean, compare a confrontation at a Kali temple with blood and mud smeared on your face, with a nice dance at a wedding? No contest, right? So I can see why Indian filmmakers kept up the vengeance theme for so long with these brother stories, but I am glad they finally changed to love with crime and violence as a side-note.